Friday, October 29, 2010

Ups and Downs at Tour do Brasil

Brazil panorama on Andy's sweet Android, after a wet-and-wild Stage 3 with yours truly taking 7th in an uphill sprint

Well now that we have finished this crazy journey through Brazil, and I'm on the 10 hour flight to JFK before finally arriving in Denver tonight, I think I can include a little perspective on the rest of the TdB from Day 4 through Day 9.

This race has been one of the craziest I have done in a LONG time!  From uphill cobbled finishes to off-road dirt sections in TTs to 75kph sprint finishes and mountain climbs into the clouds...we've done it all.  1070km of learning on the open roads of Brazil is an experience that will not dim in the near future.

I'll give you a quick stage-by-stage recap, starting with Tuesday morning's time trial:

Another early morning start

Stage 4a

The morning started a little later than normal, with my start at a positively tardy 8:45AM thanks to my high place on GC.  Coming into TdB, it was understood that this single stage was my one and only real objective.  Although I haven't really trained specifically for TTs since USPRO over a month ago, and had jerry-rigged Tyler's M TT bike the night before to fit me, I was really looking forward to capitalize on my surprisingly good legs and give it my best shot.

The course is one of the coolest I've ever seen, bar-none.  With incredible winds, tough 150m climbs, roundabouts and cobbles and dirt and turns and--let's just say it was far from straightforward!  Having Seba's course scouting knowledge disseminated 10 minutes before my start, with no pre-ride, was as good as one could hope for under the circumstances but certainly far from optimal.  I found myself more than once unsure if I was even on the course still!

I gave it a consistent effort, making sure to avoid the 120% out of the gate mistake I seem to have made in my last few TTs.  It was great to see my two gringo teammates doing jumping jacks at one point in the course!  I'm usually too focused on the effort to see, but this time I had paced it right so that I wasn't completely cross-eyed at that point.

While I could think of many small places to shave time had I seen the course and timed the effort a little better, it was about 90% of what I wanted and netted me a nice 10th place!  There is always room for improvement in the TT, but I just try to limit mistakes as much as possible and keep 100% motivation throughout the entire effort--if I do both of these, then the placing is almost a side-effect.  I'm just lucky to have some natural talent in the discipline.

Stage 4b

This was a 120km afternoon affair on Tuesday.  My legs were surprisingly good after such a violent effort that morning, and I was excited to set things up at the end for our BBros.  We knew the final 15km were dangerous due to some seriously sharp hills, but I wasn't scared with good legs.

Going into the stage, I was sitting 11th overall, with Tyler just a few spots back after a solid TT.  I knew Stage 8 in the mountains would be my undoing, so my GC spot wasn't a big deal, but it's certainly fun to be in such rarefied air in a major stage race!

The first of two sharp climbs with 15km to go went well enough.  It's very tricky because the sharp uphill is preceded by a ripping descent, so positioning is almost luck of the draw.  If you try too hard to go into the climb in the front, then you start the effort already at 90% and go backwards.  If you just cruise on the descent and let things fall where they may going into the hill, you start the effort completely relaxed and can go harder for longer, but there are crashes and dropped chains and dropped riders strewn about the full width of the road and luck plays an almost intolerable role in the climb.

Well, I was a little unlucky.  One of the big altimeter on the Memorial-Giant team was getting dropped and stood up halfway up the climb, lunging his bike backwards and crossing wheels with me.  The full field was packed on the climb and there was no room for me to wiggle around him, and I unclipped and almost crashed.  Luckily I didn't go down but the gap opened and the field had the throttle pegged.  I stayed calm and rode within myself up the rest of the climb, but the small group I was with had been dropped not due to luck, but due to legs.  I watched in horror as the field started to roll away from us at +1kph and our little group was content to just ride it into the finish and lose time.

I knew the clock was running out to make the solo jump to the group, and I only hoped we would keep rolling fast so the gap didn't grow too quickly edits I flew the coup.

I waited for the right moment, about 1/3 up one of the rollers about 5km before the finish, and I ripped as hard as I could.  The field started coming back, but my legs started fading as well.  I came within 10 seconds of the field but just couldn't close it, as the field was going full blast to the line.  I just put my head down in pursuit and made sure not to crash on the crazy roundabout-laden finish, eventually conceding 40 seconds to the leaders.

I was pretty bummed.

Then I heard Ale won the stage!!!  We celebrated a great team effort and incredible finishing attack by Tyler to either take the win or set up the sprint for Ale and Ani.  The Bros finished things in style and Ale gCe Jamis Sutter Home a much-needed TdB stage win, the first by any team other than the dominant Fumvic Brazilian team.

The whole team (and Ale's nosy new friend) after a dominating stage win at Stage 4B

Stage 5

After a terrible rainy 180k slog Stage 3 and then a very hard and hot double day with Stages 4a and 4b, the field looked forward to a relative "rest day" on Wednesday's Stage 5 with only 65k in front of us.  It certainly was nice to see 20k to go less than an hour after we started!

However, a stage win is a stage win, and Stage 5 was yet another opportunity for glory for one of the 135 remaining riders.  With Ani and Ale behind me, we moved into perfect position with 3k to go, since the course made sharp left and right turns with just 2k to go.  I pushed my way into first in line behind the well-drilled Memorial-Giant train of four, and things were looking set for a good leadout.

As each MG rider did a huge effort and then swung off, I saw 1k to go just as the last guy hit the wind.  He went for as long as possible, around a long left sweeper, and I was expecting to see the line any moment and give it the stick.  But in TdB, we learned, 1k to go is more an estimate than a fact!  I had to hit the front with probably 700m to go and had no option but to drill it and maybe even slot back into the train, take some deep breaths, and then contest the finish or help the Bros if possible.

When the pointy end of the field came over the top on my right, I started moving right to slot in...and a guy shot between me and the field, clipped my bars at over 60kph, and I immediately slammed the ground with my right shoulder and back, then rolled and tumbled as more riders fully sprinted into me and pilled on top.

That night at dinner we saw a replay of the crash on TV and it looked just like the Tour sprint crashes.  I was incredibly lucky to have my bones intact (save for a possible broken rib, more on that later) and a functioning bike and wheels.  Even luckier, none of my teammates went down and Ani managed to take second place on the stage!

Needless to say, my rest day wasn't very restful, but you must take the good with the bad in a stage race, there is always a job to be done and more opportunities for success.

Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion of the Tour do Brasil coming soon, still four stages left!


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