Editor’s note: Larry Warbasse is the only American on the IAM Cycling team. He’ll be providing regular updates from the Vuelta a España, his second-career grand tour. Warbasse is a Michigander who lives in Nice, France.
Getting ready for a grand tour is a process. Oftentimes, riders will base their entire season around it, as performing well in any of the big three (Giro, Tour, Vuelta), is usually a sign of a big future.
We dial in our training, our diet, our race program leading up to the race, trips to altitude, and whatever else we can to make sure we show up to the start fit and ready. As soon as I knew I was going to the Vuelta, I made a plan to be in peak form. I steadily ticked off the pounds by watching my diet carefully — I find this to be one of the hardest parts about professional cycling, because let’s face it, Phil Gaimon isn’t the only one who loves cookies …
I participated in a two-week altitude camp with my team before the Tour of Poland, where we stayed in a hotel/boarding house (more like a boarding house) at the top of a mountain pass in Switzerland, without any television or internet in the rooms. Let’s just say, while I rode my bike a lot, I played a lot of “Candy Crush.” I then went back to the top of a mountain for another week after the Tour of Poland with my friend and compatriot Ian Boswell. So, long story short, my Vuelta lead-up included too much time spent on top of a mountain eating too many vegetables.
Comedy aside, I enjoy the process of pursuing form. I would call it the pursuit of excellence, but I do not want to be too confident in my form before I know its status. There is a fine line in pro cycling between being in fine form and overdoing it, and some of us get too excited and go overboard. I know many cyclists who are over-trained. I can’t name one who is under. When you reach the WorldTour level, it’s not a question whether someone works hard — it’s a given. Without an excellent work ethic, it is impossible to be here. The starting line of a grand tour is the culmination of the hard work of the 200 top-level professional cyclists who show up ready to race.
That is the reason why there is so much controversy surrounding Saturday’s opening team time trial in Malaga. While I have yet to see the course, it is apparently full of sand, bridges, wooden ramps, rubber mats, and a finish line that is pretty much in the ocean. Think “American Ninja Warrior,” mix in a bike race, and there you have it — Vuelta stage 1. We prepare for months and years to be ready, only to show up and find a 7.4-kilometer Spanish obstacle course instead of a bicycle race. If a dangerous course like this causes unnecessary crashes and injuries, then all of our hard work is for naught, before the race even really gets underway.
It often seems that we cyclists are powerless against the governing authorities, merely pawns in their game, but I hope this time it is different. Riders are speaking out via Twitter and other social media, and from what I hear, some are having meetings with the organization. There are rumors of protests and course changes. But as is usually the case, we probably will not know what happens until we reach that start line Saturday (Vuelta organizers just announced that the TTT will not count toward GC -Ed.). Until then, I — and many others — will be praying we make it across that finish line in one piece, so our hard work can finally pay off. We’ll also be passing the time with a bit of “Candy Crush,” I expect.