Volta ao Algarve: 5 stages
Because my winter training this year focused more on base building, my hope for Algarve is to see and feel a bump in performance from the race intensity gained in Valencia. I have fond memories of winning the KOM jersey here last year. We brought a very strong team: Lars Bak, Micheal Valgren, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Steve Cummings, Julian Vermote, and Danilo Wyss.
Stage 1: 200 km
It feels disrespectful stepping over riders with untold injuries leaving them smeared in blood in a pile of carbon shrapnel to to limit time loss, but the clock keeps ticking. We’d hung back, knowing that with the headwind we could move to the front in one shot until the crash blocked the entire road. Seven km from the finish Steve and I picked our way through the mess of what felt like an inevitable crash with all of the risk taking and tension there had been in the peloton. I paused over Lars long enough to make sure his injuries weren’t too serious. Just 25 riders slipped through the massive pile up. The rest of us gave up about two minutes. A chainring sliced open Lar’s shin. He needed stitches but got himself to the finish stay in the race.
Stage 2: 190 k
The intensity increased on first steep climb with two hours left to race. Like so many times before, I reached close to my limit and pushed back self doubt because so few riders dropped. At this level, every rider can take a hit. What separates us is how many hits it takes to break us, how many times a rider can rev to redline and how long he can stay there. We sprinted out of every turn in the winding run in to the 7 km final climb. The one hundred riders who hit the base, quickly reduced to 30, then 25. With 3.5 km to go, the group blew into small groups. Valgren finished 10th on the stage and I came in 1.5 minutes back in 23rd. Our GC hope, Edvald suffered one of his worst days on the bike, and will go home to diagnose and treat whatever took him out.
Stage 3: 20 km TT
When I crossed the line I expected a better result for my well paced effort against strong gusts of wind, but settled for 45th and plenty to analyse to fine tune this discipline. Steve was our best placed rider in 13th. Over night Julien caught a fever and decided not to start stage 4.
Stage 4: 200 km
We enjoyed a long sunny day and passed the time in conversation. When the race got fast, it also got nervous again. I saw a rider get pushed off the road at 70 kph (44 mph). He was very lucky to hit grass and was fine. On a climb 18 km from the finish I was given permission to follow attacks. My legs felt great and I surged to the front on the climb, but the sprint teams maintained full control. Another headwind run in created danger, and without a sprinter to work for we focused on staying out of trouble.
Stage 5: 175 km
With so many GC riders stricken by misfortune, we expected hail Mary tactics. Steve and I covered a lot of early attacks. A few times I made promising groups, but after an hour we missed the 13 rider breakaway. The stage win interested a few teams who kept the power down in pursuit. With 40 km to go we entered a circuit ascending the 3 km finishing climb which lit the fireworks. Steve, Valgren, and I managed to claw our way into the first group of 40 riders. The twisted effort gave me that diarrhea feeling in my guts which never went away. We caught the early breakaway, and with twenty km to go Steve blasted off the front in a group of 5. Each climb detached a couple more riders. Steve held on for 5th on the stage. I paced myself up the climb in 20th. Valgren finished 15th overall and I moved up to 17th overall.
Although we failed to achieve much in terms of results, I’m enthusiastic about my personal improvement from Valencia. I’m definitely moving in the right direction and enjoyed the excellent weather and team atmosphere in Portugal. Obrigado for your support!