I continued putting in the miles during training the week between Valencia and Algarve and showed up feeling one step further in terms of fitness.
Volta Algarve: 5 stages
Stage 1: 185 km
The first two hours were a mind game. Despite an uncomfortable pace the kilometers seemed to pass slowly. Working for Mark Cavendish, a sprinter who wins, gave me a certain sense of entitlement to assert myself at the front before the sprint finish. It also justified more risk and I pushed back against the bullies fighting for position. I did my job between 30 and 7 km to go then drifted back. In the end Edvald Boasson Hagen was our only top ten finisher.
Stage 2: 195 km
The day's breakaway didn't last long as Katusha took advantage of narrow twisty roads through steep terrain to ramp up the speed and punish those at the back. I picked my way to the front, shepherding Omar into position, but both of us were on a bad day. Actually none of us had super legs on the final climb and suffer as I did, I lost contact with the peloton on the penultimate climb.
Stage 3: 18 km TT
My position on the bike was a bit off but I tried to enjoy the flat high speed course. Edvald pulled off another top ten. I placed disappointingly far back but a few changes to my aerodynamics should put me back in business.
Stage 4: 205 km
Although a very long and draining day we, rode along at an easy enough pace to allow both casual and meaningful conversation with friends, ex-teammates, and competitors. These conversations are an end in themselves and help pass the time. As we approached the finish the breakaway began to look more threatening. With 30 km to go, the team asked me to help chase. I took suicide pulls for twenty km, somehow finding energy for “one more.” The break came into view, and I swung off. In the end Edvald placed 10th in a dangerous sprint.
Stage 5: 180 km
I was told to get in the breakaway. After two hours of lunatic attacking, I knew I had to make it or else all of the energy I’d spent trying would be wasted. Eventually a group of 21 riders broke free. I made it. We slowly edged out our advantage to around three minutes, but the peloton kept us on a short leash heading into the mountainous final half of the stage. With thirty five km to go the chasers pulled us to within a minute. We continued to hammer, fighting to the death, but I sensed the chasers toying with us and almost wished they would end it to put us out of our misery. I helped stretch our gap out to over a minute on a climb with 20 km to go. I could see some of the other breakaway riders beginning to suffer and try to skip their turn on the front. The closer we got to the finish, the more they focused on saving energy, but with such a small margin over the chasing peloton I continued to do my turn. Then a gap opened as some of the riders refused to fall into the rotation. Those of us who were working hit the gas and left them behind. On a one km kicker before the final climb, I took a hard pull. If we could fend of the catch here, we would survive to the final climb and then, who knows? I looked over my shoulder at the top and was alone. Eventually six riders came back to me, but the peloton swallowed us all up in the last three kilometres of the final climb.
Algarve was another step in the right direction and ended on a good note. My next race is Paris-Nice.