Giro d'Italia
Spray from the Giro's rainy roads can deliver some...

Chad Haga Giro Journal: The hazards of racing in the rain

Haga tries to stay healthy in rainy weather and delivers a solid time trial despite facing a course longer than any other he's raced

Parents, if your kid tries to eat dirt, let them. Someday they might want to be a professional bike racer, and they’re going to need an immune system that can handle the Giro’s whimsical weather patterns. I wasn’t kidding in my last journal when I implied that we’d be drinking a lot of road water. As proof, consider these stats: In Friday’s three-hour, rainy, stage 13 from Montecchio Maggiore to Lido di Jesolo, I drank only 1.5 bottles but needed three nature breaks. That fluid has to come from somewhere, and the answer is easier than the question of where to expel it — spectators lining the road for miles is great until you really need a nature break, and I was unwilling to do the ‘lazy man.’

That’s enough about urine, though, let’s talk about number two now.

Just kidding.

Not really. On one of yesterday’s roads, the scent of manure was quite strong, and I thought, “The trucks that brought that manure to the farm had to drive on this road … maybe now is a good time to close my mouth.” Which brings me back to my original point: It’s easy to understand why some guys start to feel under the weather after a string of rainy days. Our tires are a delivery service of myriad substances that we really shouldn’t be ingesting, especially in our fatigued state with vulnerable immune systems.

The biggest issue with rain, however, is staying on one’s bicycle. Traction can be difficult enough to come by on greasy roads, but in rain-slick sprint stages, the leading cause of pile-ups is brake lag. For those who have never raced in a rain-soaked peloton with carbon wheels, brake lag is the terror-filled half-second between hitting the brakes and slowing down. So when the sprinters start bashing around and something goes awry, nobody’s brakes work, and we all come tumbling down. That’s why rainy stages are so stressful — sprinters want the stage win, GC riders want to stay with the group and out of trouble, and nobody can slow down. The fear of crashes becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as everyone stresses out about it and fights for position to avoid the crashes that the fighting causes.

We again missed out on a result yesterday, but our lead-out is becoming more fine-tuned and today saw the non-start of a few fast finishers. Our odds are looking even better in the few remaining opportunities; we just have to survive a bit of climbing in the interim.

With all this disdain for the wet weather, you might think that I would dread a nearly 60km stage 14 time trial in the rain, but you would be wrong. I’ve taken enough heat transfer courses to fully appreciate how beneficial rain is for cooling during really hard efforts. Even though the descents posed a bit of a hazard, I knew that my legs would be good because I could set my own pace and the rain would keep me efficient.

They say that the shortest time trials require the longest warm-up, so I figured that the inverse was also true; I did 15 minutes of easy high cadence on the trainer before rolling to the start, just enough to wake my legs up and get the blood flowing. After the way the road stages have been starting here, I was not concerned at all about a comparatively easy time trial start. The only issue was the pacing for such a long effort. I consider myself a time trialist, but I was unproven at such a distance. And by unproven, I mean that my longest-ever solo time trial was 40km, and that was in 2010. Team Giant-Alpecin’s data guru laid out a pacing plan for the effort, one that I considered quite ambitious until my legs actually delivered. I should know better than to doubt the man with the data.

In the end in Valdobbiadene, my efforts were good enough for a top-20 placing, which I’ll happily accept for my first foray into the world of long-distance grand tour time trials, and especially considering how many power records I had to set to get it. Now that I’ve typed ‘power records,’ I have the urge to do a bit more data analysis before bed. Data dorks unite!

With the completion of Saturday’s stage, we have entered into the final week of the Giro, and suddenly it seems much less daunting even though there are still some crazy stages to come. I simply must forget the first two weeks and approach it as a normal week-long race. I’ve done plenty of those. Hashtag mind tricks. Did I do that right?