Saturday, September 21, 2013

Back to the Bunch

Back in the swing of thing today in tuscany with the GP Donaratico. After a nice easy week of recovery which included 3 days of complete rest and 7hrs in total on my bike, I was ready to feel the burn when the flag dropped today! It was a real strange feeling racing a race other than the vuelta.

For 3 weeks it had become my world, this moving bubble doing a lap around spain. This week it was back to the real, cooking for yourself (actually I think I went out for dinner every night but still if I stayed home I would have had to cook for myself!!) Doing your own washing, making your own bed, and even having to drive yourself around! All these things that had just happened for you for the best part of a month were now up to you. Luckily I enjoy all these things and always get excited about getting home to these mundane tasks, still its a bit of an adjustment.

Well going to a different race is much the same!! All of a sudden the roads have a different feel, the colours of the teams are different, and the general feel of the bunch is just different. In fact the only similarity was the piercing pain of my cracked rib! I had had a great week of recovery and rehab and it has felt much much better. Surprize surprize once you stop racing you recover better!! Well I felt that great that I did not even want any painkillers this morning but realized that was a big mistake after about 2km of racing!! Anyways this was the least of my concerns. I was re adapting to racing my bike away from the vuelta bubble so that took my mind away from the pain for a bit as it was full blast for the first 30km. Infact one nice feeling I had occurred early on in the race when I glanced at my speedo and it said 48kmph I thought it must have been broken. I stared at it for a minute or so and it floated between 47-52kmph and still I felt like we were cruising. It was the most accustomed to race speed I have ever felt so was now getting excited for the day ahead. The pace stayed high and finally a small group headed off in the days break and things calmed down. At this point that searing pain returned so I went back to the race doc and grabbed a pain killer, I had been defeated again by this rib! Anyways settled into the bunch and waited for the painkiller to kick in. Basso was back today so that meant we were up the front so that made life a lot more relaxing in the bunch, I like being up there so I always know what's going on. Saves a lot of energy firstly mentally and as a result physically.

So with the race settled down gave me a chance to adapt again to the group and particularly all the different colours! I am glad I don't have epilepsy as it was really quite an optical distraction today particularly when the group was flying down the decents. In time the eyes adjusted and before we knew it we were on the final 30km circuits we were to complete twice and it was time to start racing. Each lap was characterised by a 3km steep narrow rd climb which was always going to decimate the peleton. As always our plan was to have Ivan, Caruso and Ratto at the front for the start of the climb, from there they would easily look after each other. Longo locomotive borgini and hair raising heado again piloted our captains to the perfect position at the start of the climb. I was rendered pretty much useless in this job when crunch time came as I had a flat rear tyre. To compound the problem there was a crash behind and the cars were way way behind. By the time the car got to me I have no idea where the front of the race was but I knew it was a long way ahead of my current position and scattered all over the place, I quickly realised I was spot on with my assumption!!

So now I was really annoyed and started the chase back to the race. I had not endured 3 weeks racing around spain to not make the most of the racing condition it had given me. On the climb I started to pick up some groups and eventually found my way back to what I believe must have been the 2nd main group on the road. It had been a 20+km all out effort to get to that point and had well and truly cooked my goose getting. The front of the race rarely slows down in the final 30km, you can lose time very very quickly. I was simply happy to be back in the race of sorts and in the end I was simply happy I would race the full distance. I felt great, just had to use my energy in a useless manner but that's ok, its important to know how the body feels and I am now really excited about the races in the final part of the year. The fracture is still playing tricks on my mind and keeping me in self preservation mode and not taking any risks but that will pass soon enough and I will be back racing 100% in the near future. Caruso and Basso played a perfect support role for Ratto who seemed to be at his scintillating best today then he would also succumb to an untimely flat tyre. He was on the attack and looked set for the big result when his rear rim decided it proffered to be on rolling along the road as oppose to the tyre and his race win hope went flat there and then!!

So in the end it was not a great way for the cannondale pro boys. I was annoyed when I flatted but at that point 40km from the finish I have no idea where I might of ended up had all gone perfectly. Ratto on the other hand really got robbed. He was right royally annoyed at the finish and that's because he truly believed he was in for a great showing. Again a harsh reminder of how quickly the switch can turn the lights out on your race ambitions in a flash! Flat tyres 9/10 times are no drama and you forget them quickly but when they really ruin your day its a hard pill to swallow, ratto will bounce back and as I said to him after the race what's important he was in the winning position, somtimes lady luck just decides to slap you in the face.

Up front Lampre took domination to a whole new meaning with 1-2-3. I was happy to see michele scarpa scarponi win. I was team mates with him in 2010 and working for really opened a lot of doors for me and my career afterward. He is a leader that always respects his team mates and you can go back to my blogs from 2010 to see what I think of michele, he was a great rider to work for. He is always the joker of the bunch, a real funny looking character and with it very charismatic. He will always make a point of saying hello and is the type of rider that a short chat will always put a smile on your face, he seems to always be able to make light of any situation and brighten up any moment in the race. So was nice to see him win. Also the Italian team showed that they are going to be a real force to be reckoned with on sunday in the elite mens road race. 1st through 5th today, that's a pretty impressive showing from over half the team. Also there leader Vincenso had looked the likely winner just a couple of km's before the finish when he was hauled in by the small select chase group, so that's the 7th rider! Tomorrow we will get to have a look at the italians on the katusha team so I am sure after todays emphatic showing by the other members of there road squad they will be feeding the peleton a lot of chain around the streets of prato!!

With that being said I better take some harden up pills and get some rest. I will also knock out a few pages of sean kelly's book, he was a real hardman so I am sure to find a good tale from there to give me a little more grinter for tomorrow! If scarponi is the charactor of the peleton the Dario our Director sportivo at this race is definitely the character of the team managers! He always fills the team with enthusiasm so looking forward to his pre race briefing in the morning before we head into battle. Certainly enjoying this time of the year and racing my bike, misshaps are all apart of the game, days like today just make the good all the more special.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Final Word on Vuelta 2013

Its been 72hrs since the curtains came down on this years vuelta espana and I have only just found the energy to concentrate on my final blog for the event! Such is the bubble you go into during a grand tour that once you finally cross that finish line for the final time do you give your body a chance to realise what's its actually been through. All of a sudden fatigue both mental and physical engulfs your body but at the same time an overwhelming sense of relief and disregard for this fatigue due to fact that the 21 days of racing is over. Therefore I am always just left worn out. All of a sudden you don't have to do anything, the racing is done, the daily time schedule's all behind you, and of course the post race focus on recovery for following stage is no longer existent. Now all you can think of is slamming down that beverage you have been craving for so long or simply just laying on the backseat of the bus as I did reflecting a little on nothing other than the fact that if I wanted to sleep for the next week I could do that! I put my body through a hell of a lot more than I had planned to this vuelta. I expected my fatigue to come from pushing the pedals, in the end the only suffering I endured was at the hands of a broken bone and the complications associated with racing with one for 2 weeks. Still like every major race I learnt a lot from that experience about myself and also viewing the race from a different perspective and am already champing at the bit for my next major world tour hit out in Lombardia. For now however a few reflections on the final day and also the Vuelta Espana in General.

The final stage into madrid was broken into 2 distinct part. An initial 65km procession if you like from the outskirts right into down town madrid. This couple of hrs gave the riders in the bunch a chance to catch up and reflect on the past 3 weeks. Finally chat with some excitement about the adventures and suffering we had been through rather than worrying about what was ahead, finally we could relax. I spent a large majority of this time chatting with Adam Hansen. Adam was completing his 7th grand tour in a row so surfice to say any conversation with adam is an interesting one. Adam is certainly one of the nicest fellas in the bunch, renowned for his reliability and hard work for his and also as a winner in his own right on the rare occasion he gets to sail his own ship. Adam always has all the time in the world for everyone and if you have a concern or a querie about anything he is always the natural bloke in the bunch you go to discuss it with. From farrari's to what to eat during a race, Adam has an educated answer for absolutely everything and although his intelligence is without a doubt way ahead of anyone I know, speaking with him he never makes you feel stupid. Instead he seems to relish the opportunity to challenge you to learn somthing yourself, be it through his own knowledge on just about everything, or engaging you in a discussion to help you find the answers for yourself. Yep he truly is a top bloke so was great as always to have the chance to have a good old fashioned chinwag with him for the social part of the day stage.

Phase 2 was the final hour of power. 8 laps of a 6km circuit in downtown madrid which would conclude the 2013 vuelta. Us Cannondale Pro boys had simple objective for the day to put ratto in a good position for the final sprint. With that in mind as we entered the team snapped into action. Longo Locomotive Borgini surged to the front of the bunch and we were all tucked in behind him. A circuit that contained 3 hot dog turns was always going to snap the legs quickly if you were in bad position so was no surprize that dallantonia and Longo had us up the front in perfect position. Another prominent at the front all day were the greenedge boys lined up behind simon clarke. I said to leigh howard, Mitch Docker, and Bling Mathews after a couple of laps that the circuit suited those boys perfectly as it was like the lycon street crit in the suntour, just with one less hot dog turn! Should have been a piece of cake for them and as it turned out it was! Still Simon Clarke held them in the pefect position at the front all day and in the end Bling delivered and while I am on a rival team, you always appreciate the success of other teams when you see how hard they worked to deliver there captain to the line first. Anyways back to our race and we held good posi.

