Friday, June 17, 2016

In Theory...

This post was originally posted for Conquista Cycling Club & can be found here...

When racing in Europe, the race usually follows a pretty predictable pattern: a break is allowed to escape at the start. The bunch relaxes until the bigger GC teams or sprinters' teams move to the front to control the pace. Eventually, the break is brought back just in time for the usual suspects to contest the finish. Sometimes the bigger teams get it wrong and the break survives to the finish, but most of the time, it's fairly predictable.

When racing in America, the racing is full-on from the start and it doesn't stop. It's as if every race is a criterium, regardless of the actual length. The race is single-file from when the flag drops until the peloton blows apart as riders tire of the pace. With so many smaller teams keen to prove themselves and show their potential, it is a war of attrition to the end. It makes for tough, exciting racing and you will see a lot of names in the future coming out of the US.

On the flip side, when racing in Asia, there is absolutely no formula or pattern. Whatever you think will happen, typically it is the opposite. The attacks are relentless with riders seemingly chasing down their own teammates with kamikaze attempts to escape the peloton. Last week, the Tour de Korea was no exception . . .

When looking at stage profiles, the Tour de Korea was a sprinter's race - in theory. With no climb greater than a Category 3, you could expect a bunch sprint almost every day. However, the race was anything but.

Stage 1 went as expected with a final sprint, but with team rosters limited to six riders, and many teams fielding a second team at other races in Europe, no one was strong enough to control the race.

What resulted were endless attacks, breakaways that typically would stay away getting brought back, and breakaways that never should’ve survived reaching the finish well before the peloton. The leader’s jersey changed hands four times, and the overall winner never actually won a stage all week.

On some days, it would take over 100 kilometers for a breakaway to form with every team almost desperate to put a rider off the front. Generally, no more than five riders were allowed to escape. However, when a break finally did get away, it was almost impossible to organise the pursuit.

Again, in theory, teams that had no reason to ride on the front of the peloton were driving the pace whilst others, including the leader's team, refused to work. There were several instances where a team would have a rider in the breakaway, riding hard to stay away, while at the same time, their 'teammates' were on the front of the bunch, riding hard to bring the break back. It made absolutely no sense.

Every climb, regardless of the race situation or how far it was from the finish, was taken at full speed and the race would blow apart. Things would always come back together a few kilometers down the road.

Team Novo Nordisk brought along our Spanish GC rider, Javier Megias, and after looking at the stage profiles, he concluded that the race would be decided on bonus seconds in the sprints and that the race did not suit him. However, on Stage 6, he found himself in a breakaway that finished seven minutes ahead of the peloton even though the leader’s team rode hard all day.

In the end, Javier finished second overall, which is Team Novo Nordisk’s best GC result to date. It was a pleasant surprise because, and once again based on theory; the race shouldn’t have panned out this way. Racing in Asia is always a surprise and eventually, you learn to expect the unexpected.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Time Travel . . .

This post was originally posted for Conquista Cycling Club & can be found here...

Team Novo Nordisk has an exotic race calendar that sees us compete in a smorgasbord of countries around the globe. Even in the first few months of this year, I had turned the pedals in Spain, Australia, the Philippines and Brazil. For me, this is fantastic because it means I get to see some of the lesser-visited places on Earth but on the downside, it also means a LOT of transit.

As well as fending off thrombosis and water retention, crossing so many time zones so frequently also means a constant battle with jet lag. Sleeping patterns and circadian rhythms go out the window and don't get me started on what it does to other bodily functions.

To give you an idea, a few weeks ago, I left Spain and went three hours ahead for the Tour d'Azerbaijan. After a week there, I went back to Spain for one night before moving nine hours behind for the Amgen Tour of California. Then I had another overnight in Spain before gaining an hour at the Tour of Estonia. One hour may not be much, but when Spain exists in a time zone of its own, a few hours behind the rest of Europe, one hour can make a big difference! After Estonia, I had three more nights back in Spain before gaining seven hours flying to where I am currently laying wide awake in bed.

