Monday, May 17, 2010

Goals and Gruppetos

When a teammate wins a stage or a jersey—or does both, like Brett Lancaster did for Cervelo TestTeam Monday during Stage 2 of the Tour of California—there’s always a bonus to go along with the feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction the whole team experiences: We know that the next day we’ll be riding with a definite and important purpose.

Maybe it’s just my status as a new member of the peloton, but I always find the racing better when I have a goal for the day. On Monday, for instance, my job was to stay with our top sprinter, Theo Bos, the whole day. Wherever he went, I was with him. On the climbs, I stayed with him, and when we came off on a climb I stayed with him and worked until we got back on the descents. That’s how the day went for us: Off on the climbs, back on the descents. Finally, when we got to the climbs of Oakville Grade and Trinity, the pack split apart for good and we were in the gruppetto—the group that bands together just to make sure we all get to the end within the time cut.

It was a big gruppetto, maybe 40 guys, and we ended up coming in around 17 minutes behind Brett. Technically, I think we were even past the time cut—the official gap you’re allowed before getting kicked out of the race. It’s calculated as a set percentage of the winner’s time. At the Tour of the California, the cuts seem small to me, like 7 percent instead of the 10-15 percent you usually get. But the cut can be adjusted if the group is simply too big. And with that many guys, and riders such as Tom Boonen and Mark Cavendish in the gruppetto, we knew we were probably safe.

I was looking around the gruppetto today and thinking: I’m always there. At most races, my job is to cover the early breaks or do the early work, or do something like stay with Theo, so late in the race I end up in the gruppetto. Everyone else seems to rotate in and out. I’m like the only permanent resident in a vacation town. I don’t think I’ve ever been in the gruppetto with Boonen before—and it was only because he went down really hard yesterday—but it was . . . it was sort of awesome.

Tomorrow will be interesting because—I’m guessing—I’ll spend most of my time at the front covering breaks until one that’s acceptable gets away, then I’ll be setting tempo to try to help the team defend Brett’s jersey. I mean, I love my gruppetto, but I love having something that makes it all worthwhile even more.