With 2 laps to go longo locomotive had had enough and wanted to lay down the hammer on the front of the bunch. It caught everyone off guard and the peleton was instantly in single file. It took me a lap to get up there to help him but as the bell sounded for the final lap I was right on the front with longo and the adrenaline was pumping. Sky decided to take up the pacing and I slipped back to make sure ratto was in a good spot. I found him surfing through the wheels as he likes to do between the sprinters working who's best to follow, all was going to plan. From here I just sat behind him incase he needed someone to get him out of strife in the final couple of km's. He didn't and into the final km was on the wheels he needed to be. In the end as expected Bling Mathews showed everyone a clean pair of heals finishing of the great work by his team. Danielle was amongst it finishing just outside the top 10 but was just not his day. He had had an incredible vuelta with almost certainly the most exciting victory of the entire race. His is a young rider and had a lot of pressure on his shoulders at the race as the team leader for the sprints and handled this exceptionally well. While he may not have got the additional placings he was after he was always in the right position to strike should he have had his usual kick so its only a matter of time before he turns these top 10's into podiums and then victories in grand tours in the future. He certainly has a huge career ahead of him. For me, I felt the best I had felt all tour. Surprisingly fresh and the ability to continue to push for the front position had finally returned which is a good sign my body was beginning to recover well. Taking it easy the previous days had certainly paid off and it was nice to be able to enjoy the final km's of the race from the front and being amongst the action. Certainly crossing the line feeling like this gives me a lot of optimism for the races in the final part of the season.

After wrapping up the race for the overall 24hrs earlier on the angliru, it was great to see chris horner navigate the final stage safely and become the 2013 vuelta champion. Much has been said an continues to be said about his victory which is really disappointing. It seems these nimrods and there bogus calculations seem to be surfacing again as they did in Le Tour surrounding froomie's performance. All unfounded of course and like any attention seekers fortunately eventually the media ignored these fruitless claims and these so called experts crawled back into there little holes where they belong.

Like I have said many times before this year there is nothing I have seen or felt within the peleton that is not a believable performance. You can look at your SRM and pretty much predict how long the pace will stay like it is and if its going to get faster or slower. Of course you need to be strong enough to actually do these powers and more times than not this year I haven't been. Either I was not strong enough or I had worked on the front and also with that, if I pulled on a climb at a certain power I always knew pretty much how many would be left on the wheels and not only that but which riders. There are no surprizes these days. Also when I was not there in the final I would always ask a few guys who were what the pace was like and be able to figure out where the power levels where and never have I heard anything you would not expect. Not only that but if riders where doing the wrong thing and "unbelievably strong" the other big riders would  If a particular performance was suspect it would simply not accepted by the sport and its current generation. One way or another something would be done or noise made to ensure offenders were no longer in the bunch. That simply has not happened in this vuelta. Riders now seem genuinely respectful of each others performance and everybody respects that all results and performances in the biggest races are built of sheer hard work. So suffice to say the performance of chris from within the peleton was met with nothing but admiration by the other riders. Never did he simply destroy the field but merely calculated his efforts perfectly. Took a few seconds here and a few seconds there and never lost any unnecessary seconds in the process. And guess what in the end he merely won by a matter of seconds. It was an incredibly exciting race because you had 2 great champions in vincenso nibali and chris going hammer and tong at each other using all there experience and talent in the process. At any moment one of them could have imploded and consequently they were aware of there limits, this made the duel even more intriguing.

If you look at chris's career its littered with excellent results. For so much of his career in the big tours he has used this talent and ability to selflessly work for his team captain. I have heard cadel say on more than one occasion that chris was one of the best team mates he ever had and cadel only ever gives credit where its due. Perhaps if chris had a chance to ride for himself in the past he would have won more grand tours or atleast had some higher GC placings, who knows. He has spent these years working for others and doing it to extinction, all the time banking hours of hard work and learning what it takes to win a big tour through his respective team leaders. Now finally at 41 he has had a chance to lead his team, not only but lead one of the most experienced and powerfull GC teams in the peleton in a Grand Tour. And therefore it comes as no surprize to me that finally for chris all these years of learning, working his arse off, waiting in the wings, and finally getting his chance, it all paid off for him to perfection. No there is is no doubt in my mind the Chris Horner and his radioshack team mates at extremely worthy winners of this years vuelta, full stop.   

I have really enjoyed this years vuelta. I had a great group of team mates and staff within the Cannondale Clan. Daniele's win was by far the highlight for the team and I truly believe it was the most exciting victory of the race. To blow the doors of the 2 of the best riders and breakaway kings in the world was simply a class act. The fact that one was the world champion only added to the storyline and the billing that Ratto is one of the most exciting riders within the peleton. The way he won by out climbing, out descending, and simply being tactically smarter than the best riders in the world shows a victory of nothing other than a great champion. It certainly will be a day and smile on Daniele's face I won't forget in a hurry, simply awesome.

So for now its a few more days rest and let my body tell me what it wants. The last 3 days has meant a lot of sleep, a lot of eating, and the remainder of the time spent on the sofa catching up on missed TV time! Tomorrow I will start my recon for Lombardia by checking out a couple of climbs so time for some rest as like in the vuelta, I can't wait to get up in the morning and get back on my bike!!

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Next stop Madrid!

Stage 20 of the vuelta, considered the final real stage before tomorrows semi parade into madrid. Arrive at the finish today and barring a big misshap tomorrow you should be able to finish this years Vuelta Espana. They certainly designed a hum dinga of a stage as well and everyone in the bunch for a range of different reasons knew there would be no free km's pedalled today. The GC battle was separated by seconds so that battle was always going to come down to the final climb and for the rest simply making it to the top of the feared angilru was the final major obstacle of this years race. True to its billing of a deciding stage on the penultimate day the stage delivered it all.

After yesterdays display by katusha it was inevitable that the GC teams were not going to leave anything in the tank as they tried to shake up the race. Us cannondale boys had one clear objective from mario again today, be in the breakaway. Conveniently the organisers had found a couple of those annoying length climbs that peleton can scale at warp speed inside the first 20km so the breakaway was bound to big and full of some of the strongest riders in the bunch. As per our instructions all the boys were in all the moves straight out of the gun. As expected when the group finally formed and the peleton behind was scattered all over the place after 20km, our breakaway king Paterski was inside the days escape that would go onto contest the finish. He truly is a class act at inflicting pain on himself to ensure he represents his team in such breakaways, certainly takes the pressure of his team mates as you know if one of these brutal starts occurs, paterski is always there! So with our strongman up tearing the legs of his breakaway companions us remaining 6 cannondale boys settled into another day in the peleton.

As expected radioshack immediately swarmed onto the front and drummed out an uncomfortable tempo for all. Be it in the valleys, on the decents, or on the initial climbs. Your did not feel like you were going to dropped but you certainly never felt like you could comfortably take a drink or somthing to eat either! It was not as infernal pace that we endured yesterday but it certainly was not off for the first 120km. For probably 1/3 of the peleton, including me, this point marked the surrender zone where the final 2 climbs would decide the outcome of the race and the rest of us would simply do what's required to get to the finish inside the time limit.

I was happily feeling better again today. Taking it easy has been great for my body to heal up and while I am still having some difficulties when I have to take a deep breath, when the pace is constant everythings returning to normal. In the bunch we were rolling along at a nice place and it wasn't until the 2 climb of the day that the first fireworks went off. Radioshack were swamped by moviestar who decided to shatter the peleton in final steep 1.5km of the climb. They certainly made there presence felt and riders were dropping left right an centre. Infact there workers rode that strongly that at the top of the climb they had dropped there team leader Valverde. Of course horner and the rest of the big guns were in the front so was a bit of a plan that backfired. Still hats off to them for not sitting idle in the bunch and reminding us all that it is a bike race afterall! So with valverde dropped a stale mate occurred once down the other side and we rode as peleton to the base of the first major climb and final 25km. By now the gloves were off and the bright orange basque jerseys and katusha cranked up the pace on the front. This suited me, the faster they rode the faster I got to the surrender point! My rib was now feeling a little pain from surviving moviestars acceleration and the body was again asking me for mercy. As always longo and dalla had set up camp for us up the front and I could enjoy this 30km stretched without having to fight for the wheel. Sure enough as we got close to climb the argy bargy began and my self preservation mechanism kicked in and I was quickly in the only position you don't need to fight for, last wheel in the bunch!

Sure enough as soon as we turned right and hit the climb 1/3 of the bunch put up the parachute and the gruppeto instantly formed! From here the race would always be about the strongest riders in the bike race, a few survivers from the break, and GC kings from within the peleton. I can only go on what I have heard about the race but the star of the show was Nibali. Like the true champion he is he did all he could to try and win the race and in the end horner had too much left in the tank to be shaken off. Still like I said the other day its so great to see the GC being fought for by 2 riders of complete class. 2 from very different generations but champions that we can really celebrate and salute. Along with froomie all the GT's have really been won by very classy individuals and all very nice guys. Great ambassadors for our magical sport.

