Culture

Kiel Reijnen Vuelta Journal: Turning the pages

As grand tour rookie Kiel Reijnen flips through the 279-page Vuelta race bible, he reflects on the ups, downs and his dwindling mind power.

How does it feel to do a grand tour? Almost every journalist I have spoken to this month has asked, and the truth is it depends on the day. Some days I feel like I have won the lottery, cruising around on my bike through the picturesque hills of Galicia soaking up the Spanish summer sun in my first Vuelta. I power over climbs and surge down twisty descents. Other days I feel more like I just received a college rejection letter:

Dear Mr. Reijnen,
Thank you for your interest in grand tours. However, we regret to inform you that your application has been denied. It appears that you simply don’t posses the physical gifts necessary to compete at the upper echelons of human performance. We hope that you understand that we receive many applications each year … etc.

I estimate my progress in the race by how far through the comically thick race bible we are. (The book outlines, the rules, regulations, stage routes and profiles.) It’s 279 pages long; we have reached page 154. That means 125 more pages of suffering to go!

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Inside the race we bounce from hotel to hotel. Often rushed pre- and post-stage because of long transfers. This is Spain’s big race, and true to form everything is very late. The stages generally start around 1:30 p.m. and finish by 6:30 p.m. By the time we get cleaned up, to the hotel, and massaged, it’s 10 p.m. or later. But each night we gather together as a team and sit down to a wonderful meal prepared by our chefs Dan and Kim. This is my favorite moment of each day. We swap stories from the battlefield and commiserate about the sadistic nature of the course designers. Bellies stuffed to the brim, we waddle back to our hotel beds for a few hours of sweet rest, often sleeping until nine or 10, before it all starts again the next day.

The routine is as monotonous as it is comforting. As the body becomes more fatigued and critical thinking goes out the window, you start to rely on your autopilot. I started La Vuelta reading a book about the function of microbes in complex organisms. I will likely finish it by reading “Goodnight Moon.” The battle to stay fresh is as much mental as it is physical. Luckily we have a great crew here and it keeps the morale up. Having nine Americans here in the race is a boon as well. There are plenty of familiar faces around the peloton to chat with, in English too.

I have enjoyed much of the experience already. We have raced through some absolutely stunning areas of northern Spain and so far my body has held up. I have also spent time at the back of the peloton suffering, just trying to cling on until the grupetto forms. Whatever happens in the next 11 days of racing I am sure I will know a lot more about myself than I did before. I doubt, however, that I’ll commit every page of that massive race bible to memory.