Giro d'Italia
The Giro's stage 7 was 264 kilometers from...

Chad Haga Giro Journal: Punching the clock

Haga slogs through the Giro's longest stage, contemplating its purpose and wishing for a bit of floss in his musette bag

Have you ever had a day at work where you couldn’t stop looking at the clock, to the point that you check to see if it’s broken? Welcome to stage 7 of the Giro d’Italia, a stage longer than most one-day classics.

The day, from Grosseto to Fiuggi, started early with a big breakfast and lots of coffee; we didn’t have a coffee machine at this hotel, but we did have a waiter who was quickly tiring of our incessant requests. I didn’t feel too sorry for him, as he works for a hotel that locks the lid to its piano.

In addition to starting the race with a full stomach, my preparation for the day included listening to the first half of all my favorite songs on the transfer to the start — I was hoping one of them would stick; there’s not much worse than a long race with a terrible song on repeat. I also let a couple squeaks of air out of my tires at the start line to make the long day just a little bit more comfortable.

It’s been said that the racers make the race, and today certainly proved it. The longest stage of the Giro, a whopping 264km (164 miles), came after a handful of really tough stages and before another pair of intimidating course profiles. You can put yourself in a hole for the coming stages by going too hard on a seven-hour stage. The nail in the coffin for this stage, however, was the headwind we faced all day.

So great was the lack of motivation to be in the breakaway that when the original break of three got clear, one rider sat up and came back to the field once he realized what he’d signed up for; we tried again and finally convinced four poor souls to go and fall on their swords.

As the reality of the slow grind settled in, we started taking bets on the winner’s finishing time and looking for other ways to make the time pass. My day was made more frustrating when a piece of the first bar I ate got stuck between my teeth — too bad the musettes don’t come with floss. I passed the time by focusing on my eating schedule and contemplating the purpose of such a stage in the middle of a grand tour. Perhaps it was to get us farther south without needing a long transfer, or maybe they were overcompensating for the few short stages we had, in an attempt to raise the average stage length. My most malicious hypothesis is that the organizers wanted to make sure that we aren’t sitting comfortably for the next stages, as today featured an overwhelming dose of blown-out Italian roads.

The kilometers crawled by so slowly in the stiff wind that the field let out a collective groan when we reached the halfway point and saw four hours on our clocks. Nobody can say we never put in a full day’s work … and we didn’t even get a break for lunch!

At long last, the race started after the second feed zone and a five-hour warmup. I was feeling more like my normal self after taking the last two stages as easy as possible to recover from my two breakaway attempts. My job for the day was to support our finishers as long as possible, starting on the penultimate climb. The fight for position was stressful, and I used a bit too much energy to get back to the front on the climb, and in the end, couldn’t quite make it over the top with the leaders. I’m still teaching my body how to handle those big efforts, 4,500kJ deep into a race, but I’m making progress.

We again missed out on a result today, but we still have plenty of stages to come, and morale is high, laughing about all the funniest and craziest moments from today’s stage over dinner. The first week of the Giro and the longest stage are behind us. I heard rumors of rain tomorrow, but I’m too exhausted right now to spend any energy worrying about it. First, a full night’s sleep, then we’ll see what Italy has in store for us tomorrow as we take on a meager 186 kilometers.