Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Murcia - Feeling Stronger

Going over the climb on stage one, giving my roommate a little hand on Stage 2 and with Victor Rodrigues the other Portuguese rider in the pack just before the start. Thanks to Tim de Wale for the race photos.

With one more stage race down—the Tour of Murcia—feel stronger. That’s a good sign. For a while, I was starting to think that if I spent any more riding among the cars, I was going to be given a caravan number the next time I entered a race.

Murcia was a five-day stage race. The first and last days were considered the sprint stages, so Cervelo’s plan was to concentrate our effort there for our fast man, Theo Bos. My job was usually to cover the attacks in the beginning and, if we didn’t get a rider into the move, to work at the front as needed. Unlike at my last race, Besseges, I was able to cover the moves.

None of the attacks I went with stuck, but I was happy just to be able to mix it up. On the first stage, along with my teammate, Marcel Wyss, and two riders from Rabobank, I worked hard at the front for most of the stage to bring a break back in time for the pack to set up for the sprint. After about 110k at the front, I came into the last categorized climb at the back and didn’t have the power to make it over with the front group. By the top, I was with a group of about 20 and we rode in together 10 minutes or so behind the winner. (Theo got caught out in the crosswinds just before the finish and didn’t take part in the sprint.) The experience reminds me of looking at the results from races in past years and seeing guys who were ten, twenty, thirty minutes back; chances are, those guys are back there not because they’re in bad shape but because they did a lot of work at some point during the race and you never hear about them or read about them in any of the reports.

Stages two and three were tougher, with Category 1 climbs. I again tried to make the early break and on one occasion had to chase because no one from Cervelo made the group that was away. It was an epic chase. You’re pretty much riding flat-out to bring the break back — and for me, that effort came after I first tried to bridge across to the break solo. I was just happy I was able to take my turns at the front. At one point I couldn’t help going backwards, and I thought I was done, that I was going to let the team down. But I saw the row of black Cervelo jerseys at the front, and I found something extra from somewhere and I got back up there and into the rotation once more. It was especially challenging getting up there because of the crosswind and a strung-out field. I paid a heavy price to do it, and as soon as the road went up I went out the back for real. That’s when I looked down and realized we had only done about 50k of racing. There was 130k to go, and we hadn’t even his the real climbs yet. A lot of people ask what life as a pro is like. There you have at least one part of it.

For the last sprinter’s stage, which was also the last stage (5), we all had the feeling that if we could get Theo to the finish in good position, he would most likely win. We knew that Rabobank, who had a fast sprinter of their own in Graeme Brown), was going to make life hard on the climb in the hope of dropping Theo; but there was also 60k of racing after the climb, so we were confident we could bring the pack back together if needed. It turns out that we didn’t need to. Theo passed the climb in good shape. The stage was fast, too —in the first hour we did almost 50k, and the full 122 k was covered in 2:45. We kept Theo in the front at the end, and he delivered the goods on the final straight. He led out the sprint, when Graeme tried to come around, he kicked again and won comfortably. That’s another part of being a pro, and another part that not many people hear about or understand: Feeling great about helping your team win even when you weren’t the one who took the win yourself.

A few interesting observations:

* Spain has great hotels and food.

* The Internet at the hotels was slow because more than a hundred people would be surfing at the same time. Cyclists spend a lot of time on the Internet.

* Robbie Hunter, who won the first two stages and was leading the General Classification all of a sudden stopped in Stage 3 while in the yellow jersey. His his wife had just gone into labor, so he had better things to tend to than a bike jersey. That’s nice to see.

* A good masseur is a gift from God. Tex, one of our masseurs worked on this old body all week, and thanks to him I had no back pain and was well recovered each day.

* Lance Armstrong was there. Lance is Lance, impressive in person. How he handles all the attention he gets, and all the people trying to get him to take pictures etc., I don’t know. But he always did it with a smile. Usually he rides at the front (safest place to be), but on the last day he took some time to circulate through the pack and speak to a lot of riders. That was a nice thing to do, especially for the young guys who never raced with him.

* Dave Zabriskie is crazy (in a good way), and I cracked up a bunch of times with him. After Stage 1, I was trying to find the hotel and followed him — I mean, I figured he had to have a GPS. He noticed me, and said “Hey — you’re that old guy.”

* Having a camper at the race was nice, but I found myself really missing the bus. Then I realized what I was actually thinking. You get spoiled quickly.

* The support on this team is incredible. We had two mechanics, three soigneurs, a director, a doctor and a driver. In their hands, you are basically a three year old, since they do everything except pedal the bike for you.

* I’m not the oldest guy on the team. That prize belongs to Inigo Cuesta, who has been a pro for 17 years and is 41. Apparently we look similar, since I got called Inigo at this race a lot — usually when I was off the back. I hope I didn’t soil his reputation too much.

* I’m on my way home to see Tiiu and Liam for a few days before heading back for the the Volta a Cataluyna. I’m looking forward to the Gimbel’s Ride and maybe a Central Park race for fun — and to not having a radio screaming in my ear.