My teammate and roommate, Alex Howes, introduces the Volta Catalunya (hyperlink). It appears Alex is a cycling prophet. 

Stage 1: 176 km

Easing back into racing involved super technical roads, a million little sprints for position, rain on slippery descents, and climbs. I gave a lot of sideways glances to see if it was hard for anyone else. I did get dropped but with 30% of the peloton, and was smiling the whole time. It feels good to be back and our leaders all made the first group.

Stage 2: 180 km

Play it safe. Get bottles. Block some wind. Not that it was a day off by any means, but Cofidis would control for a sprint. However, it’s a race and anything can happen as evidenced by the French rider I saw hit a traffic island at 70+ kph. That will give you goosebumps. To stay out of trouble I rode beside the lead out trains of the sprinters with the boys in tow until 8 km to go, then swung wide.  

Also, it was my birthday.

Stage 3: 172 km

Entering the sustained climbs that inspired a peloton packed with riders carrying less fat than a rotisserie chicken, the GC contenders revved their engines. Alex Howes forced his way into a star studded breakaway with a ballsy attack but our speed doomed their efforts. My legs refused or couldn’t work as hard as I wanted on the monstrous mountains, so I called on experience checking behind to make sure there were enough riders to form a survival gruppetto, put on a jacket atop a snowy pass, and did just enough to make the time cut.

Davide Formolo placed 7th but didn’t realise he’d taken the lead in the young rider classification and headed to the hotel. When I finally finished, freezing, and exhausted, the organization needed a stand in for the ceremony. Being the sacrificial teammate that I am, I took his place on the podium. Uran placed 11th. 

I felt sore and tired no doubt, but full of positive energy indicating that my limiter at this point is simply a lack of race intensity. I tried but wasn't strong enough to hurt myself worse. 

Howes studding in the break.

Taking one for the team.

Stage 4: 173 km

The queen stage tilted way up into the Pyrenees. I came close to my peak power numbers on the 5 km uphill start and summited close to the front. Then we ripped through a 5 km tunnel. Horrifying. Shifty little maniacs shoved into dark crannies where there wasn’t space. We blasted through at 40 mph without headlights. It’s hard to tell what’s a shadow and what’s solid. A break finally escaped in the light. 

Team Sky smacked it on the first HC (beyond category… really hard) climb. I pulled the climbers into position, and to my surprise made the selection of fifty riders. Sky, however, exploded and when we slowed everyone came back. Just behind over the top of the next climb, I chased downhill and my heart sank when I came upon Mike Woods in torn bloody spandex. I stopped to help pace him to the finish. He got back to the front and placed 25th on the stage. Uran 13th. Formolo 23rd.  

View from the mountaintop finish. iPhone photo.

Stage 5: 190 km

Easy profiles are a big tease when the level is this high. We covered 115 km in 2:20 before the break went. That includes a twenty minute climb where the peloton split in half. I floated some of the early attacks and it cost me, but call it my contribution to the team plus a little wind in the face before the last hills. Ouch. 

Downtown Nate Brown. Our first race as teammates was 2006! 

Stage 6: 200 km

When the alarm went off I knew it would be a hard day. The peloton whipped and cracked up and down twisty costal roads, before heading into open windy terrain. I think it was beautiful, but my eyes remained locked to the rear wheel ahead. Alex Howes jumped in the day’s break. In the windy sections, I moved the boys to the front in a line and sheltered them with pride. At 20 km to go, crosswinds buffeted a chunk of riders off the back. The physical after effects felt like a combination of illness and injury. Everything hurt and the positive energy from early on flickered like a dying lightbulb.

Howes throwing the long bomb.

Stage 7: 137 km

Eight laps of vicious finishing circuit in Barcelona provided a blood bath for the spectators. I followed a series of attacks and slipped into an 11 man breakaway. If we could hold off the peloton Cannondale had a chance to make up the one minute deficit in the team classification from BMC. We ripped over two climbs into the circuits rotating together, but the attacks came rapid fire as soon as we hit the laps lined with crazy Catalan cycling fans. Each lap the break shattered and then regrouped. With two laps remaining, I came unglued. I waited for the chase group of GC hitters with three of our boys represented, then did one last effort to pull back an attack by Chris Froome. 

The team worked well together this week, and in the end placed Rigo Uran 10th, Formolo 15th, and Mike Woods 18th. Just to finish this 780 mile race cost 30,000 calories. 126 of the 191 starters finished. I wish I’d had more to give, but it was a pleasure to rejoin the action, deliver a few bottles, and take some wind and kisses for the team. 

Breakaway stage 1. Confidence.

Breakaway stage 2. Desperation.