Giro d'Italia
Chad Haga and the Giro peloton faced one of the...

Chad Haga Giro Journal: Messing with big brother

Haga rides the toughest Giro stage yet, full of hard, rolling hills, rainy roads, and plenty of ambitious racers going for the win

Today’s stage was significant in multiple respects. Stage 11 from Forli to Imola marked the halfway point of the Giro, and it took the lead in the ‘hardest stage’ rankings. And I really, really hope it stays there. It’s not hyperbole when I say that today was the most I have ever suffered to simply hang on to the bunch.

The short stage’s saw-tooth profile was good for a breakaway, and everybody knew it. The smart thing to do was to be patient for the 30 minutes of flat ground before the climbing started, as the break would not likely get clear until the top of the first climb at the earliest. I was determined to stay smart, but then my ‘poor-decision alarm’ malfunctioned, and I found myself jumping around early. Patience is a virtue, and today I lacked it and was punished accordingly.

Attacking at the start of the stage when a big fight is expected can be best likened to a child messing with his older brother: He feels big and tough, getting his licks in while he’s fresh, but eventually big brother has had enough and starts returning punches. Before too long, little brother is curled up in a ball, shouting, “I SAID ‘I’M SORRY!’” but the hits keep coming because the little twerp needs to learn a lesson. That was me halfway up the first climb of the day — full of regret and lactic acid.

I got over the first climb in one of many chase groups, as the field had exploded. We regained contact just as the next climb started, and I again fell off the pace as attacks continued. Just to dampen my spirits, the rain started. Thus began a cycle of getting dropped and chasing back on just in time to get dropped again, a miserable routine that lasted three hours before the grupetto formed on entry to the circuit. (Is it still called the grupetto if it comprises 60 percent of the field?)

The most encouraging — and at the same time, disheartening — part of it all is that I had good legs today. It’s a real mind-bender to settle into my rhythm on a climb, then look down and see 400 watts on the screen. I’m happy to see that I’m comfortable climbing at that pace on stage 11, but alarmed that it takes more just to hang on. On stages like today, riders were not differentiated as climbers or rouleurs or sprinters, but instead by who has the legs after 10 stages and who didn’t.

The next 10 stages will be more of the same (as long as GC hopefuls keep trying to jump into the breakaway, at least). It looks like we’re in for a wet week, too, which is nice because it means I can just lick the Italian pavement for hundreds of kilometers rather than bother with those pesky water bottles. For situations like these, the last line on my RoadID says, “Better than a desk job,” lest I forget that some part of me is having a lot of fun. The beauty of being so fatigued is that I can just sleep the sleep of the undead and awaken having forgotten the trauma of the last day, lost in the vortex of stage racing, then go out and give it another shot. Vive il Giro!