Back in the gruppeto we were having a little party of our own knowing that the suffering almost over. We finally started to believe we could survive what's been a brutal 3 weeks. 3 weeks that I am certain every rider in that group had a moment somwhere along the way that would not even make it to madrid. The best comment of the entire tour however came from Micheal Bling Mathews today.

The abgilru is made up of 2 parts. An initial 5km normal climb of 6-8%, 1km of so of flat, then boof! 6.5km at 11% up into the clouds to the finish. I was chatting with bling and saying how happy I was he had survived these past days as he has had a few tricky moments. Not that I would have ever doubted he would survive, he is a class act and was always going to make it to madrid and with it be be a favourite for tomorrows sprint stage. Anyways we were chatting on this plateau saying now we just have to survive the last bit when whammo, there was the road all of a sudden ahead of us going up into the sky. What micheal said next I will never forget.

I said "gee that does look nasty" and blings response was " yeah its like laying there on your boogie board waiting for a wave and all of sudden a massive set forms and is going to break right infront of you" "there's nothing you can do but suck it up and deal with it". What a great explanation of what we were about to face and one so many of us can relate to. Having to bail from the board, dive down, get flicked upside down, inside out, and every other way you can imagine. Be forced to drink and un specified amount of see water and just hope that at some point you re surface and and everything ok! Often at this point you go though it all again for a few more waves in the set!! Its a feeling oh too familiar!

Well bling summed up the last 3 weeks of bike racing pretty dahn accurately with this terminology.  There have been countless times in this race when I have had to simply grit my teeth and suffer like I did not know I could for an unspecified length of time. Not only that but once I have survived one hit I have often been belted again! In the first week with Ivan we even did a little nasty work on the front ourselves and it is a good feeling. Unfortunately I have certainly found out more times than I would have like in the last 2 weeks what its like to have the shoe on the other foot and have to brace myself for a beating that I have no idea how many time or how many times I will have to endure it for. Still that's the beauty of this sport, expect the unexpected. Its pretty incredible the turns and changes in fortune that can occur in the course of a bike race! Its this unknown that makes me so excited to be on the startline every day. Battling through those difficult days makes the good ones all the more special!!

Onto madrid!!!!

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Friday, September 13, 2013


Today was an absolute cracka! Katusha took the race by the scruff of the neck and by days end duly had the stage winner from there ranks. The first few km's went pretty much to the script of a regular day. Ratto was first to open the throttle and in a blink of an eye 17men had joined him and astana were immediately doing there best the block the narrow twisty road and let the break ride off into the sunset. Well katusha had other ideas. They knew after yesterdays tuff stage a lot of the big names and teams would be happy for a casual first couple of hrs to get the legs moving again. Instead once the break had 20seconds they went straight to the front and did not shut it down but set a searing pace that not only had the peleton in single file for 2hrs but also letting the break know I would not be getting any easy seconds.

There pace setting was seriously impressive. Our cannondale boys are magicians in this situation and after some initial jostling we had ourselves comfortably lined up in the first 30 positions of the bunch. Sit any further back and the rubber band effect completely trashes your legs and sit any further forward and you take on to much wind at that kind of pace. Longo, Heado and Dalla are the captains of the ship when it comes to this type of positioning. All sammy, paterski and I had to do was follow them and we knew we would be using as little energy as possible.

Once things settled a little and I got used to the fact that it was probably going to be full gas all day I actually started feeling very good for the first time in 10 days. I have the most difficulty when I have to accelerate and decelerate over and over again so in all honesty when its constantly hard and I am in a good position in the bunch with stresses of fighting for the wheel I am happy as a pig in mud. In a blink of an eye we were past 50km and next time I looked it was 60km. It must have been at this point I realised I was just about to finish my first drink bottle and it was time to reload. I realised all my team mates were in the same boat but also realised that they were not keen on trying to return to the front of the bunch travelling at 60kmph with a back full of biddons. I was probably feeling the freshest I though and also knew I would be taking it easy in the final stages of the race while the others would try and press on so realised if there was a time my team mates needed me to be the bottle boy it was right at that moment. So up went the hand I made my way back to the car. The line of riders I saw is somthing I had not seen before. I was absolutely single file and everybody was on the limit. It was nice that while I assumed most would be feeling the pace as I was, its always nice to see evidence of it aswell! Finally I got the back of the bunch and the ever experienced mario was already right there waiting for me. He knew we were on the rivit and was going to make life as easy as possible for us. Soon I had a jersey full of bottles, its actually quite therapeutic like and ice pack for my ribs!

It must have been my lucky day as no sooner had I grabbed the final bottle and began my dreaded journey back up to the boys but the pace slowed momentarily and the bunch grouped up!! Now all of a sudden a 400m obstacle was no more than 50m and one all out 20 second effort would have me next to the boys so quickly that they could not even believe how fast I had returned and not only that but with a smile on my face!! No sooner had I dispatched the bottles and the pace was wound up again.

Now don't get me wrong, its not the first time I have been in a peleton when the pace has been so hard and fast. What made this so hard was the way they were generating this pace. In a unique way that you felt every kmph of the 45-60kmph being set. The katusha boys would ride hard enough up the rises and short climbs so that you knew you were climbing and then as they crested the top would open the jets full gas!! The effect this has is that at the front they are now going downhill at 60+kmph and a few hundred m's behind people are still doing 30kmph up the rise. Therefore by the time they get to the downhill the front is now going 80kmph and you are doing an all out sprint everytime you hit such a bump in the road simply to stay in the bunch! Surfice to say the break never got more than 2min and after 100km they had caught half the escapees who surrendered and now well and truly had the race under control. At this point the pace relented for the first time all day.

By this point to put it in perspective we had averaged almost 50kmph for the first 2hrs. Sure nothing super but when you add in the fact we had done 1500m of elevation gain that amounts to an incredibly impressive performance of riding on the front of the peleton. At this point I felt great and was always at the front. Riders were not challenging for position and I figured so long as the pace stays on I will have a good day. Alas katusha let right of the gas and the bunch swarmed. I was all of a sudden fighting for position and with 50km to go just floated to back and kept out of trouble. On the first climb I felt great and just sat at the back maintaining contact with the main field. As I guys dropped out I just rode around them and continued on my merry way. I was such a great feeling to finally have that light snappy effortless feeling back on the climbs. On the decent dropped riders came tearing back to the group and instantly I dropped back again and stayed out of harms way. I stayed there until the next little climb with 30km to go and where a big group formed to ride easy to the finish. We had plenty of time to arrive inside the time limit.

This morning when I woke was the 2nd day in a row I was experiencing less pain. So I knew the less energy I expended on the road the more my body had to repair my rib. Today I was not going to do anymore than necessary and continue this process. No matter how good I felt I knew that the easier I got to the finish the faster my recovery was going to be. You can't burn the matches at both ends so today worked out perfectly for me. Also with tomorrows hard summit finish I will certainly have to expend more energy than I would like so I am very happy to have finished todays stage in the way I did. I am really looking forward to tomorrow.

Katusha really made it a bike race today. Often we become a little bit precious in the bunch and get used to stages being so heavily controlled in the first parts of a race. Then when a team like katusha decides to put the pedal to the metal so early on we get a little upset. This is only a momentary annoyance though as we quickly remember it is a bike race after all and we are here to race. Between the start and the finish the peleton will only go as fast or slow as we dictate. When broken down like that its a pretty simple sport really!! Also today showed just what an exciting race this years vuelta is. Every stage has had some excitement and unpredictability about it. The organisers certainly have put together and absolute bonza of a course which most importantly I am sure has provided excellent viewing on the tele!!

With that said make sure you tune in tomorrow, its going to be a doozy

Time for a few more pages of kelly's book for some final mountain stage inspiration and some rip repairing sleep!

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

New buddy in the bunch

Today our team manager had one simple demand of us, don't miss the days breakaway! Miss it and your chasing it!! So with that said we all knew it was easier for us to be in everything that goes than have to chase anything back. Like the great team we are we shared the load of entering all the early attacks, first heado, longo, ratto, me, and when dalla jumped next into a group of 15, that was the move that stuck! Movistar gave chase for 20km but never looked liked closing it down and when all there 7 riders (excluding valverde) blew a proverbial popper valve on a sharp rise dalla's group quickly went from 1min to 3min and out to 10min. The winner was going to come from these 15men. When we heard over the radio the kiriyenka had attacked with 50km to go everybody knew the stage was run and won by the team sky bell russian! For him to attack that far out means he knew he had the breaks measure and was confident in holding his pace to the finish. Kiri is one of the best in the world and when he pulls a move like that 10 out 10 times he will take the victory. Certainly a victory that all of the riders in the peleton were happy to see happen today, except perhaps a few in the break that felt they missed a great chance at a grand tour stage win.

I was super impressed with dalla making the move. The pressure is always on when the director says we "HAVE" to have someone in the break. It all well good to like to have someone in there but when there no choice the pressure is on. That's when you see the class and experience of riders like longo, ratto and dalla. They did not miss a beat in those first 20km and we never looked like missing it thanks to them, its these moments that I really appreciate my team mates even more. Of course having a rider in the breakaway always brings Dario to life as he always follow the days escape when Cannondale has one of his men in it. His enthusiastic voice is always certain to brighten up the day back in the main field, he certainly is a character!

