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After 10 days of tough racing, we have had enough hills, heat, and head-over-heels crashes to leave us weary and ready to rest. Unfortunately, with the queen stage in Andorra looming, the peloton may not be resting so easily on the Vuelta’s first day off.
One of the most important things any experienced professional will tell you is that recovery is the most critical part of a grand tour. The more time spent in bed, they say, the better. What I have found though, is that this applies to more than just our time in the hotel room.
Most teams follow similar strategies throughout grand tours, as well as most other stage races: recovery drinks, a small meal immediately post race, massage, and the like. With our team, we have a chiropractor who travels with us as well, in case anyone needs some adjustments. On the bus after the stage we use a machine called a “GameReady” in which you wrap your quads with cold compression. I try to make sure I get enough carbohydrates in the hours post-race to keep the glycogen stores topped up. And we have a chef to cook our meals to make sure we get the right nutrition we need.
But aside from all of that, I try to take my economy to the next level. Whenever I do anything these days, I ask myself, “can I be saving energy?” If I don’t have a chance for a result, or the opportunity to help a teammate, I sit up in the final. This can be difficult, as riding in the gruppetto is not often enjoyable. It takes a bit of pride-swallowing, but all in the name of being stronger when it counts. For a rider like me, who is not chasing a high spot on the general classification, I need to save it when I can, so I have more to give when I have the shot at a stage win.
Sometimes I take my energy savings to the next level. When you race 21 days straight, the little efforts add up. That is why I rarely stop to pee, instead opting for “rolling relief.” I decided that if I pee while rolling instead of stopping every time, over the course of the Vuelta, the amount of chasing I save will make a difference. Many riders laugh when they see me rolling while everyone else is stopped, but it doesn’t bother me much. I had a small error the other day, however. The wind picked up, and the entire peloton shifted in my direction, lining up single file. … And some of the guys who slotted in behind me got a bit of a surprise. One of the riders who happened to be in my accidental line of fire was none other than Peter Sagan, and I can tell you he was less than pleased! A few words were shared, but I think it was quite obvious that I had no intention of peeing on the peloton.
Everyone tries to save energy, and I believe that is one reason behind all of the wild crashes we have seen in the last 10 days. The thing is, during the race, everyone is suffering. OK, so some are suffering more than others, but everyone is looking to save a bit here, or a bit there. No one wants to be the one to brake first, the one to expend more energy while letting someone else save. There are some seriously crazy dudes out there in the peloton. Guys are risking their lives for every inch of road, to save a few watts here, a couple pedal strokes there. Watch one of those Velon on-bike camera videos, and you can see what I mean.
When you put 200 guys on a small road together, all fighting for their livelihood, there is no room for error. Ironically, if you crash badly, you may not be able to do your job at all. This is one place where I opt to spend a few more watts, in an effort to stay safe. Maybe I’m a bit too timid sometimes, but I’d rather finish the race in one piece.
We’re a few more guys down, which is sad, considering many of them are friends, but it’s the nature of the sport we choose to participate in. Looking to the next stages, however, even our best buddies in the peloton may become our enemies, as we will all be inflicting pain and suffering as we traverse the mountains of northern Spain. Tomorrow, it is on to a difficult Andorran test, but first, a welcome day of rest.