My preparation for the 2015 season did not go exactly according to plan. After years of doing very little stretching, my body decided that it wouldn’t stand for it anymore and muscle tightness and imbalances accumulated into knee pain whenever I pedaled the bike. Consequently, I had to wind back the training and take it easy a couple of weeks before my first race of the season, The Dubai Tour.
During the race, I was told that I wouldn’t be doing any damage to my knee but it was going to hurt and I’d just have to push through it. It was pretty obvious that I was under-prepared and by the end of the last day, my knee was quite tender. I returned to Spain and again hand to wind back the training to sort the knee out. On my race schedule, my name was down for Strade Bianche so I had only 3 weeks to prepare. To be honest, I was pretty worried that my next race was going to be one renowned for its difficulty but fortunately, I was able to another race a week before it to test the legs.
After what seemed like endless hours of stretching and strengthening, I was finally able to ride without pain again just a few days before the GP Lugano in Switzerland. I knew that I was lacking the intensity and hours that I needed for racing but I was hoping to do what I could for the team and test the legs before Strade Bianche. The problem with one-day races is that there is no opportunity to just sit in and take it easy until the end. Everybody knows that there is not going to be another opportunity the next day so it is hard racing from start to finish. Every rider leaves everything they have out on the road. As a result, most one-day races end with only a fraction of the peloton crossing the line together while the rest of the field is either back in the bus or in fragments behind them. The race did not go well for me, putting even more doubt in my mind for Strade Bianche but I returned again to Spain and did a couple of long, hard training rides to get some intensity in the legs.
Most teams and riders like to do a bit of reconnaissance of the course before the race begins and with a race like Strade Bianche and its 45km of dirt roads, it’s good to know what’s coming. Unfortunately, due to the location, I was only able to arrive the evening before the race so it wasn’t ideal but I figured it was probably better that I didn’t know how difficult it was going to be!Our bikes were prepared with wider tires for the gravel roads and slightly lower pressures. I was told that most of the sectors were like compacted dirt so I didn’t want to run anything too low and after all, there is still 155km of tarmac to ride!
In the days leading up to the race, there had been some strong winds across most of southern Europe and on the morning of the race they were beginning to pick up. As we rolled out, it was blowing a gale, adding another difficulty factor to the race. The first two dirt sectors were not too difficult. The compacted dirt meant that your wheels weren’t sliding around and you could ride the crosswinds relatively easily. The most annoying thing was the amount of dust. Unless you were at the front of the peloton, you were riding through a constant dust storm and at the end of each section your mouth was dry and lined with mud and your bike got noisier. The race stretched out as it basically fell into two lines on the smoother car tracks and you had very little opportunity to overtake the rider in front of you.
When we hit the 3rd sector, things changed. It wasn’t the compacted dirt like the first two but it was deep gravel. Immediately, two Orica riders hit the ground and caused a small gap in the bunch as they struggled to untangle their bikes. The strong crosswinds were pushing riders to the edge of the road and many struggled to hold their front wheel in a straight line in the gravel whilst leaning into the wind. Littered along the side of the road were riders either picking themselves up off the ground or holding their punctured wheels in the air waiting for their team cars that were also held up behind the chaos.
Team Novo Nordisk was not immune to the punctures and in the space of about 5km, we suffered 5 punctures. I came around a corner to find a team mate waiting on the side of the road. With his legs being better than mine, I stopped and gave him a wheel and pushed him on his way. After what seemed like an eternity, the team car finally arrived and I got going again. The dust was pretty bad in the bunch but when the team cars are basically rally racing to get to their fallen riders, it was insane! At times, I could barely see the road ahead of me!
As I tried to chase back, the road was constantly blocked by team cars as they stopped for their riders so the going was slow. Before the end of the sector, I passed 4 of my team mates on the side of the road waiting for wheels and every one of them had a ‘this is insane’ look on their face. At one point, all I could do was laugh.
As we hit the Tarmac, car after car passed me, each with a couple of riders behind it trying to get back to the bunch. Finally, my team car arrived with 3 team mates behind it and I jumped on. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to hold 60kph in 3rd position behind a car in crosswinds and I was left behind. I arrived at the feed zone a few km’s up the road and called it a day. The 3rd dirt sector caused a lot of chaos and cost a lot of riders their race. The stupid thing is, apparently the final 40km is the hardest part of the race!
Here is a photo gallery that sums up the race well... http://cyclingtips.com.au/2015/03/strade-bianche-in-photos-2/
In 2 weeks, my name is on the long list for Milan Sanremo, which would be an amazing race to do, but in the meantime I need to earn my place. I have another 2 one day races this weekend in the Nederlands with Ronde van Drenthe and Dwars door Drenthe. Fortunately, there are no dirt roads but cobbles and crosswinds instead!