My day was again pretty quiet. With dalla up the road and the pressure of us I enjoyed as easier day as possible. I am starting to feel the strength return to my pins following my few days of oxygen starved torture in the pyranees so was a nice feeling not having to suffer to arrive safely inside the time limit. I really want to push hard but also my head won't allow me to take unnecessary risks in the bunch either. Guess its a bit of self preservation. Therefore as soon as the fight for position starts my body just shuts down on me and I quickly float to back where I basically don't have to fight for the position. The only position you don't have to fight for is last wheel in the peleton and for some reason when the stress in the group rises my body simply wants to gravitate to that very spot. Its frustrating but I always listen to my body when it feels good and bad, the season is long and perhaps it will feel a little more like fighting tomorrow or the next day but for now its just trying to recover!

So I didn't contribute in anyway shape or form to the outcome of the race today so consequently had a bit of time to chat with a few dudes in the bunch. With my buddy in the bunch Fabian pulling up stumps yesterday on this years vuelta to concentrate on his preparations for worlds, I needed to find a bloke to have a yarn with. Chris Horner ended up being my buddy today and it was great hearing a few stories of his. I really enjoy chatting with chris because he is such an honest dude. What you see is what you get and he certainly does things his way. He is famous for his love of fast food and consequently his pockets are filled with cakes, mars bars, and cans of coke. He is the best guy to be close to in the feed zone and you can always pick up a delicious treat from him that he does not need or want. He also lives in america pretty much year round. Infact straight after the vuelta he is going home to the USA for 10 days before flying back for the world championships and Lombardia. These are 2 distinctive characteristics of chris that would normally be perceived as not the done thing in cycling!! Well it seems to work out for him pretty well. He simply does what he wants and does what he KNOWS makes him perform best. He doesn't adhere to any notions of how things should be done, there is certainly a lot to be said for that. At the end of the day we should know ourselves better than anyone shouldn't we??

Todays conversation was an interesting one. We were chatting about how different the peleton felt without Fabian in the bunch. It was really strange up at the head of the field. First we had to get use to the fact the familiar green cannondale man Ivan Basso was no longer always perched at the pointy end and now with Cancellara gone it just looked and felt odd up there. We started chatting about the usual chita chata riders start out with like how hard was that first 20km and how tired everyone is! Just the usual stuff that always makes you feel better to know your not the only one suffering in the group!! We then got onto to talking about how back in the late 1990's he never even saw this part of the field. He said he was full gas to not be out the back racing the official car let alone riding comfortably in the first 20 positions of the bunch. Infact he said the pace was often that extremely fast that he was absolutely full gas just making It to the feed zone in time before all the massures had packed up and headed to the finish. The main field had long since past and there feed bags dispatched while chris and many others were still on there way there. He said there would be fights in teams on who got to pull out of the race early as there was only limited seats in the car to take them back to the hotel! Such was the era and for guys like chris it was just a case of being battered from pillar to post on a daily basis.

The best part about his story as he does not regret or resent having to race through these times for one second. He said that sure he suffered and at times all seemed hopeless but he obviously persevered. Now north of 40 years old we are seeing where his true ability and potential has him on the world stage of cycling. He truly has an interesting story. He said now people are questioning him on his perceived sudden rise to the top of the sport. Maby people should look a little more closely at what's gone on over the past few years and the type of riders at the head of the biggest races. They are the guys with pure class, talent and great work ethic and the best part both young an old. The rising phenomenon's like peter sagan and now the old dogs with plenty of tricks like chris horner. It really was great for me to have this little impromptu chat with chris as we scaled the first cat 3 climb of the day. I certainly was pleased to here he lit up the race on the final climb and has set up an absolutely mouth watering duel with another of the pure class Vincenso Nibali in the final stages of this years Vuelta.

The other thing I quickly realised is that chris is not even contemplating hanging up the bike anytime soon. Infact he sees it as finally he has his chance to show his true class and at the moment still appears to be improving. Could we see chris horner challenging for a grand tour in another 8 years time when he reaches 50?? I would not be against it. What an amazing guy and its will be exciting to see what he achieves before that day comes when he finally calls time on what will most certainly be one of the most colourful and long standing professional careers of any rider ever to enter the peleton.

3 more stages to go and more importantly perhaps just 2 until we reach madrid for the final day. 2 more chances for us cannondale boys to show off our bright green jerseys and shorts and see what else we can achieve from what's been a race that has quite literally had it all for the cannondale squad. I am finally feeling like I am not digging a whole and feeling a little better each morning so going to do what I do everynight, read a few pages of sean kelly's book and have a good sleep.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Tick tick tick tick BOOM

Today was like another ticking time bomb! The peleton was full of beans after there day of leisure yesterday, and the wind was blowing just hard enough that if a team wanted to blow the race to bits the opportunity was there for the taking. With that being said there is always hesitation to be the team that turns the screw first. If you crack the whip to early then you risk having a team blown to bits when the fireworks really begin. With this in mind the peleton had a quiet start to the days racing with just 2 men in the early breakaway. Everyone seemed happy to let them go and let the sprinters bring things back for a bunch gallop but also everyone knew at some point the fairytale easy day was going to come to an abrupt end.

I must admit I was perhaps one of the more relieved dudes in the group for the first 150km today. We rolled along at a nice consistent pace which made it easy to remain sheltered but also nobody seemed to determined to fight tooth and nail for position. At the moment I am far from in the mood to fight anyone for my position in the bunch so was good to be able to perch myself up front for the majority of the day and keep out of harms way. Sure enough with around 30km to go the jostling for position started and I immediately switched to the tale end of the bunch to avoid putting myself in any unnecessary danger. After the rest day I feel like my bone is beginning to recover a little so the easier I can take while staying in the race the better, I want to ensure its just a few week injury and not one that's takes longer than necessary to heal.

With a group sprint expected we were looking to ensure ratto was in the right spot at the right time today. The last time we raced here in burgos was only a few weeks ago and daniele was narrowly beaten into 2nd place so we had plenty of optimism for his chances today. With being restricted to light duties I figured I would stay close to daniele for as long as I could and then hit the ejecta button and get right out of the way when things got hairy closer the finish. I found daniele toward the back and just figured all is going ok and we can move up when he is ready, wrong wrong and wrong!

We all of a sudden around 30ish km to go came flying down a fast decent and arrived at a very narrow bridge. Consequently the pace at the back slowed considerably and I immediately had that sinking feeling that for sure they are not riding this pace at the front!! You just know that an elastic band is being stretched to its absolute limit as 150+ riders get themselves up to speed and sure enough a few hundred meters later it was single file and riders were dropping left right an centre. Saxo Bank had hit the front and were ripping the field to shreds. After a km or so of this and the dust settled I spotted daniele just ahead, I quickly realized we were in about the 4th group so realized it was time to get to work! In a situation like this its best to act fast and worry about recovering if you get the chance later! So I jumped on the front of our group and quickly shut down the gap to the 3rd. There I found a lot of our team mates and also quite a few GC riders that had been caught out in the acceleration at the front. Now we had the task of pulling back the 2nd group which was around 30seconds up the road. Fortunately there was no shortage of helpers, and with locomotive longo, hair raising heado, and TTT specialist ripping out turns the pace is always going to be rapid, even with these motors at maximum revs however its never easy shutting down gaps in this situation!

When it splits it's full gas where ever you are. At the front you have the strongest riders forcing the pace and pulling away from the field. Next you have a 2nd group chasing them full gas that need to go faster than that if they want to close the gap. As a consequence the 3rd group has to go even faster than the 2nd group if it wants to close the gap. On a flat stretch of road which was the case today that means if you dip below 60kmph you are getting left behind. That translates to doing between 600-650 watts when you pull through on the front which generally is for around 10-20seconds depending on how efficient your echelon is working. Today took us around 12km to close this 30second gap to the 2nd group so as you are not ever getting a chance to soft pedal as you rotate for you next turn it certainly stings the pins and lungs a little.
Once we had caught the 2nd group I realised we were now over 1min behind the front group containing the strongest guys in the race. So game over. They did not want us catching them and for sure the group was out of horse power to shut it down. There would be no sprint for daniele today so I switched of the engine and road as casually as I could to the finish. Its important I take any chance I can to avoid digging deep into the energy pit in these final stages to give my body the chance to heal. If I keep pushing full gas all day every day then I will just end up run down for the end of year. Just being in the field is great training and the perfect way to keep improving my condition and if I can do this without getting tired then my rib will repair and I will be 100% within a couple of weeks. It was certainly a nice feeling however ripping out some turns to shut down some gaps. At the end of the day to catch people ahead of you you only need to ride faster than the bloke on the front of the group ahead of you! You run into difficulty with this philosophy when there are more than one person taking turns ahead of you! Then your job is a tuff one! But still its a simple philosophy which always keeps me pursuing whoever it is I am chasing when there seems little hope.

