Twenty-one days is a pretty long time. Doing anything for 21 days can be tedious — even vacation! So as you can imagine, racing a bike for that amount of time leaves us with quite a bit of downtime. Not every day has the action/excitement/carnage of stage 2, thankfully, so we often have to find ways to pass time both in the race and out.
One of my favorite parts of the Vuelta is the start village or Puenta de Encuentro as it is called here at the race. While much less grandiose than the ones at the Tour, it is an area for the riders and VIPs to mingle, have a drink, eat some food, or in my case, have a coffee. Each day I roll in and find my compatriots, Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and Ian Boswell (Sky), and we have a few moments to chill and chat before the start. Tejay always finds a spot tucked away in some corner that makes him difficult for people to find … and difficult for me!
When you spend between four and six hours on your bike for so many days in a row, there is plenty of downtime in the peloton. We fill the time with conversation, stories, trading of nutrition, and gossip. It may sound funny, but eating the same energy bars for the entire season and three weeks straight can get pretty monotonous. So we end up having a little bit of a black-market barter system in the peloton … A MuleBar for a PowerBar, my gel for yours, rice cakes for gummies, and a melange of other swaps. We are particularly lucky with IAM, as we have a special type of gel called WinForce — a gel based on MCT fat, and it is unlike anything the other teams have, making it great currency for trades. Sometimes if I’m feeling generous, I just grab a few extra and just give them away without asking for anything in return … because you never know when you might be in need of a gel!
It seems that whenever a relatively small group of people spend enough time together, there will always be gossip. And it is no different in the professional peloton than in a group of tweens. But instead of talking about what boy is with what girl, the most common topic is who is going to what team for next year. As the Vuelta is near the end of the season, there is a ton of transfer news circulating in the peloton. I have heard a few rumors, and so far they have all turned out to be true. I can’t say the others that I’ve heard, but it is always an interesting time of year.
Another popular subject of discussion was Vincenzo Nibali’s disqualification from the race. Things like that happen in many races, but usually they’re a bit less blatant (ex., the mechanic hangs out the window, pretends to adjust the saddle, while the director drives an obscenely fast speed to return to the peloton). Clearly ol’ Vincenzo did not expect the heli-cam to be locked on him like an eagle on its prey. While most riders get away with this sort of thing, I have to say I agree with the punishment.
I don’t always disagree with hanging onto a car though. At the end of stage 4, with the super-steep finishing climb to the town of Vejer de la Frontera, our IAM team, along with many others, descended to the bottom of the hill to our bus. Yet much to our dismay, after a small miscommunication, we learned that our bus — along with a few others — was actually parked at the top. At the end of the longest stage of this year’s Vuelta, we were a little bit pissed. We tried calling our directors, but they had no reception at the top. Riding back up the 20-percent grades was not an option. While trying to find a solution, I ended up losing my teammates, but there was a less-steep route back to the town. I decided to buck up and climb the hill. My legs were absolutely dead, so when I saw a taxi coming up behind, I blocked the road, and in the few words of Spanish I know, convinced him (forced him) to give me a tow. As I flew up the mountain hanging on to the side of this Spanish taxi driver’s car, all of the teams who did not lose their buses were driving in the opposite direction. It elicited more than a few laughs. I was just happy I didn’t have to pedal any longer.
As we enter the mountains in the next days, the stages will be much less monotonous, there will be many fewer conversations, but a lot more suffering. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can count on any more tows from the cabbies.