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Within the Giant-Alpecin team, we had taken to calling this race “the Giro that just keeps giving.” This phrase was heard after stages that seemingly defied explanation, at hotels that had us wondering whether we’d done something to upset the race organization, or at any other moment that simply had us shaking our heads in amazement — something we found ourselves doing frequently.
After my exciting and successful day in the breakaway, the Giro just kept giving, in the form of two serious climbing stages. I’ve taken to calling stage 19 the “death march.” The pace that Astana set during the first three hours before the climbs, spurred on by the presence of Alexandre Vinokourov at the race, caused so much pain that the race actually got easier when we could let them go and tackle 13,000 feet of climbing at our own pace, eventually setting new records for kilojoules burned in a race. Stage 20 was easy by comparison, tackling the Colle delle Finestre (a spectacular climb if you ever get the chance to do it) on a day in which I didn’t even hit 5,000kJ — basically a recovery day, really.
The final stage was bizarre. There was a nine-kilometer parade with plenty of photo opportunities for the Tinkoff-Saxo team and one wild team owner with pink hair (Oleg Tinkov -Ed.), which was followed by a much bigger parade as we rode an inexplicably long way through open fields until we reached Milan, where we had a 40-kilometer criterium. At least we had a long warmup for that final hour of chaos.
Stage 21’s finishing circuit had 100 meters of cobbles and railway crossings in sight of the finish line (because, why not?), and the entrance to the final corner featured a sharp lip that caused multiple flats every time through. Like I said: the Giro that just keeps giving. Things were going to plan until the final corner claimed Luka Mezgec’s rear wheel with just three laps remaining, and our chase efforts were sidelined by the need to get him back to the front of the race. Team Sky’s plans were similarly ended, and ultimately the breakaway benefitted from the disorganization behind. All the preparation and motivation in the world isn’t enough when luck isn’t on your side, too, and we finished the Giro without a victory.
Even though we didn’t win a stage, it was still a successful Giro for our squad, as we were one of only four teams to finish with all nine riders. We had multiple podiums and many top-10 finishes, a couple of days in the mountains jersey, and we finished the third-fastest Giro in history, an edition widely touted to be one of the hardest ever.
The feelings I had as I rolled across the finish of my first Giro d’Italia are difficult to pin down, and are largely the reason for why this journal is coming two days after the race finished. I worried that I was attaching too much significance to it, but then I decided that its significance is up to me.
I have always enjoyed pushing myself to my limits, unable to turn down a good challenge. As I steadily climbed through the levels of the sport, I always looked at grand tours as the ultimate challenge. They are the greatest test that cycling offers: three weeks of racing at the highest level. My takeaway from finishing the Vuelta a España last year was that the physical challenge of a grand tour is dwarfed only by the mental challenge of it. Looking back on this Giro, I can say that it was more difficult in both respects, as both my legs and my mind were pushed to new limits.
I didn’t win the Giro, or even a stage. I’m not a superstar; I’m beaten down regularly by the big names of the sport. Everything came together perfectly for me on stage 18, and it only resulted in a top-10. It takes full dedication and a lot of sacrifice just to get a little bit better each year, but I’m proud of the way I achieve it and how I represent everyone who helped me get here. There were innumerable battles to be fought to get to that finish line in Milan, but I won. I finished the 2015 Giro d’Italia, and I’m proud of it — the Giro couldn’t give me more than I could take.