Highs and lows create the drama in cycling. I also used high and low altitude training to prepare for the Vuelta. A block in the thin air of Park City, Utah segued to aggressive low altitude racing in Burgos, Spain. From Burgos, Lachlan Morton, who has been my roommate throughout the season, and I drove to Pas de la Casa, Andorra at 7100 feet. Lachlan described it as the worlds largest duty free shop at the top of a mountain in the Pyrenees, an odd combination of perfume, booze, bulk cigarettes, and ski lifts, gurgling streams, and free ranging cattle.
Altitude slows recovery and I felt like my Burgos condition had evaporated, but I trusted that when we descended from the clouds my capacity for oxygen and power would level up. Eager to impress at the Vuelta, I’d spent months training away from home, and missed my brother’s wedding for Burgos. The Vuelta would be Lachlan’s first three week grand tour, and in his words, he didn’t really know what to expect. I tried to share the saving advice I had received before my first grandy.
"You will have one or two bad days, days when you wake up and don’t think you can get out of bed let alone survive another five hours at the highest level of physical competition. You won’t want to talk to anyone. You’ll be tempted to snap at fans who chase you asking for your water bottles. Eating will be a chore. But if you get through those days, you’ll make it. In the third week you might feel empty and soulless, but the effort will be automatic and even when you feel nothing you’ll see the power there. You’ll imagine that you’re suffering more than everybody else, but I know you’re condition and I promise there will be others suffering as much or more than you. Maybe me, but I know what to expect. If we’re roommates again we’ll have each other for that. I’ll make sure you get out of bed.”
Stage1: 14 km TTT
Twisting haphazardly through the city of Nimes, we dipped in and out of the colosseum like in a video game course. Each of us took turns on the front giving our maximum for the team, then slotted back in line. In a one hundred and eighty degree turn, at least four of us drifted our wheels. We were on the edge, but trusted each other. Our team of climbers put in a respectable mid pack time.
Stage 2: 203 km
When someone mentions crosswinds on a costal day, expect stress. So much stress, in fact, that there was not even a breakaway. Knowing the importance of staying up front, teams took up the entire road and drag raced the whole stage. After an hour of racing I could tell something was off. My mind was foggy and I began to get chills despite the heat. Yes, I was hydrated. I tried to convince myself that it was just my body restarting at sea level or a reaction to the TTT the previous day. Overanalysing wouldn’t help so I got my head in the game and tried to forget the arthritic pain seeping around inside me.
On a fast downhill a pile of riders went down. I stopped and scoured the ground for my team’s jerseys. My eyes landed on Javier Moreno. He’d fallen chest down and his legs were tangled in the bike on his back. A rider would normally roll over to escape that position but he had pushed himself up on his elbows. His face was covered in blood and he was reaching into his mouth presumable searching for teeth. Later they confirmed a broken jaw, but I heard that he had to wait forty minutes for an ambulance. Cringing, I chased back to the peloton.
After the stage, I got straight on the bus. I couldn’t move. It had been a stressful day, but not very hard physically. I forced down my recovery shake but the thought of food made me sick. My condition declined on the way to the hotel. Lachlan and I were separated in case I had something contagious. I curled up in a ball in bed aching, shivering, and anxious about tomorrow. I took one bite of food and had to limp to the bathroom. The next morning I was determined to fight on. Never quit. Ever. Grand Tours are so long that there’s time to recovery from illness if you can survive it. A cat 1 climb at the start would give that answer soon. On the way to the start I tried to eat a rice cake, but got nauseous before I could swallow. During the pre race meeting, I was shivering and dry heaving in the bushes behind the bus. My Vuelta was over before it began.
Highs and lows.
I'll be cheering on my Dimension Data teammates from Italy as my health returns. As always, thanks for the support.