Being part of the grand tour circus is, I surmise, a bit like having amnesia. I keep reliving what is essentially the same day over and over again. Like a cartoon character I wear the same outfit every day, I eat the same thing for breakfast (two bowls of oatmeal, an omelet with cheese, and two pieces of toast), and the same song loops over and over again at the race start. I feel stuck in an infinite loop of overly complicated computer code.
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Early in the Vuelta, my legs could tell me how far along we were. The dull ache that infiltrated every muscle fiber worsening with each day’s race. But after the queen stage, and our ascent of the Aubisque, my legs could get no sorer. So the race bible continues to be my compass (we are now on page 226). I still have good days and bad days. On the good days it feels like the midway point in a normal stage race, but on the bad days everything is a struggle. It’s hard to get food down, hard to stand up, and hard to pull on spandex before greeting the morning crowds. On these days, my French teammate Julian Bernard says, “Today I fight with myself.” Sure we are racing against the other riders, but everyone is physically exhausted, and so it becomes more of a mental battle than anything else.
The oppressive heat and incredibly demanding stages (5,200 meters of climbing on stage 14) have made for what I’m sure is exciting racing on TV. But it turns out that what’s exciting to watch on TV is miserable to experience on the bike. The first rest day was a welcome respite; the second rest day felt more like the last bottle of rum on a deserted island. I swam in the sea, went for a two-hour ride, watched a movie, and wrote this blog. But all day long, Wednesday’s uphill start loomed in the back of my mind.
I keep trying to break down the path to Madrid into smaller and smaller pieces, but at this point it seems ridiculous, like a kid with a crumbled up cookie, picking bits out of the carpet and letting them dissolve slowly on his tongue. I don’t dare look more than one day ahead in the race bible anymore.
On the other hand, I know that there are only five days left, and I want to make them count. I know when I look back on this Vuelta, the difficult days will fade, and I will remember only the highlights. In fact, I will probably eagerly raise my hand to do the race again next year. Maybe that reflects how tough cyclists are, or how awful our short-term memory is. Just keep pedaling, I tell myself.