Editor’s note: Garmin-Cervélo’s Andrew Talansky is riding his first grand tour, the 2011 Vuelta a España. Talansky is sharing his diaries with VeloNews readers throughout the race.
After a successful climb up to Sierra Nevada, I was confident that I would be able to be in the front groups on the following stages to help Christophe and Dan as much as possible. However, I found myself struggling a bit when the going got tough the past two days.
While yesterday was an extremely taxing stage, up and down all day offering no respite, today was a little longer and more relaxed with some flatter to rolling roads. The main potential difficulty of the stage lay towards the end, a 7km climb that, depending on how we rode it, had the potential to make the race quite difficult.
While there were some hopeful sprinters, I don’t think anyone was ever convinced that we would have a tame ride up the climb, or down the narrow, winding descent that ended just 5km before the finish line. The race this year has been “game on” every day, and today was no exception.
At the start I felt good — in fact, I felt pretty good all day. Which is why I was a little surprised when I found myself tailing off of the lead group just over a kilometer from the top of the final climb. I knew I had made a mistake: I had let myself slip too far back, which meant I had to weave around the countless riders who exploded as the pace ramped up.
At this level of racing, if you start too far back and have to close the gaps around riders who are sitting up or getting dropped, you have to ride faster than whoever is on the front. Some guys can manage this, riding themselves to the front on sheer strength. As of right now, I am not one of them.
The run in to the climb was fast. It seemed that since the day had been fairly easy, compared to yesterday at least, everyone decided they were going to fight to be at the front. Some riders who were clearly going to be dropped on the climb were shoving a bit with the GC guys and climbers. Watching Jani Brajkovic of Team Radioshack, one of the smallest riders in the peloton, bump another much larger rider out of the way, was one of the moments that brought a smile to my face. When push comes to shove, the riders who belong at the front are not afraid to prove it.
As we neared the opening pitches, speeding through an anonymous Spanish city, Leopard began to ramp up the pace. Cancellara did one of his famous never-ending pulls and that set the stage for us to fly uphill. About halfway up, Heinrich waved me on, saying without words that he wasn’t feeling good enough to contend for the stage win and I didn’t need to wait for him. So a few kilometers further up the road, it was with great dismay and a little bit of anger at myself that I slipped backwards out of the pack. The top was so close but as the road steepened and the pace increased, I was over my limit.
Riding to the finish in a small group, I had time to think. I had started too far back, that I knew. I kept trying to figure out what had gone wrong and suddenly it dawned on me: absolutely nothing! This is my first year at this level of racing, my first grand tour; there are bound to be average days and great days. I remembered that I am just happy to be here, feeling strong and healthy and gaining experience every day. Rather than fight with my body when it says “enough,” I am choosing to listen and be content to let the form come.
I always demand a lot of myself and I’m sure I expect more out of myself during this Vuelta than my team does. While the main goal is the same as when I started, to help our team leaders and make it to the finish line in Madrid, I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t like to try to do something special one of these days.
The good news is that I seem to be recovering well and history has shown that I get better as races go on. In many of the one-week stage races I have done this year I have found myself suffering early on and coming around by the final stages. Here at the Vuelta I am actually feeling quite good already, so who knows what will happen over the next couple of weeks.
One thing is for sure: between my daily massage sessions with our Spanish soigneur Enrique (who is working his 31st Vuelta!) and great dinners from Sean I really have no excuses for not recovering properly. With many mountains yet to climb — the majority, actually — and a 47km TT in just a few days’ time, there are plenty of opportunities to live up to my own expectations.
Talansky finished 95th on stage 6 at 6:53. He sits 61st overall at 20:16.