IZNÁJAR, Spain (VN) — Some say it takes luck to win out of a breakaway in the elite men’s peloton, and good fortune can certainly count for a lot.
Yet there was nothing left to chance for Rune Herregodts and his Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise team in the opening stage at the Ruta del Sol.
In fact, quite a bit of planning, equipment and execution went into the second-tier Belgian team’s assault on the 200.7km stage from Urbique to this hilltop town in the middle of Spain’s “sea of olives.”
Herregodts out-kicked American Stephen Bassett (Human Powered Health) at the hilltop finale, but preparation on the stage began last winter.
Here’s a timeline:
Mid-January — Belgium
The 23-year-old trains up and down the canal path along the Schelde River in Flanders, with a super-narrow handlebar set-up. Herregodts used super narrow integrated Deda bars (“36cm wide, I think,” he said), with his Shimano Dura-Ace hoods rolled way in.
These new Deda Alanera bars are a custom project that Deda made in a 38mm external to external width, so roughly 36cm center to center.
“I practiced a lot since you cannot ride puppy dog style anymore,” Herregodts said, referring to the UCI’s ban on the forearms-on-the-bar-top position. “You need to put your hands on the hoods, but it takes a lot of power from the triceps to stay in that position. So I was practicing in Belgium, riding half an hour on the Schelde like this. It’s really hurting but when you can do it for 200km, you can be really aero, save a lot of energy. With the right equipment, you can stay fresh.”
Herregodts used the narrow handlebar setup Wednesday, and he said it helped him stay aero and fresh until the decisive final parts of the race.
Early February — hotel room
Teams like Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise know they’re not going to match the WorldTour climbers in the GC mountain stages, or the sprinters on the flats.
So they have to look for those rare opportunities when a breakaway will be successful.
When Herregodts knew he would be racing at Ruta del Sol, he started to study the race route.
“I knew this stage had a bigger chance than otherwise,” he said. “Chances are always very low for the break, but I was thinking about this stage already for a few weeks, when I saw the stages and I know I’m a guy who can survive quite long.
“I knew the last 10kms the peloton can’t make up a lot of time on the descent, and before that it’s also quite narrow so you don’t have the washing machine effect so there really has to be a team chasing, you won’t get caught from natural pressure.”
Herregodts wasn’t alone in betting that Wednesday’s stage would be a good chance, and it played out pretty much as he predicted.
Other stage-hunting teams piled in, and the leaders made it to the line with a shot to win.
Late-night message two weeks ago
Herregodts was also so convinced that Wednesday’s stage would be a breakaway, he decided he wanted to have a teammate join the fray.
A late-night message to teammate Lindsay De Vylder got the ball rolling.
“I thought it would be good to have a teammate so I texted Lyndsay two weeks ago and we decided we could try together. And we went away. Lyndsay was is in a group of eight which is perfect because in a stage 200 kilometers long with just two guys you’re dead after halfway.”
De Vylder gave Herregodts the extra set of legs his rivals in the break didn’t have.
9 p.m. Tuesday night
Herregodts also wanted to ride a special set of tires and wheels for the stage. He asked the team mechanics on Tuesday night at 9 p.m. to add it to the team’s Eddy Merckx frames.
“We got special wheels that I could try here and we were more aero,” he said. “It’s a lot of climbing here, but there were a lot of flat sections in the last 100 kilometers. We had wheels of FFWD, normally we ride tubulars but got test wheels, quite high 55 millimeters, not narrow, clincher tires with latex tubes, so it was the fastest set-up.
“It’s a big thanks to the mechanics. They did it yesterday evening. I was hesitating to ask them because it was already nine o’clock.”
5:15 p.m. Wednesday
By the time Herregodts barreled across the line, the months and weeks of preparation paid off.
It was only the 23-year-old’s second pro win, but he’s quickly learning that in professional cycling, luck is a factor, but preparation and planning can go a long way toward making your own luck.