Hello, It’s been a while, and it’s time to kick off the 2019 season!
From November team camp in South Africa, family time in New Jersey and Virginia, to house projects and taking advantage of the most time that Jenna and I have had in one place since marrying, the offseason flew by. While I am racing the Vuelta a Valencia and the Volta ao Algarve in February, Jenna will be serving remote village children in the Philippine mountains. Taking off from the USA, saying "goodbye for now” burns every time, however, having trained more than ever before in December and January, I also itched to get some racing in my legs. I’m also proud and excited for Jenna’s adventure.
After 30+ hours of travel I landed in Valencia to test and improve the aerodynamics of my time trial position before stage one of the race.
Vuelta Comunidad Valenciana: 5 days
Stage 1: 10 km individual time trial
I paced myself then emptied the tank up the 600 meter serpentine climb to the finish. I went up the hill fast but apparently not so fast around the rest of the course! Having spent the winter grinding out thousands of miles I expected my mediocre result (51st), but I’m confident these race miles are building the house on the foundation. My teammate, Edvald “The Boss” Boasson Hagen, however, scorched the course taking our first victory of the season by 5 seconds.
Stage 2: 180 km
A nine kilometre climb that peaked twenty-five km from the finish gave ambitious teams an opportunity to shell some sprinters before the fast finish. Once we had let an eight man breakaway go, our whole team lined up near the front guarding Edvald and Jay Thompson alone kept the breakaway within four minutes until Astana came forward to do their damage on the climb. I saw some great suffer faces and whether it showed or not I suffered too, but only a few riders got dropped. "Everyone is so good!” I thought. My job came on a small rise with four km to go, one of the last places to move up. I pulled Eddie and Roman to the front and drag raced the other teams. Eddie kicked to the line in 6th place.
Stage 3: 200 km
We chased down threatening riders and big groups until another eight man breakaway formed. This time Lars Bak and Giacomo Nizzolo kept the breakaway in check, but the climbs came further out and the last two before the finish would be Edvald’s first big test to defend his lead. Fifty km to go, Astana lifted the pace once again putting riders at the back in difficulty. Jay and Gasparotto helped Astana pile on the watts. As we turned into a small road with twenty-five km to go, other teams swarmed the front. I fought them into the corner with Eddie and Roman on my wheel, then started pulling myself to maintain our position into the last climbs and shut down the breakaway. I pulled until halfway up the first climb, where we caught the break, then left Roman with Edvald. Eddie stayed with the leaders in 14th place.
Stage 4: 190 km
We didn’t know if our Norwegian powerhouse, Edvald, could handle the tiny climbers up the last three 13% kilometres, but we did know that he would fight all the way to the line. For that we all agreed to keep riding like a team of winners. The mountains today would decide the overall, and from the start the biggest teams attempted to break us. We chased attack after counter attack, and on the first climb the peloton began to split. Every time we let a few riders go, Moviestar or Sky sprinted up to it. Gasparotto and I marked their moves until after an hour of racing three riders got away.
Jay and Nizzolo set a draining pace for the next two hours. Then Nizzolo (recovering from a surgery) dropped. Jay carried on, even increasing the pace to chase his beast training partner, Silvan Dillier, who had dropped his companions. Gasparotto and Lars took over. With thirty km to go, Silvan’s lead was four and a half minutes. When the road kicked up my old training partner of Michelton-Scott, Chris Juuls-Jensen, pitched in to our chase. I joined Chris and we brought the gap down to 2.5 minutes over the next fifteen km. On the wide road into the final climb, the speed naturally increased as teams fought for position. I gave my last effort to pull Eddie to the front. Roman and Gasparotto lead him up the first half of the climb. Edvald turned himself inside out, but slipped to ninth overall.
Stage 5: 88 km
We listened to the wind whipping outside as we waited for the 2pm start. At least we’d have action instead of a boring parade! At one point during the 40 km run in to the finishing circuit Bahrain used the wind to cut the peloton in half. I made the split and hoped the first group would stay smaller for the technical lap in Valencia. When everything came back together, however, it was as fast and dangerous as I imagined. On the laps I repeatedly found Edvald near the front, then got squeezed back in a corner or pinched back between two riders. Braking, shouting, sprinting, and pushing. You can't get that in winter training! A big crash blocked the road in the last km but Edvald finished 9th on the stage and 9th overall.
Leading our first European race of the season for four days builds momentum and a positive atmosphere going forward, not to mention how the extra work will benefit our fitness. This is just the beginning. As always, thanks for your support!