Giro d'Italia
Recently, the Giro has served up ample helpings of...

Chad Haga Giro Journal: Quality versus quantity

Haga's survival instincts kick in as the Giro delivers two brutal days of climbing and a rest day, which wasn't really that restful

As the Giro enters its third week, I’m looking for new and exciting food options to keep my appetite. It comes to a point where doesn’t matter what beautiful Italian name they give a bowl of pasta with red sauce. The better something tastes in Italy, the less they give you … and that’s a problem if you’re trying to recover from six-hour stages with tasty food.

Sometimes we get lucky and the hotel doesn’t realize that they’re expected to feed the riders like livestock, and we promptly dispose of the delicious food before the mistake is realized. “Sorry, what fancy Parmesan?” At breakfast, my ratio of croissants to actual bread is continuing to climb, as is the ratio of peanut butter to what it’s going on.

Somehow, whatever I eat, my body continues to awaken ready for another bike race, and I would hate to disappoint it.

Stage 15 from Marostica to Madonna di Campiglio rolled out under mostly sunny skies, although we would receive a few light sprinklings of rain throughout the day — just a kind tap on the shoulder by the Italian clouds to remind us that they can drop by at any moment. I started the stage with thoughts of a breakaway, but when I followed a surge in the opening flurry of attacks, I learned that my power records in the time trial came at a price. “We’ve had a change of plan,” my legs told me. “You’re no longer hoping to be in the breakaway. Now, you’re hoping the breakaway is gone before we reach the base of that mountain.”

But with the field motivated by the looming rest day, it looked like the fight would only be settled by the mountain we were racing toward. As I tried to save as much energy as possible, I kept hearing one of the final lines from the movie “October Sky:” ”This one’s gonna go for miles …” Sure enough, the field exploded as the attacks continued all the way over the top. We eventually regrouped in the valley before the final pair of mountains, but it was clear that most of the field was worn out from the last two weeks of unrelenting stages, and accordingly had no ambitions beyond the grupetto.

At the back, we lamented the fact that we never get to hang out with the boys in blue, but we’ve come to accept that they just might not like us.

If the first rest day was used to catch our breath; the second rest day was more like steeling ourselves for battle. The first rest day featured a relaxing ride with plenty of shenanigans; yesterday we did intervals. The efforts were short, and thus not too costly for our tired bodies, but it was crucial to make sure that our legs didn’t go into recovery mode with the queen stage just the next day. The way this race has been going, we can’t afford even a single bad day or we may go home early.

Our team meeting Tuesday morning was less “tactical discussion” and more “survival planning” for stage 16 from Pinzolo to Aprica, but that’s how it goes sometimes. The villaggio was completely empty before the start as nearly everyone was on the trainer warming up; you know things are serious when guys who didn’t warm up before the time trial are on the trainer before a stage with 15,000 feet of climbing. Talk of forming the grupetto on the start line was only half-joking, and it came to fruition just a few kilometers later when the race exploded on the opening climb. What followed was a hard bike race from start to finish, and I even had my pie-plate cassette to make the Mortirolo more manageable. By the numbers, it was the most physically demanding stage of the Giro so far, and I finished 38 minutes down.

We were nine hollow riders at dinner as we shared our stories from the day, barely noticing that we were shoveling yet another heaping bowl of pasta with red sauce down our throats. And tomorrow? Well, tomorrow, we’ll race bikes again.

I just hope there’s a nice selection of croissants and plenty of peanut butter at breakfast.