So the day for us was pretty average. We missed out completely. No representation in the front group and we never even came close to catching them in reality. We will re group, its far from the end of the world but another little reminder of how quickly you can have your backside absolutely handed to you by the strongest riders in the peleton. The trick is to every now and again ensure you dish some of it out yourself then its a little easier to take. Anyways we will regroup and start tomorrow fresh with new objectives. Daniele is just 4 points behind in the mountains jersey competition so I am sure that's somthing that will now become a focus for him and the Cannondale Boys. So time to get some sleep and put this tuff day behinds us.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013


After 3 of the most brutal days I have had in my cycling life today's rest day could not have come at a more convenient moment! From the moment I woke this morning I had a giant smile on my face knowing that finally my aching body could get the chance to recover. At the best of times I am not very skilled in taking it easy and resting. When I am craving such a 24hrs I know that I really really need it and as a result relished the opportunity to do a whole lot of nothing today. The other fantastic part about todays rest day is we are staying a 5 star hotel so everything from the comfort of the bed to the freshness of the bread is simply top notch quality. Just what an aching body needs on a day like today.

The second rest day of any grand tour is always a day where everyone seems to regain a spring in there step. All of a sudden there seems light at the end of the tunnel with merely 5 days of a 21 stage race remaining. By everyone I mean everyone, from the mechanics, to the team managers, team massures, of course the riders, and even the chef seems to gain a extra edge of enthusiasm and as if the food is not already perfect alex some how manages to raise the bar a little again. Yep its a joyful day and the perfect way to hit the reset button before the final charge to Madrid.

I bounded out of bed at my usual time this morning, around 9. I headed straight for the doc to have a check of my rib cage and try and find out why I was in so much grief the past few days. I knew this would be the most strenuous part of my rest day so wanted it out of the was ASAP. He again simply looked at and said you have a broken bone!! I said I know but that's assess it a bit more so get a better system to deal with failing on me! Firstly he checked to make sure the lungs nut punctured, bonus!! Next came the hard bit but a good way to wake up aswell!! Take a deep deep deep breath and expand your lungs to capacity! Now I wanted to punch him!! And exhale. The doc continued these orders for another 2min and slowly the pain and discomforted vanished to nothing more than the general broken bone pain you feel! Perfect it was a simply fix and the first possible problem so no time wasted there. From that however I have realized more than ever that I have to maintain these deep breaths and merely use the pain in the rib as a trigger that I am doing the wright thing. From there the time in the race should be more constructive. I am not here to have a holiday, I am here to get amongst it!

With the control of the doc out of the way and clear bill of health once again (within reason) I was as I often am, 1st down to breakfast. With all due respect to countries who believe they rule the  breakfast roost!! Spain really does nail the first meal of everyday. Everything is so fresh and just makes you feel good after eating anything at a spanish breakfast buffet, especially the fresh crispy bread and fresh yogurt are my cherished rituals of the morning meal while in spain. Breakfast on a rest day takes on a whole different form of satisfaction. For once you are not simply slamming down the calories in a fashion that you can just burn them all of in the upcoming stage. On the rest day you get a chance to enjoy your food and eat exactly what you want without the great stress of winding up on the side of the road with an empty tank in the race!

Next up was a little ride. I have tried all systems, ride, no ride, home trainer, and its definitely important to get out and do somthing. Keep the body routine on track and also just like breakfast enjoy pushing your pedals without the stresses of being bumped into by 200 blokes! A rest day ride done in the right way can really make the legs a whole lot happier with you. For me this is just letting them decide the intensity, no power meters, no heart rates, just letting your body tell you how hard it wants to go for and for how long. In yesterdays case after 90min my legs were feeling bonza again.

With a ride out of the way its time for lunch and few formalities which often come up on the second rest day. Its often the day when the team sports directors will sit down with you and finalise your racing schedule for the upcoming period, in this case through to the end of the season! Wow! It goes fast. I have been given a great program with a 1 day race in donoratico tuscany a week after the conclusion of vuelta. From there my next weekend is free of Cannondale commitments to ensure I am available for the National Team should I be selected for the world championships on sept 29. The next saturday 5 oct I will line up in tour of lombardia for the first time. The "race of the falling leaves" around lake como has always been a dream of mine to partake in so I am really excited about that. From the it will be time to get on the plane and head for the tour of beijing to round out my season before heading on home to aus. This program put a real smile on my dial as I will do every race in this period that I wished for so again I am very grateful to the management of the cannondlae pro cycling team for always giving me such a great racing schedule.

Next stop was a quick control of my body fat with the team doc. We have these done every few months or so just to ensure our diets are on track and I guess also to keep you honest. I have slowly become leaner and leaner during the season and yesterday was a new record for me so all good on that front. I have lost about 1% gradually since march when I was already in some of my best condition in catalunya so I am pleased that my balanced diet is ensuring I am not carting any excess chubba around on my cannondale!

In the afternoon is my time for a powernap and massage. Munga loves to give me a much longer massage on rest days just to ensure everything is lined up and functioning as best as possible for the final week. He has been in the sport for over 40 years, raced along side francesco moser and worked as cippolini's personal massure for many years, I never question any of munga's wishes. I know he will do everything he possible can for me on the massage table to get me to madrid in the best possible shape. Again always an extremely insightful 90minutes had with mugna the encyclopedia of cycling!

And just like that the done is done. Sure it flys by however in all honesty I am glad it did. I rested as much as I wanted to and certainly felt a lot more full of energy by the evening than I did in the morning. For me this is a good sign that I did all the things my body wanted to do on its day of recovery. Also the quicker the day passes the faster we arrive at the start of stage 17 and the beginning of the final week. As always, pinning that race number and getting stuck right back into it is what I enjoy the most.

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Monday, September 9, 2013

Short stage = a block!!

The final stage before the rest day and almost 100km shorter than yesterday. 3 climbs on the menu, none of which were overly steep but instead just steep enough for a strong team to absolutely decimate a peleton with some ferocious pace setting. The only thing missing now was a team to inflict this pain on the peleton! You only needed to walk past the team bus of movistar before the start to quickly realise who was going to apply the accelerator today!

We rolled out and the series of attacks went of. Astana tried to quickly shut it down and have a nice controlled day once a group of 6 skipped clear but this wish was very short lived! Step up to plate movistar! After just 10km they put there men on the front and instantly the chitter chatter disappeared from the peleton. Everyone knew we were in for an absolute brute of a day and the only question was how brutal? We hit the first climb after just 20km and instantly the peleton was in 2, then groups of 3, and by the top of the 6km climb the peleton was in around 6 different groups. Today the sun was out so the pain in my rib cage had somewhat subsided. Unfortunately for me today breathing became the issue and as soon as my heart reached 150 beats per min I was worryingly coughing up a lung! If I pushed beyond this point I was choking so simply had to resign myself to the fact that if I wanted to stay in the race I had to keep my heart rate below 150 beats. This is not so easy racing against the best riders in the worlds and trying to stay involved in the race. So basically I would ride a good position and then drift backwards when my heart and lungs pulled the hand break on me.

Over the first climb and all that remained at the front was the GC favourites. Naturally they all looked at each other as if to say what do we do for the next 110km without any team mates?? I assume the answer was something like this, "oh yeah we best wait for them so they can set us tempo for a little longer!!" So it all reformed. I perched myself up front ready for the next round of fireworks. Before we knew it we were at the feed zone and that's when it all kicked of again.

I have not been taking a feed bag for the past week as if I grabbed it would probably leave a rib or 2 right there with mugna who hand them out. Infact I use the feed zone as an opportunity to move up through the field and today even more so. The alarm bells started ringing when none of the movistar riders took there feed bags and they were all on the front. That meant one thing, the were not slowing down and to the poor desperate hungry soles they were in for a brutal 10km climb which was about to begin!!

I started right up the front behind moviestar which was really lucky. I knew unless they rode at my lung and heart restricted tempo of 150BPM then I would be tickedy boo but as guys were getting dropped as soon as we hit the climb I knew I was going to have to be smart! Sure enough my handbrake went on as moviestar continued to apply the accelerator, there were riders everywhere again and attacks started thick and fast. Again a group of favourites formed and again they had a look at each other and eased up. The group reformed and as I did I was a little back but having ridden to my heart rate limit was feeling great and started to move up the bunch and figured bugger this I am going to attack! We were only 2km from the top and I knew once I got over this one close to the main field that even if I dropped immediately on the last climb I would make it to the finish. I was ready to take the risk and have a go. Then just as I was almost within attacking range our polish strongman paterski launched of the front with a group and they were away. I was not about to try and attack solo and risk towing the bunch back the paterski so just resumed my spot in the bunch, no heroics from me today and in all honesty probably for the best. Firstly would most likely have imploded and not made it to the finish. And secondly I was under strict orders from the team directors and doctor to just survive today, make it to the reat day tomorrow, give my body a chance to heal, and reload for the final 4 stages. So from there on that what I did. As little as possible to get to the finish and I must admit I physically could not have done much more today. As soon as I got on the bus I had shower and fell straight to sleep, I have never ever done that before, my poor old body is certainly a little tired from the past few days!

Meanwhile the ever reliable paterski was in yet another strongmans breakaway. There have been 3 this race that the entire field has tried to be in and he has been in them all, he really is a hard hard man. The group behind had a cease fire long enough for the escapees to get up the road and ensure they contested the stage win. In the end a young frenchmen from Argos Warren Barguil showed his stage win a week ago was no fluke by beating one of the worlds best rigoberto uran in a 2 man sprint. Fortune certainly favours the brave in Warrens case as he started attacking 8km from the finish and was still doing it on the line! Obviously an absolute rising star of the sport and huge congratulations to him. Paterski showed his all round class with a fine 7th amoung some of the best climbers in the race and I am sure after he re boots his engine during tomorrows rest day he will certainly come out swinging again.

