Rest days pass so fast. We sleep in, ride, cut our fingernails, shave our legs, nap, and eat, and then it's time to
Stage 17: 39 km TT
Ouch. Cough. Ouch. Cough. Done. I wasn’t able to get enough oxygen through my mucus coated lungs and lost heaps of time. But fifty minutes of effort restarted the engine and was essentially another active rest day.
Dark horse, Tom Domoulin, wrestled back overall leadership from Fabio Aru by three seconds.
Stage 18: 205 km
The thing about rest days is that everybody gets them. Some bodies shut down into forced recovery mode. You push it and they give you the middle finger. Some bodies come out with a few extra bullets revving to take advantage of fresh(er) legs. The GC contenders wanted to isolate Domoulin, find a weakness, and crack him. For that the needed intensity all day. Talansky caught the cough that’s going around and decided not to start. We’re down to six.
The first fifty km took care of themselves. The roads were small with sharp bends and climbs. We covered, and attacked, and chased down moves we missed. When you throw everything into a breakaway, and the peloton sweeps you up in a crosswind or uphill, it’s an animalistic survival instinct that matches the pace again. We finally slipped Cardoso into a twenty five rider escape.
For the next 100 km team’s pulled hard with different objectives. Then alarm bells rang as Astana organised at the front before the final Cat 1 climb. I don’t know how they rode so hard, but chunks of riders peeled off on every rise. My group ascended and descended to the finish while Cardoso, one of the last breakaway survivors, placed with the GC contenders.
Stage 19: 185 km
I’ve been coughing up chunks of my lungs for two weeks, and I’ve given up on feeling better before Madrid. But I came here with goals, and I’m part of a team with goals. Self pity is the end of the fight. So in these same Spanish mountains Hemingway’s Robert Jordan speculated, “'I do not like the sadness,’ he thought. That sadness is bad. That’s the sadness they bet before the quit or betray. That’s the sadness that comes before the sell-out" (For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ch. 1).
I made it into a 24 rider breakaway. Nobody skipped a pull and we built a sixteen minute advantage. The attacks began on a technical descent fifty km from the finish. One climb loomed before the finish. How could I trust my legs for the climb? I resolved to anticipate the action and get ahead. In my head, "Everything what you do is positive. What you don't do is negative. So do!" our director Jonny's words. I attacked and matched every acceleration on the lower slopes. Each time they dragged us back and eventually twos and threes would slip away. Having spent too many bullets, I looked to the others to chase as they’d done to me.
My only mistake in hindsight was sprinting after Nelson Oliveira. He was ten meters ahead two km from the top of the climb. I looked back and saw three guys mowing us down. I thought, “let them catch me and chase Nelson.” However, they came to my wheel and stopped. Nelson rode his way to the leaders. With ten riders in front, and stuck with some of their teammates it was impossible to organise a chase. I hit my group on the final two km climb, and finished alone and disgruntled ten seconds behind 10th place.
Stage 20: 175 km
Four cat 1 climbs at altitude. An atmosphere of last chance desperation mingled with numbing fatigue. We missed a small break. I helped a couple teams hammer it back close. Then Moreno, Dombrowski, and Howes jumped across in groups one by one until forty riders were off the front. Domoulin’s team chased. Astana struck on the third climb. The peloton and the breakaway shattered. Alex set tempo for Joe and Moreno. Bodies were scattered everywhere- fighting for the win, fighting to survive.
Moreno placed 10th. Aru won the overall. Cardoso finished 18th overall.
Tomorrow we ride into Madrid. And it's flat! Thanks for all of the support. The Vuelta wrap up is coming soon.