Sunday, January 24, 2010

Saving the best for last

It's been a pretty low-key race for Jamis Sutter Home down here in Argentina, we've been trying to lay the foundation for a great season and not over-extend ourselves so early.  However, the last day we had a mission: animate the race and mix things up from KM 0.

And mix it up we did!!!  Wow, I felt really good today.  We were supposed to make the break, Seba said we *have to*, and I was in the break when it formed but it split and fell apart on this insane hard uphill drag and I was caught in No-Man's-Land between the break (just within spitting distance) and the entire Liquigas squad chasing me.  SO close, I was pissed, it was the move and I just barely missed it, so I was determined to really rip at the end.

With Annibal on my wheel, we fought for the last 15km in an *INSANE* downhill finishing section completely spun out in the 53x11 (probably 80-100kph) and my front wheel hit a guy's skewer when he swerved and broke on of my front spokes with about 6km to go.  I thought it was game over, but I opened my front brake and let the wheel just wobble at warp speed.  I made sure it was OK and just decided to keep mixing it up.  We went through numerous roundabouts at full throttle, heading into town, and the adrenaline was coming out of my ears.

I had to sprint around in the wind a few times to keep Anni up in the front, Liquigas and Katusha had the right to stay up there with Napolitano and Cicchi, two of the top sprinters in the bunch.  I had no idea where the line was, too busy trying to stay alive.  With about 3km to go, things were getting hairier and a touch of brakes sent a ripple through the front and kicked Anni off the road into the gravel.  Somehow he stayed upright AND found my wheel within 30 seconds!  I was coming up on the left, and Anni said "go Nicolas, GO!" so I just drilled it up the left and hijacked the entire sprint train of Katusha/Liquigas with Anni right on board!

We went up the left about 3kph faster and I was on the front for about 30 seconds before the legs were just gone and I could tell I was fading.  I just barely past the 1km to go sign before Alexander Kalobnev (Katusha, bronze in the last two World Championships) rolled by and Anni jumped into fourth wheel and I was coasting and hoping no one ran into the back of me.

Sorry to be anti-climatic, but I have no idea how it ended up!  I know a Sparkasse German guy hit a spectator with 300m to go and it was apparently terrible, but I stayed upright even with a broken front spoke.  It's a little frustrating to have the legs all day and miss the break, then do the leadout just a little too early, but I was very close on both counts.  The team has stayed relatively safe and done some great work this week, so now it's time for a couple beers and the long journey home starting tomorrow.

Almost done with TdSL

Hanging out with the team on top of Merlo after TdSL Stage 6 - thanks for the pic, Andy!

Tour de San Luis, Stage 5 description:

Thankfully the time cut is HUGE!  So I had flatted twice before the final climb ever came, but no biggie, just fronts and grabbed bottles and no sweat.  Then the climb started and it was freaking insane, like a barely-there amalgamation of weather-beaten concrete slabs strewn on a hillside that made it *possible* to ride/drive to the top.  No joke, it averaged 10.8% for km long sections but in-between there were points that you could almost not get up in a 26.

Then I realized one of the issues: my rear tire had about 30psi in it.  The team cars all had to pass immediately at the base of the climb, so I basically just had to keep riding and hope for the best.  Finally, about 2/3 up the 20km climb (did I mention it was 104 degrees and no even a bush in sight?) the team car was stopped.  I got a new rear wheel and some Coke and was FLYING, like night and day.  Frank had caught me by then, and we were just going to cruise in.

Then the new rear went flat, too!  And there were absolutely no team/support vehicles.  And 20km from the top to the finish.  And on a very sinuous, up/down road with stream crossings.  And a cop/ambulance right on my butt the whole way, somehow not understanding my issue and almost killing me in every white-knuckle turn!!

It was one for the record books :)  My favorite was when the sprinter's grupetto passed us with about 10km to go, after I had flatted twice and could barely hold the bike upright--those guys go seriously slow!

Anyway, I was a wreck, pretty demoralized and all, but Ivan Dominguez came to me that night when I was on the massage table and said, "What happened man, you get the middle flat?"  I didn't understand and explained that it was my rear, and he said, "Yeah I know, but did you have a middle flat?"  After explaining and me understanding at the same time, I laughed and said for sure, then he said it has happened to him and everyone else in the past.  Coming from that guy, it meant a lot, and I just put it behind me immediately and was feeling great the next morning!

Stage 6:

The finishing climb yesterday was significantly *steeper* as well as an insane *headwind* the whole way up, but I could push the pedals hard and decided to stay with the front group the first few kms.  The heat is something I'm still not prepared for, even after going through about 8-10 bottles in a 4hr race, but the legs were good and even going 90% I was catching some guys and not having a bad go of it.  Got to the top and was fine, just cruised in, then we had some recovery drink and RIPPED back down to the busses, just insane descent at 15% with a tailwind!!

Busses left at 5:45PM.  We arrived at the hotel at 9:45PM.  NO JOKE.  And we had a 2hr transfer to the start.  It's been some terrible transfers and extremely boring highway stages with a big climb at the end, really only one cool/interesting stage (Stage 2) in all.  However, great weather, awesome competition, and excellent team building so early in the year.  The week has flown by, unlike any stage race I've done.

Today is the final stage, 160km or so with three big hot-dog loops, pretty boring until the final downhill sprint at 100kph!  Tonight we might have some beers and relax, then the bus leaves for Mendoza airport tomorrow at 8:30AM (!!!) and arrives after about 4hrs on the same dead-straight highway.  You can't say they aren't efficient with their roadways in Argentina :)  Hard to believe I'll be back in Denver in two days, it's been an awesome trip and we'll see if we can do something good today.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Figured I'd start the new year with a new bike!

Leaving for Argentina in 6 days, she'll be getting ridden a lot!