The Tour of California is starting to become interesting as there are still several riders with a good shot at winning the overall classification after Wednesday’s hard and fast stage into San Jose. It seems every team wants to make the race hard on race leader, Levi Leipheimer’s team, Discovery Channel, and today they had to control the race on the front for most of the stage—and it was certainly not an easy stage to control as it was hilly and windy, and the peloton that sat in their draft feisty.
Since the start, we, T-Mobile, have been fighting hard for a stage win. We narrowly missed winning the first stage as Greg Henderson was beaten by a frustratingly small half centimeter—about the size of your little finger. At the moment, we are sitting in a nice spot with two fresh sprinters for the coming days, three riders with a chance in the classification and a team eager to support them, animate the race, incite breakaways and attack.
The race this year has been significantly harder than last year’s event as the peloton is stronger and the courses more challenging. Likely, the aggressive racing will continue and Thursday’s stage down the coast will be hard for Discovery to control as rain is predicted, with southerly winds, meaning we will be riding into a headwind for 200km. The road is not flat for more than 10km and is constantly serpentine, undulating and wide open to the strong winds that blow off the Pacific. It will be tough yet probably one of the most scenic routes we will race over this year.
There is a unique sensation when the entire team is gathered on the front leading out the sprinter. Everybody is giving everything they have with the objective of controlling the race, the front of the peloton, while keeping the sprinter out of the wind and away from the fray of sprinters fighting for the right wheel in the peloton. The adrenaline increases as we accelerate towards the line, and it is a high unlike any other: We are in unison, flying, and dodging danger in every corner.
There has been a lot of talk among the riders and managers about the commissaires’ ruling two days ago to give the whole peloton the same time despite the fact that the crash, and the ensuing split in the peloton occurred 9km before the finish. Likely, the race for the overall classification will come down to seconds and I would imagine there will be some even more annoyed managers and riders if it is the ruling that decides the race. Nobody likes to see riders lose time because of a crash but rules are set for a reason—I have never ridden a race where a similar decision has been made.
We have been racing with our SRM power meters since the first stage. After each stage the team doc downloads the data, analyzes it, and gives us some feedback on our fitness and our effort. I have found it interesting racing with it and the numbers are quite astounding. On average I have been producing about 3000-4000 kilojoules each stage but the peaks and valleys in download profile are very interesting and completely different to what I see on the training graphs. While leading out the sprints we are accelerating out of the corners at about 500-700 watts and then each stage I hit a maximum of about 1000-1200 watts when I do my final acceleration on the front in the last kilometer before pulling off. Essentially, the conclusion I can quickly draw from looking at the files is that to race well you need to race, or motor-pace, to simulate a race. Otherwise, it is hard to find the rhythm of the race straight off of a good training block or an entire off-season away from the races.
I was chatting with Thor Hushovd yesterday, and he was complaining that his legs felt good one minute and empty the next—mine were similar—and I guess that sensation is due to the different rhythm and the changes in speed and power output that aren’t felt on a solo training ride.
The crowds here have been awesome and I was especially psyched with the massive Canadian flag (the leaf was even properly drawn) at the summit of Sierra Road today. The fan support is similar to most of the big races we do over in Europe and it is motivating and inspiring to us while we pedal like madmen. So, to all of you out there that are cheering us on, thanks, and also, thanks for reading.