Last three weeks:

  • ·         Spain→Azerbaijan = gain three hours
  • ·         Azerbaijan→Spain = lose three hours
  • ·         Spain→California = lose nine hours
  • ·         California→Spain = gain nine hours
  • ·         Spain→Estonia = gain one hour
  • ·         Estonia→Spain = lose one hour
  • ·         Spain→Korea = gain seven hours

I'm actually writing this blog at 2:30 am in Korea, two days before the Tour de Korea starts. I have to admit, I’m pretty angry at my Spanish teammate, David Lozano, because he is somehow fast asleep, comfortably snoring in his bed at a respectable time.

My Fitbit says that last week my average sleep was 5hrs 4mins per night. Not ideal when you consider that I am supposed to be racing and recovering.

They say that for every one hour of time difference, you need one day for your body to adjust. When we travel to a race, we usually get one day to adjust... period. It doesn’t matter if it is nine hours difference or three. There are things that you can do to make it easier. One way is to fight off sleep during a flight, so I have a better chance of sleeping later. Another is degrading myself and drinking decaf, so it doesn't keep me awake. But I am only human!

Some teammates (an Irish one in particular) seem to be immune to jet lag. We call him the King of Sleep. No matter where he is, how much travel he has done or how much sleep he has had the day before, Stephen Clancy can fall asleep within minutes of closing his eyes. Not only this, but he can wake up 12 hours later, oblivious to the fact that I have been staring at him enviously for the last four hours from my bed on the other side of the room.

I try everything... Counting sheep, reading the race book, listening to classical music or even early Coldplay, but nothing works, and it always ends up the same: playing Crushing Candy until I run out of lives and then just laying there twiddling my thumbs.

Getting three hours of sleep the night before a stage race is not ideal. To be honest, it's pretty annoying, but sometimes it's just unavoidable. After a couple of stages, the physical tiredness usually nulls the jet lag, yet the tiredness is probably enhanced by the jet lag itself. It's a vicious circle.

I know that time travel isn't possible (yet?) but I'm pretty sure that I have mastered it.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Amgen Tour of California - Character Building . . .

This post was originally posted for Conquista Cycling Club & can be found here...

On paper, the Amgen Tour of California was not a race that suited me. Touted as the 'hardest edition ever', almost every stage had a large amount of climbing and, well, gravity is no friend of mine. In reality, the Tour of California was definitely not a race for me. Consequently, my job for the week was to support the team's sprinters and GC rider as best I could, fetching bottles and moving them around the bunch if needed. And of course, survive.

Fortunately, I did not suffer alone. With only two stages that ended in a bunch gallop, many sprinters also had to suffer. The problem for them was that those sprint stages were at opposite ends of the tour: the first and last stages. Separated by six stages of unpleasantness that had to be endured just to get another opportunity to do what they do best.

In Stage 1, our sprinter had a fantastic finish and managed to beat some of the world's best to take fifth place. Spirits were high on the bus afterward, and there was already talk of 'next time'. However, 'next time' was a long way away.

For the next six stages, I was not much use in the mountains and, to be honest, it was as much a mental battle as a physical one. When you are not having any impact on the race and unable to support your teammates, you begin to question the point of going through such an ordeal to get the end. Each day, I found my way to grupetto and was happy just to get to the finish line, each time a day closer to that final flat stage.

By the time the final stage came around, the field has at least 20 riders fewer than the Stage 1, but our sprinters (and me) had suffered through the week and were ready to take their chances on Stage 8. The previous seven stages had taken their toll. We were tired, very tired, but no one wanted their efforts to be in vain.

The final stage finished with three laps of a 3-km street circuit, and it was going to be fast. The goal was to make sure our sprinters had good position coming into the final laps to give them the best chance contesting the finale. Mark Cavendish’s (who also suffered through the tour to get to this stage) Dimension Data team were controlling the front with six km to go when a crash on a corner split the field. Unfortunately, our sprinters were caught up in the incident and never regained position to fight for the finish.

In the end, Cavendish took the win, redeeming his week of suffering, while many others, including our sprinters, were left to question the purpose of the last seven days. I crossed the line tired, relieved and surprised that I made it to the end. If it is true when they say that suffering builds character, then my character is definitely maxed-out at the moment.