I am certainly not enjoying being unable to contribute to the race in a way I would like. But I guess I am realising the hard way that I am human and have certain limits. Unfortunately in these past couple of days simply surviving has been my limit. I want to stay in the race as I want to contribute in anyway I can to my team. I can't help much if I am sitting at home on the couch feeling sorry for myself and watching the race on TV. Also I am sure soon my rib will start heeling, its not a major fracture and they is always the chance that in the final week the breaks will come of my upper torso and I can push the pedals in anger again. Also I am on the long list for the world championships and representing my country is always an incredible honour. I know simply by finishing the vuelta that's its the best possible training for worlds and I want to be ready should I make the final 9 for the road race. Also as fabian told me a few days ago it basically like 2 weeks of altitude racing ahead of me! Racing with limited supply of oxygen will ensure when I recover that I am in much better condition. I will be fully recovered in a couple of weeks so in plenty of time to be ready for worlds and the end of season races with Cannondale Pro Cycling team. I simply have to suffer a little more than expected for another 5 stages here in spain. That no drama for me and it adds to the excitement, I honestly have no idea how my body will respond when the flag drops each day. That's what keeps the smile on my face, the optimism that I will feel normal again for just one day before the vuelta ends. For now its some more well earned rest and big day doing a whole lot of nothing tomorrow!

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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Pain in the rain!

The queen stage of any tour is always meant to present the greatest challenge to the peleton, and for me atleast that was certainly the case today! From the 1st km I was suffering and with the 224km stage culminating atop the col d pyresorde the suffering didn't end until I crossed the finish line. I would love to be able to report on how the race was won and won but in honesty I did not see the front of the peleton past the first 10km of the race. From then on I was merely a sheep in the race today, simply following whatever it was perched in front of me!

Todays start was one everyone feared, a 25km climb commencing after 5km. In an dream world the break would go at km 0 and a peaceful couple of hrs would follow! Yeah right, this was going to one way, full gas!! Everyone wanted to be in the break and as per usual someone was always missing out and chasing it down! I was instantly in huge bother from the start gun. It was quite chilly this morning, 10-15 degees I guess and as a result my rib was aching and with it my lungs did not want expand my rib cage, no matter how hard I tried to convince them to. I knew if it would full gas I would struggle to stay in the group without being able to breathe properly so I started the climb right at the front and greatfully took around 5km before I was quite unceremoniously spat out the back. I didn't panic, I knew it was coming and also knew it was best to ride my own tempo for the climb as oppose to trying to follow others and getting myself in real difficulty. I calculated as long as I kept my power around the 350-380 watt range for the climb then I would not get too far behind and would be able to re enter the group once the break went and things calmed down a bit. Well it was a great plan however as I found out today sometimes even the best laid plans can go a little wrong!

I am back in the cars and settling into my rhythm. Those same horrible sensations from yesterday are returning, cold, extra pain, lungs closing up, can't feel my legs ect ect. I have to actually look down every now and then to check to make sure they are still spinning! Fortunately or unfortunately all the pain is trapped in my chest and below that has not even felt like its apart of my body these past couple of days. So I finally found a few guys in a similar situation to me and we stayed calm together. We were not to far back and as long as we kept up our momentum and stayed in the line of cars we would be just fine. Also in a moment like this you know you are on the edge of leaving the race. If you switch of and give up that's it. You drop further behind, often on your own, and being only 30km into a 224km stage you will have no chance of finishing the days race. The most important things above all is to stay calm and remain focused. Sadly this happened to around 5 riders on this climb today so I can count my lucky stars I was not one of them.

Over the top I went with a couple of others we were still intouch with the main field. Well I could see it around 1km ahead and I had a nice long line of cars to weave my way through to get to safety of the peleton. After a pretty hair raising 30km decent I was finally tacked back onto the back of the main field. I took a few risks going down the hill and at one stage hit 102kmph. I had dario with me telling me to keep the legs spinning as with it being so cold he knew the importance of keeping the blood circulating and keep them warm, he truly is a gem to have in all situations during the race. So back in the bunch and danger zone number 1 was negotiated! Onto number 2!

Number 2 problem for the day was the 2nd climb. Around 25km in length I had calculated as long as I got over this monster in the main field I should be able to comfortably make it to the finish line inside the time limit and live to fight another day. The day warmed up in the valley before the climb and I instantly started feeling normal again. I started the climb right at the front and was feeling splendid. All of a sudden I was starting to believe it might be a good day! Wrong, the rain started to feel and the temperature dropped and like a switch my body went back into survival mode. I learnt an important lesson on the first climb and used these skills to survive the 2nd. I stayed calm and remaind in the front group until 5km to go. At this point I decided to drop out the back of the peleton and try and sit no more than 50-100m behind the main field but most importantly be able to ride my own consistent tempo. Also here you can sit comfortably among the first cars in the convoy and have a little rest and get some shelter when the opportunity presents itself. Word has certainly spread in the bunch regarding my rib fracture so it was really nice to get so much support from the team directors from other team following the race. Just small things like "500m then it flattens off so stay calm and recover a little, good job" hearing these comments from your peers is very comforting in a moment like this and helps ensure you can stay calm knowing that more just your own team are looking out for you. I big thanks to those who made the few km's much less painless than it could have been. My plan worked out to perfection and over the top I was not more than 50m of the back of the bunch and could enjoy a relaxing decent amongst the cars for a nice recovery.

Once down the other side I had a huge sense of relief. I had survived the first 2 climbs and now knew I only had to stay safely covered in the peleton and I would live to fight another day. I found my team mates and we had a bit of a laugh at my expense about the fact they had barely seen me all day!! I said I had been busy back in the convoy of cars ensuring all the directors were behaving themselves! I always try and make light of the difficult moments, always at least try and stay positive.

The next target was the commencement of the 2nd last climb where the gruppetto was sure to form. The gruppetto is the group that contains all the riders solely interested in arriving at the finish inside the time limit and not wasting any excess energy to do so. Today making this group was my final objective. All was going according to plan and again in the valley before the climb the sun started shining. Instantly I felt spritely again and was looking forward to a nice relaxing final 50km of racing to the finish. 5km from the base of the climb my back tyre went flat!! Bugger, I had not planned for this. Had this of occurred before the first 2 climbs I am certain that my day may have been finished. Now however with the sun shining I felt so relaxed that I simply called up mario on the radio, pulled over to the side of the rd, leant my bike up against the fense, and had a nature break while I waited for mario and moreno to arrive and change my wheel. I then took my bike and calmly made my way back through the cars. The difference was now that spark had returned to my pedals. The sun was out, I was no longer in excess pain, and I was able to concentrate putter power through my legs and onto the pedals. It was an incredible feeling. I regained contact with the field just as the climb started and to the script the gruppetto formed and I was safely inside it. From this point on the smile remained on my face all the way to the finish line. Deep down I knew I had really dodged a bullet today!

So while I was doing a brilliant job of patrolling the tail end of the race, Paterski was demonstrating his powerhouse abilities by once again making it into a hard mans breakaway. This morning in the team meeting our sole objective was to ensure Ratto got to the finish. He used a lot of energy yesterday and was not leading the king of the mountains competition. It was important, in much the same way we looked after Ivan in the first 15 stages that he use as little energy as possible to arrive at the finish. With that being said I was not much help to him in the first 100km as I battled on alone but I ensured I was right by his side for the final 2 climbs to assist where possible. In the end we all got to the finish safe and sound and will reload ahead of tomorrows final day in the pyranees!

Tonight I really need to good sleep!

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Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Rat was 1st up the drain pipe!!! Stage 14 vuelta

Wholly molly what an absolute cracka of a day. Daniele the rat man rattster has been banging on the door for a jolly long time and today he completely blew the door of its hinges! He has been 2nd and 3rd perhaps more than any other rider this year and to take his first Victory on a day like today is perfectly fitting. Its was and epically hard day and was fittingly won by one of the hardest men in the bunch.

Ratto was on the ball today long before he crossed the line in andora a grand tour stage winner. He spent the entire 10km neutral zone before the start perched right on the front row and when the flag finally dropped he was immediately in the action. After yesterday epic first 70km the break went surprisingly easily within the first 5km. I say easily as we were doing over 60kmph on a gradual downhill when the 5 men including ratto slipped off the front. Astana were obviously keen to let somthing go easily as I am sure yesterday took more sting out them than would of liked before the break formed. The bunch seemed happy for the same thing and I am sure considering the make up of it that I would come back once we hit the mountains. Sure it did not have renowned climbers in it but Luis Leon Sanches, Phillipe Gilbert and of course our man ratto are hardly group sprinters. They are 3 of the best riders in the world and when they need to they can climb very very fast. The peleton soon found that out!! There lead continued to increase as the rain started to pour down on the peleton for the plunge into andora. This was not surprizing as astana were happy to just control the situation as there not any riders inside threatening there GC position. What I am sure nobody expected was that once we began climbing the gap continued to increase. Soon after mario communicated to us via the radio that there 3 now clear, gilbert, sanchez and our man Ratto!! I had seen ratto climb like basso at the training camp in san pelligrino just before we raced the tour of poland. I don't know if before today daniele even comprehended completely the immense talent he possessed on all terrain but I certainly had a sneaking suspicion that not only was he and also the rest of the world were about to discover just what a classy bike rider he truly was. So with the 3 setting sale and gap continuing to increase 5km from the top of the days first climb Katusha had had enough and turned on the accellerator!

