Team Cyclingnews.com - Down Under - 2004
19th Circuito Montañés - 2.5, Spain, June 16-22, 2004
Spain and suffering
Well, it's been a little while, but I'm back, from our race in Spain, as well as from some bad days out on the bike - hopefully they're gone for good... or at least for a while!
We got to Spain, after splitting the 16 hour drive over two days, to be greeted with some fantastic weather. A nice ride along the coast outside of Santander (on the Northern coast of Spain) and it felt a little like home - sandy beaches, warm weather (like Australia when I'm there, not now!), and it wasn't Belgium!
The legs were feeling good on the ride, but the first two days of the tour weren't exactly like that. As we got into the racing, Spanish style, straight from the gun, the legs weren't operating as normal, the heart rate couldn't be raised, and the hills just didn't work for me. All unusual, and nothing of what I was hoping for in heading down there to race. After the first day I put it down to the long trip to get there, and the associated lack of good training whilst sitting in the car for two days straight. When not much improved during day two I started scratching my head, trying to wonder what was, or wasn't going on?! An infection of some kind perhaps, I don't know?
But on day three it didn't matter as much as I found myself having to nurse myself after sliding out on a tightening blind corner on a descent at 50-60 km/h. Luckily in some way my landing strip projected between the posts of the armco guard rail, and I slid clearly under it, one foot still clipped in, back wheel first. It was almost a full 10 out of 10 for execution, except for my right elbow cleaning up the post on the way through. I would have bowed for the judges, except for the overwhelming 'pins and needles' all down my arm, and into my two little fingers.
Cam, who was with me in the group was able to ask a quick 'you all right Phil?' as he zoomed past, and apparently from the look on my face (a 'Is this week really happening to me?' look), he sensed I'd be all right, but nevertheless I was certainly not happy!
Putting the fall behind me, as well as the cloud of dust, and half my knicks (cycling shorts) I got back on the trusty steed, and made way for the finish line 40km away. Finishing the stage with a decent-sized group it was time for some scrubbing brush action, and preparation to line up for the next day!
The following few days were a mix of the earlier blocked legs, and now resurfaced hip and elbow, but the stages rolled by with some great scenery at times, as well as some slow kilometres up some 'special category' climbs, that literally put us into the clouds, with visibility down to 50 metres, and the temperature dropping to single figures. The team soldiered on though.
The double stage day arrived on the Sunday, and after a morning road stage of close to 140km, we prepared for the 9km individual time trial. The nice part of this time trial was the 2.5km climb that it ended on! My warm-up went reasonably well, except for the bolt on my TT bars stripping out on the mechanic. Oh well, looks like another TT to do on the plain old roadie! With such a finish though it wasn't as critical. It wasn't a great result, but I managed to drag myself up the hill in the 33rd fastest time. Well off what I should be doing, but the legs started giving me some feedback that they were on the comeback, if somewhat slowly!
The second last day, and we had the longest stage of the tour, 196km, with a 'special category' climb, two Cat 1's, a Cat 2, as well as a Cat 3 thrown in there as well. We'd done less than 15km of the stage, and I threw in a counterattack. I was joined by 11 other riders, and finally, after some flat f#*k hard work, we broke well clear of the peloton, and built a nice lead. The 21km 'special cat' climb was first up. This cleansed our group, reducing our numbers to 8 riders. We passed the next two climbs with our lead constantly yo-yoing between one and three minutes. On the second last climb of the day, we were left with just five of us still clear of the peloton. The time gap was down to 1'15, and it was becoming time to really try and take this race and make it mine!
I picked up the pace for the final few kilometres of the climb, and rode away solo, no one coming with me. Finally, now on the sixth day of the tour, the legs were responding to my requests, and doing what I knew they were possible of. By the top of the climb I was out of sight of the four other riders. Forgetting about the crash a few days earlier, I flew down the descent, making it through all the corners this time, and crossed the few kilometres of the valley floor, building my lead. I started the final climb of the day, an 8km Cat 1 mountain, with a healthy lead, and feeling great. As the road steepened it was time to change from the 53 tooth to the 39 tooth gear on the chain wheel. Somehow, probably a split second of a sloppy chain, the carbon fibre rear derailleur got snapped in two, and suddenly my bike was unridable.
Alain, our director, was behind the peloton in the team car, with our spare bike. I was able to get a spare bike from the neutral spares car behind me, but me riding a 55cm bike, with platform pedals and toe straps in cleated shoes just doesn't happen to be the fastest way to ride up a hill! I was caught by a small chase group of riders a few kilometres up the climb, and I tried staying with them as long as possible, knowing that Alain was on his way, with a bike with matching pedals. Not having my trusty steed any longer, I wasn't able to match race pace, but thankfully as I looked back down the climb I could see the silver streak of the Cyclingnews.com team car making its progression towards me.
Another bike change, and I was one frame size closer to what I needed, and had a matching set of pedals to my shoes. The new leaders of the race had escaped my sight however, and after wrestling with the new angles of the spare bike, I lost touch with the front runners, and hence the chance of the stage win also. Anyway, the good sign from it all was that my poor condition earlier in the week was not likely to be fixed with a break, but rather just a few bad days of something or other, and that the form I had in the lead up to the race is still going to be available in the coming weeks, before I have a few days off in early August.
Finishing off, the final stage of the tour was more a controlled procession, run by the team of the race leader, who set a pace to control the tactics, and secure his victory. We had only lost two riders up until this stage. The race had been tough though, with only 80, of the original 140 competitors finishing the tour. Cam was caught out by bad luck though, and was involved in someone else's accident on a corner down a descent. A guard rail, and a sudden stop sent Cam to hospital, but fortunately, only for some stitches. A cracked frame though, and some stiff joints have kept him off the road since though.
In ending our trip in Spain we had time to return to one of the beaches we had seen on our first ride before the start of the tour. A few nice little waves were caught, reminding me of how good life at home can be over summer. And hey, the saltwater was good to help clean up the wounds as well! After our final feed at the great restaurant that had been fueling us all week, we snuck in a few hours sleep before the 5am departure to head back to Belgium, and the land of the BIG GREY clouds!
So, till next time, look after yourselves, and let me know what's happening,