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I’ve done a grand tour in August, and I’ve done one in May, but I’ve never done one in March, which is effectively what’s happening with my legs. When I started the Giro last year, I had 19 more race days in my legs than I do now. Time will tell whether that will work in my favor.
My selection for the Giro probably surprised many people, but not me. It was my biggest goal of the season before the crash, and it became a giant Italian carrot the very moment I learned I had no significant lasting injuries. I, my coach, and my team believed I could make it back for the Giro, but I would not have much racing beforehand to sharpen up. So, I worked harder than I ever have before. I had a daily game with my coach in which he gave me a set of intervals intended to break me, and I would report back that he needed to try harder.
Then I raced the Ardennes classics as tune-up races, which I cannot help but chuckle at. I did my job as long as possible before I was dropped, but I finished, determined to squeeze every last bit of fitness from each race. With but a single day of rest after a legitimately epic Liège-Bastogne-Liège, I started my first real stage race of the season in Romandie. I was encouraged by the progress my legs made each day, but the hump finally came on the queen stage. My body decided that four days was enough racing and rebelled, so I suffered through a nasty and tough day to get over that hump. I was better in the final stage, but I finished very, very tired. If you’d asked me how I felt about the Giro just days away after finishing Romandie, I would have answered, “intimidated.”
Suddenly I found myself at the Giro d’Italia in the Netherlands (something that makes non-cycling folks go, “huh?”), hoping my legs had recovered well enough. The teams presentation was spectacular, and the weather was a welcome change from recent races, I am still a bit intimidated by the weeks of racing ahead, but I’ll benefit from this extra rest day. Regardless of my performance, however, I decided to race my heart out and hold nothing back. I’d rather give it everything and fail to finish than ride for time cut every day and make it to Torino.
Back on the U.S. circuit, prologues were my bread and butter, so I was excited for the test of power and aerodynamics. My teammates encouraged me to take a really good look at the start ramp on the recon ride — they can’t seem to remember what to wear to team presentations, but they can’t seem to forget my mishap in Tour de Romandie. With a couple laps under my belt and the corners memorized, there was nothing left to do but sit and wait.
Warm-up was uneventful, except for the part where I met the King of The Netherlands — nice guy, he wished me luck! I went on to ride a perfect race, finding that my legs felt awesome, recovered from their efforts in Switzerland. My time proved fast enough to settle in 12th place when the day was done, an effort that scorched my throat so intensely that it took minutes before I could rasp out a plea for water.
As I lay draped across my bars, gasping for air, my breathing came under control. I knew I had done a time that could very well settle in the top-10, and I knew that I had set an all-time power record in the process. Then it hit me that I was racing the Giro d’Italia, that faraway carrot I had set my eyes on before I even left the hospital, and I broke down. The road to recovery has had many milestones, but with that ride, I definitively put the crash behind me.
To that same end, Team Giant – Alpecin finally broke out as Tom pulled on the first maglia rosa, delivering the result we all knew he was capable of. Tobias crushed it as well, bringing back the young rider’s jersey. And finally, with four riders in the top-13, we led the team classification. Our team time trial squad for the world championships is shaping up nicely, I’d say.
If the paint on the roads is any indication, the Gelderland region has been renamed “Forza Tom.” With the maglia rosa on the back of the Dutchman in his country, we enjoyed two very memorable days buzzing by what seemed like the entire Dutch population standing at the edge of the road, if only for a little while before the wind whipped the peloton into a nervous frenzy and caused us to chase back the breakaways just from the effort of staying at the front.
Those nerves delivered the crashes that everyone was afraid of, and I had a few “this is gonna be close” moments, somehow managing to stay upright all day. Marcel is on some fantastic form, and it’s great to see even if we aren’t teammates anymore, so it was no surprise when he took the race lead with his second win.
Losing the jersey is never a happy occasion, but it provides us more options in the coming stages, and we’re definitely in a position to capitalize on them: after three stages, team Giant – Alpecin has four riders in the top-10 GC. I harbor no delusions of being able to hold onto ninth, but it’s nice while it lasts.
Now the race returns to Italy and I’m ready for some great pasta after holding out for a couple of weeks in anticipation. I’m still a bit intimidated by the racing to come, but gaining confidence each day. It seems these fresh legs might just be working in my favor.