I was in my usual position right at the front with Ivan. Infact we were perfectly lined up behind astana so when katusha turned on the gas Ivan was right there to safely jump onto a reliable wheel. It was starting to get very very cold with the rain and increase in altitude and I was in big big difficulty. Not only is it a little annoying racing with a rib fracture but when you get cold it amplifies the pain ten fold. All the muscle around the trouble some are contact and all off a sudden you cannot hid from it. Add to that fact we were now above 2000m elevation where the air gets a little thin and consequently breathing becomes difficult and you increase the degree of difficulty to perform the simple task of respiration. Unfortunately for me I was finding all this out the hard just as katusha cracked the whip! In light of this I had to sit up and leave Ivan with sammy. Sammy is a columbian mountain goat so altitude is what he loves. He was being the perfect pilot for Ivan on the climb. I stayed close enough to the front group on the climb so if Ivan needed somthing I could arrive as quickly as possible but he was all good going uphill, it was the downhill that was about to present so serious difficulties for him.

Once we started going down I went into survival mode. I was shaking with a mixture of being cold and severe pain and was quickly aware that getting to the finish would be the start and end of my days objectives. Fortunately there were plenty of others around me so I never had to stress about being left behind and could simply do as much as was required. So down the decent I plunged and managed to get some food and hot tea into my system and started to feel a little better. When I was almost at the bottom of the major decent a lot of anxiousness came over the radio, I knew Ivan was in difficulty with the cold and had got so bad that he simply pulled over to the side of the road and had to stop. He could not control his bike due to being uncontrollably frozen and had no choice but to either stop or risk a major accident, I am pleased he had enough consciousness at that moment to stop no matter how much his head would have been telling him to persist. Longo and Heado stopped with him. Initially we all hoped he would put on some warm cloaths and be able to recover but in reality once your get that cold it takes hrs for the body to start functioning normally again. I had to keep moving as to be honest I was in huge amount off difficulty myself. I was freezing and could not feel my hands, my teeth were chattering and if I had stopped with longo and heado I probably would have ended up being with Ivan and forced to abandon. Specially seen as though my rib cage was now so painfull due to the cold that I could not feel my legs hardly let alone apply any power to the pedals. I figured it was best I continue onto to the next climb and if Ivan did get rolling again then I would be there when locomotive longo and hair raising heado towed him back into the race. Alas as I feared would be the case Ivan did not get back on his bike and was forced to abandon.

Its a harsh reality of cycling as only 20minutes before he spun his gear effortlessly on the climb and looked set to make a real impression on todays stage. He made an impression alright but sadly for him and the team it was not the pre planned one. Ivan certainly was reminded how cruel cycling can be in such a short space of time. He will bounce back, champions always do and I just hope he races again very very soon. He is certain to continue to be one of the strongest riders in the last part of the season and the team need him back on deck asap. So with that the ever selfless longo and heado returned to group without our captain. Was a pretty somber next 20km or so when the reality of what just occurred sunk in but the mood in the camp quickly changed when Dario's ever enthusiastic voice boomed over the radio, Ratto was now alone the head of the race and headed for Victory!!

Of couse I was not able to witness any of Ratto's heroic victory today, oh apart from the moment he attacked with 4 others and I screamed in the radio for him to push on as the group was stopping. Once out of sight the breaks gone and the quicker this happens the faster it deters any other opportunists from trying to get a piece of the action. So really that's as much as I had to do with ratto's win, this one was all him and Dario in the car off course. I have had a good chat with him though and it sounds like he really proved to particularly Gilbert (the current world champion) and luis leon sanches (regarded as one of the best classics and breakaway riders in the peleton) who the boss of that group really was!

The fireworks started on the first climb with sanchez forcing the pace. Only gilber, he and ratto remained. Daniele said he really had to grit his teeth for 5minutes pushing almost 500 watts but once sanchez realised he could not drop the others they resumed there steady pace. Well as steady as 400 watts can be for a 1hr climb! Once over this climb and down the other side Gilbert flexed his muscles and attacked over the top of the next climb and onto the decent. This proved to be like a red rag to a bull for daniele as he quickly despatched of sanchez who would ultimately crash out of the race, and chase down Gilbert.

Once on the world champ he ripped past like he was standing still and on the 3rd short climb of the day had 30seconds at the bottom and 1minute at the top as he gritted his teeth again around 500watts for a couple of km's in an attempt to break gilberts spirit. It worked and after a hair raising decent to the base of the final climb of the day the race was all but other. Even by daniele's standards he admitted he risked a lot on this decent with his moto GP type skills but in the end it paved the way for his fearless victory. Much was apparently said of his foot out skills on tight corners so it would come as no surprize that he does indeed own a road motorbike and in his OFF SEASON loves to get a bit of an adrenaline rush. After todays hair raising feet I am sure his motorbike will become an even greater part of his off season training.

So onto the final climb with almost 3minutes on Gilbert and only 6km of climbing remained. He said he did not panic and just maintained a good tempo as the group was some 8minutes behind and no chance of catching him so as he did not blow up. He was to smart for that and with the experience of Dario, the daddy of the team in the car behind there would be no mistakes. Ratto would take the biggest victory of his professional career, one which I am sure will open the flood gates to many many more. Infact if you break down the way he won todays stage he out climbed and out descended 2 of the strongest and best riders in the world. There was no luck involved just pure horsepower and complete all round class. What a way to win.   

As expected Dario was over the moon with excitment and to be honest was hard to distinguish who was happier, daniele or dario! I guess it just backs up the observations I made of Dario the other day where he genuinely cares a huge amount for everyone, not just his riders, and as a result has a huge display of excitement when one of his boys does well. Was certainly great to see him so happy along side daniele after such an epic day.

So was definitely a tale of two extremes for the cannondale pro cycling team. Ivan misfortune compensated by ratto's absolute heroics. While of course we having come here with Ivan as the objective everyone is also a little somber. The great thing and strength of this team is regardless of the daily objective we commit to it 100% and if all goes well fantastic, if not we try somthing else tomorrow. Well Ivan's situation is no different, he won't be on the start line tomorrow so will have a new objective's, so as usual I am looking forward to getting some shut eye and waking up and getting stuck right back into it tomorrow.

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Friday, September 6, 2013

No easy days!

Today had the potential to go only 2 ways, full gas or nice and tranquil. Stage 13 looked ideal for a breakaway to take the spoils and the only question was how long it would take to form and which riders were inside it! Sure enough and really as it should, the full gas scenario panned out! Everybody wanted to be in the break and that meant there was always somebody not in it that wanted to be in it, consequently there was always someone on the front going hell for leather and kept the peleton in single file for the first 65km!

The break finally formed and had 15+ riders in it. Sure enough due to the fact there was only about 60 riders left in the peleton when it formed it was bound to have some GC men inside it. A break like this only contains strong riders as not only has it formed after many have been dropped but also once making that cut you have to have the engine, and even more importantly the courage to dig even deeper and charge off the front. You always have the utmost respect for the riders that escape on days like today as basically all bar a few in the peleton wanted to be in it!

While none really threatened Vincenso Nibali's red jersey, there were a couple that threatened Ivan's position so we were immediately placed on standby to work if necessary. So with a dangerous break up the road the pace never really relented and before we knew it we were at the base of the days potentially decisive climb which came 50km from the finish. The climb was 4km and averaged 10% which on paper does seem so daunting. Unfortunately there's 10% and then there's a spanish 10% average climb. While in the rest of the world this type of climb can be constant and manageable, a spanish version is anything but! The spanish version prefers to have ramps of 20% followed by a little bit of flat, even down a little, the boof another few hundred meters at 20%. With my broken rib and getting out of the seat being the most painful consequence of it you can imagine how much I enjoyed this 4km of suffering!! I simply had to take it steady and stay as close to the front as possible, suck it up, stay in the seat as much as possible and save my energy to re enter in the front group on the decent of flat section before the finish. As it turned out I was not to far of the back over the main main field over the top of the climb and was back with Ivan sooner than I expected to be. Once there it was time to swing into action!

Not surprisingly the breakaway had splintered on the climb in much the same way the peleton had. The front of group containing a couple of GC contenders was now 3min up the road with those riders threatening to pass ivan on GC if the gap continued to grow. Ivan gave me the nod and I was finally where I loved being, on the front of the peleton! Now it was important not panic and blow myself to bits. The most important thing was to send a message the strong riders up the road that they were not going to be able to ride peacefully off into the sunset. So first I simply stabilised the gap at 3min so I could sense how hard they were riding. Realised pretty quick that they were going pretty hard as my SRM was spending a lot of time north of 500watts for 5km or so!! Fortunately FDJ were in the same bout and sent a few riders up to help me. This worked out nicely as now I could get some recovery and turn up the ratchet when I did some pulls. Soon the gap was down to 2min 30sec and when I finished another nice controlled but pretty much all out pull it was back to 2min. Now I knew there spirits were broken as far as taking time out of the bunch and Ivan told me to take a breather. From here fdj could look after thing for the final 15km. Unfortunately not long after that 1 by 1 the boys in blue started to fade and the pace went out of the peleton. I immediately got the nod from Ivan to not chase hard again but merely keep the pace steady just to be certain our hard work was not wasted. Its always best to shut this stuff down immediately was than was waiting simply means you have to ride even harder! Best to pull for longer at a more tranquil tempo than have to go all out and blow yourself to bits in a few km's.

