Giro d'Italia
Pedaling up climbs is optional on rest days....

Chad Haga Giro Journal: School’s out

Haga soaks in the much-needed respite from racing on the Giro's first rest day, a break from the zombie lifestyle of a professional racer

I remember watching the Tour in my teenage years, annoyed by the rest days because they interrupted my viewing routine. On the other side, I can tell you in no uncertain terms that this day is crucial not just for physical rest, but mental as well. After nine days, we were all bike-racing zombies. Just give us food and put us on our bikes, and we’ll follow the race motos until you say “stop.”

The evidence of our mental fatigue was all around us: It took two tries to count to nine to see if everyone was present at dinner; teammates don’t see that the condiment they’re asking for is directly in front of their plate …where they left it; we can’t remember if the stage we were discussing was yesterday, today, or a week ago; a teammate discovered that he was only wearing one glove at the start line; I shampooed twice because I thought “conditioner” was spelled s-h-a-m-p-o-o.

The rest days in grand tours are not unlike summer vacation for kids in school — a faraway goal that seems like it will never arrive, until suddenly it does, and you can’t make the most of it because you’re overwhelmed by the bizarre feeling that you should be in class. Our rest day, however, is just that: a single day. Tomorrow we jump right back into the routines that turned us into bike-racing zombies: eat, bus, race, bus, eat, sleep, repeat. Somewhere in there, I occasionally find the time and energy to do some typing.

In yesterday’s stage, attacks had been going constantly for over an hour and the field was single-file at 60kph. We were all chewing on our handlebars, silently begging for Tinkoff-Saxo to be satisfied and let a break go, and I thought, “I don’t have to do this tomorrow!” With that thought, the stage seemed just a bit shorter, as suddenly rest was within reach. Another common reprieve is, “Just get to the rest day,” a phrase that motivates us to suffer a little longer. Just a few words between friends mid-race to learn that we’re not alone in our suffering can be a huge encouragement. It’s also nice to hear from the veterans of the peloton that this Giro has been exceptionally difficult thus far.

Our four-hour post-stage transfer yesterday was made more bearable with a few pizzas, which boasted the highest enjoyment/quality ratio I’ve ever experienced. We also made the most of a gas station stop during the drive. … There’s not much that can bring racers back to life like pizza and chocolate, enjoyed while watching the exciting conclusion of the Amgen Tour of California.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our rest day, although I’m alarmed that it’s already dinnertime. Spirits are still high, as Simon Geschke’s efforts yesterday resulted in a trip to the podium and the KOM jersey, which we’ll be looking to defend for as long as possible. We also still have a complete team, which looked unlikely just a few days ago when Nikias Arndt was hit with food poisoning the evening after stage 7 and spent all of stage 8 chasing the field. He effectively did the longest stage of the Giro, finishing with the lead group, and then didn’t eat afterward. He suffered more than any of us thought we could, eventually being guided to the finish by Cheng Ji and Tom Stamsnijder, who dropped out of the peloton to motivate him and give him a draft. Thankfully it was only a 24-hour bout and he didn’t have to suffer so much yesterday. “Just get to the rest day” was his mantra.

The next leg of the Giro presents a fresh batch of challenges and opportunities, although there will certainly be many moments of suffering. If we play our cards right, those efforts will be rewarded with results.

Just give me food, a bike, and tell me when to stop pedaling, and we’ll get to Milan one stage at a time. We may be zombies, but we’re here to race.