At 10km to go or so quickstep sensed they could pull it back for a sprint and tony martin pulled past me at a pace that there was no way I could follow. I tried briefly but I was doing over 600 watts nad not only that we had gapped the field. So I said bugger this tone your on your own and waited for the bunch which he quickly realised was also the better option. So now I was officially of duty. Ivan had longo and paterski to pilot him into the final kms safely and I dropped back right out of the way to last wheel in the group.

So I was rolling along at the back when Fabian pulled up beside me. He said he was impressed with my persistence with the broken rib and suggested that the restricted breathing is a bit like altitude training!! Yeah I said great I get to do another 8 days feeling like I am breathing through a straw!! He gee these speed humps must hurt a bit?? I simply said I hold my breath and for those moments when I hit them I try and think about anything other than what I am currently doing, usually what I would like to eat for dinner is the first thing that comes to mind! Anyways it made my day to get a compliment like that from Fabian. He is a huge role model for me and to be honest the fact he even speaks to me has been one of the most enjoyable parts of the 2nd half of this season for me. I am absolutely in awe of guys like him and its awesome to be getting the chance to not only race along side him but also be able to have a good old fashioned chin wag from time to time. I want to make it clear that I if I am going to continue in the race I will do anything I can to contribute to the team. The moment I start putting my pain at the forefront of things will be the moment I am no use to anyone so I don't want be in that space, if you line up and pin the number on you race and that's that!

Ivan showed his diligence once more and finished at the head of the main field. Another day and again staying inside the GC fight so that was one objective we could once again tick off. Tomorrow marks the first stage in the high mountains so looking forward to getting stucking into that. With a bit of luck today will taken the sting out of a few legs and positioning my become a little more relaxed but in reality its going to be a ver very hard day!! Time to get some sleep and get ready for it.

Race data
170km in 4hrs 5min
Average power 283 watts
Average heart rate 147
Kcal burnt 4200
Max power 1040watts
Max heart rate 182 (my ribs won't let my lungs and heart push any harder than this point! Its a bit like having a rev limiter on!! Hopefully its enough to keep me in the action)

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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Pinching a few cheeky seconds

I would have to say it was a pretty unmotivated bunch this morning at the start of stage 12. With most people using the TT as a rest day like I did it seemed most of the peletons engine had shut down and nobody was too keen to make the stage harder than it needed to be. On paper it looked perfect for a sprint finish so for that to happen its was important a small breakaway skipped away from the bunch. Everything went to script and after just 1km of racing 3 men where up the road and everybody was happy as a pig in mud to gently role along in the peleton for an hour so before the teams of the sprinters started reeling the escapees back in.

I must admit while I had hoped for an easy day before the stage began, I quickly changed my tune 30minutes into the race. The problem with cruising along is there is no adrenaline pumping and I quickly learnt without this it does not matter how many pain killers I take, my rib is really really annoying. I got so fed up and uncomfortable that after 50km I went back to the car and asked mario if I could ride on the front for a bit of a rush and something to take my mind of the pain! Of course mario said no as he knows the importance of saving energy when possible and told me just to stay in the bunch and follow the wheels. I was a bit bummed but once I got back to the bunch the stress rose as we approached the feed zone and small climb at the half way point of the stage so I set up camp right at the front to keep Ivan protected and out of danger up and over the climb. As always happens when a narrow decent is approaching the tension and pace lifts so finally I had the adrenaline flowing as I fought of challengers for our front position. We crested the climb in the front 5 positions and as a result had an armchair ride down the 12km twisty fast technical decent.

Descending is something I have worked very hard on this year and I am finally feeling like I can handle a push bike. The idea is to be surrounded by good bike riders that you can trust and also be as far forward as possible. When riders don't trust you they simply barge you out of the way so that's when you know you look out of control. You may feel in control but to others it looks different and good riders identify this and rip past like your standing still. I have certainly been a rider in this category for my initial years in the sport! Today though I knew I was finally fitting in. I let all my team mates past follwed by valverde and lastras of movistar. After valverde vincenso nibali called me into the line which is a real honour for me. Vincenso is regarded as one of the best decenders in the bunch so to be given the wheel by him put a big smile on my dial. With my team mates a few wheels ahead I used them as reference points for the corners. If I saw them on the break and slowly exiting the corners I knew it was a tight one. If I saw them begin pedalling mid corner then I knew it was a free flowing corner where you could maintain your speed. With valverde infront of me I did not even need to look at him as I knew he knew what he was doing so I just naturally stayed on his wheel. Also with vincenso behind me and with him leading the race I knew nobody would be challenging him for my wheel so I nothing to worry about back there. So I was calm and relaxed and when your calm and relaxed you can just seem to glide on the bike. It was single file, twisty and fast and for that 10minutes or so was just such a rush flying down the side of the mountain while also feeling in total control. You have to savour moments like this as they never last long and the decent was to finish next to the ocean where the fireworks were sure to begin!

Today with the sprint on the cards we had the objective of position ratto to turn on his after burners in the bunch gallop. Off course looking after Ivan was the other major priority so we had plenty to keep us occupied in the final 50km. We set up camp the front as as I have said before you never know when trouble can strike. Sure enough around 45km from the finish as we passed a town on a narrow street a crash blocked the road. We were all safely in the front so all good! Next up the wind picked up a bit and with it the pace. The gap to the breakaway was plummeting and with them reeled in around 20km from the finish it meant there was an intermediate sprint and bonus seconds on offer around 17km from the finish!! This is when Ivan decided to pounce!

I spotted Ivan and longo in the first 4 positions in the bunch so quickly charged forward to see what was going on. Ivan just said keep the pace high before the sprint. Sure enough about 500m before the sprint Ivan jumped and I was the only one near him with the peleton strung out behind us. I promptly eased up and created a nice little gap which roche quickly tried to close. When I saw roche pass I got on the radio and told ivan to jump again to ensure he got to the sprint 1st and took the maximum bonus seconds on offer. He duly crossed the sprint line 1st and with it clawed back some 3 precious seconds. I made sure I crossed in 3rd to mop up the remaining seconds on offer as there no point winning them if you don't make the most of it so keeping them from his other rivals was off course the other objective. From there I kept the pace on on the front of the bunch. We were all up front so was best to make it hard for those caught out at the back to move up. After a couple of km's BMC took up the pace making and I drifted back to make sure ratto was in a good position with us now well inside 15km to go. I found him close to the front and dragged him further forward before re assuming my position at the head of the field for a couple of km's to keep the pace high, give us a position at the head of the field, and also while I was on the front I felt safe and minimised the chance of crashing. At 5km remaining was a crucial right hand corner so before this I drifted back again through the bunch to ensure ratto and Ivan were were they needed to be. As expected ratto was still in the first 10 positions with his pilot extraordinary heado protecting and guiding him, and Ivan was safely ticked in behind longo a little further back but in the perfect position to jump forward at the right moment. Paterski was acting as Ivan's bodyguard today and guarding his back wheel so all was good. I turned of the engine and just ensured I stayed close enough to Ivan until the 3km to go sign so should he need me I was there. From there I sat up and got right out of the way, any opportunity I can take in the next day to limit danger to myself I will certainly capitalise on. Today that meant getting way out of the way for bunch sprints!

Ratto was positioned perfectly for the bunch gallop but unfortunately his turbo would not fire today. The good sign however was he was in the perfect position so we know when he has his normal kick that big result is just around the corner. I am sure tomorrow could even present another opportunity. Longo had Ivan safely positioned up the front ensuring our team leader ended the day closer to the podium then when he started to the day. Its a great sign for the race that the GC men are chasing sprint bonus seconds, it tells you that they know how evenly matched they all are, and secondly that the race is most probably going to be decided by seconds. All bodes well for an exciting 9 stages ahead. Also if Ivan face following the stage is anything to go by then the party is just beginning. He was like a kid in a candy store when he swaggered up to my back seat on the team bus to go back though the 3 seconds he stole from his rivals at today final intermediate sprint. It just makes all the boys feel so much better about there days work to see him so focused and excited about how the race is panning, I really makes for an enjoyable ride back to the hotel each afternoon!

Its funny when you get this far into a grand tour and how you perceive distance in your mind. Today 160km seemed so so short. In the first week I always feel like the last 50km are freebies, around 1hr of racing to go which just zips by. Once I enter the 2nd week I start to feel like I am basically finished when we reach 75km to go. From there I know pretty much its only 1hr 30min - 1hr 45min of racing. Enter the 3rd week and its when I get to 100km to go I feel like I am home, 2hrs - 2hrs 30min of racing remaining. Your mind works in funny ways in a grand tour, I guess anything to simply keep it pushing on at the levels and intensity your asking it to. I guess in reality what we are putting ourselves through is not exactly normal!       
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