Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mountains in Hainan

Today was the queen stage of the Tour of Hainan with three good climbs, the final summit only 12km from the finish, all downhill. We held our cards tight and did our best to be players on the final climb. There was a small flurry of attacks as the road turned upwards and I just followed the wheels. The group shrank pretty quickly and a couple guys went clear with a good distance to the top. I continued to follow the wheels, hoping to make a late move toward the top and maybe bridge across as we could still see the guys only 10-15 seconds in front of us. I made a costly miscalculation in my head about the race kilometer the top was at though and was surprised to see the 1km to the top sign when I thought we still had 3km to go. I was still following and had missed a late move just before that, wanting to wait just a little longer. So at the top I made a small dig and dropped a few guys from the group, but it was too late. We raced down the descent and had a fairly big regrouping by the bottom and ended up with a small field sprint for 2nd/3rd place as one/two guys from the moves on the climb stayed away. Our team was super strong with 4 of us in there, but we unfortunately missed the win. I think overall though, we're happy as a team. We didn't have a "big" team here on paper, but we have raced hard and will come away with 2 guys top 10 (3 in top 15; would be 4 if I hadn't gotten the time gap on stage 1), 2nd in the team gc, and Fabio with 4th in the points jersey (I think). That isn't too bad for 5 guys who usually are normally just domestiques!

One day left tomorrow, almost guaranteed another sprint, but there are a few time bonuses and KOMs available, so depending on how fiesty I feel, I may try something. I'm not sure where I stand in the KOM points, but with a few points tomorrow, I might be able to land in the payout, so a little extra dough is always nice. And for the overall, I believe I'm 2 seconds out of top 20, which is how deep they pay, so again if I'm able to snag some bonus seconds, I could add a little more to our prize money payout. We'll see how I feel tomorrow!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Another Few More Stages in Haw... Hainan

It's called the Hawaii of China and I've seen why several times throughout the race. We've had moments of beautiful sea and beaches with the same tropical feel people think of when they think Hawaii. But there's also big disparities between the lush tourist spots and the normal people. The difference is vast and striking to see. Since stage three, we've had 4 more sprints, a couple big crashes, and generally good weather. Fabio has continued his good sprinting with three other top 10 finishes. In today's stage he had some bad luck with the guy in front of him having a mechanical with 300 meters to go, but still managed 7th. He says without that he had a really good chance at winning. Bummed for him because he deserves it, especially after fighting so hard all week in the sprints. Hopefully he can come through in the final stage.

For me personally, I've done my best to avoid any catastrophes and keep my stress levels low. I tried to help Fabio in the sprint of stage 5, pulling from about 4 to 1.5km to go, but we don't have a real leadout train here, so it's really hard to be successful. After my pull I dangled at the back and had just enough time to grab my brakes and avoid the biggest pileup of the race. Counted my blessings. :) Then stage 6 brought the first climbs of the race with three KOMs in the first 50km and first opportunity for the mountains jersey. We decided as a team why not try for it, so we set out trying for the breaks. The group was mostly together on the first climb and I was too far back to try, but I bridged across to a few guys before the second climb and managed to take a few points on that one. Then the break went before the third climb, but there were still a couple points available. I tried for it but was beaten at the line. I'm not the fastest sprinter! We're not winning much here, but we're racing hard as a team, so that's all that can be asked.

Tomorrow is the penultimate and queen stage with the real mountains. There are three category 1 climbs, each 5-6km in length and around 6% gradient. They aren't the hardest on paper, but it will certainly be a difficult and defining stage. The road quality here has been generally good, but in the mountains, they tend to have more concrete roads, so they aren't as smooth, which makes things a little more difficult, at least it feels that way. The climbs will definitely create some selection, but I'm not sure how much of one. I believe a really important thing is actually going to be the position before the last downhill because it is technical and fast. If you lose the wheel in a corner, you might not come back. And with the race being decided by mere seconds or even placings, that will certainly matter. I believe I can climb with the best and might see if I can't sneak away toward the top of the climb with hopes of a stage win, but we'll see what happens tomorrow!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Tour of Hainan

Hey all, I'd like to give a nice long update, but I'm typing via phone and just don't have that in me! I'm currently in Hainan, China for Tour of Hainan. It is a 9 stage race with more than likely 8 sprints and one mountainous day; although it is not a mountain top finish, instead a descent to the finish. Rumor has it that a small group usually finishes together, but we'll see. The time bonuses and cumulative stage placings seem to be rather important in determining your gc because there is not a real decisive stage or two to shake things up. Regardless, I will be honest and say that I will give it me best through the race, especially in stage 8, but my top priority is finishing this race with my body intact, so I can go home and finally hit the reset button on what has been a tumultuous season.

We're three stages in and the race thus far has been a sprinters delight, aka Matthew's nightmare. I fear the chaos of a "controlled" World Tour sprint, but here is a whole different level of chaos. Guys are fighting for every position and there is no team strong enough to really line it up with speed and keep it safe, so guys are just kamikaze everywhere. We have a kamikaze (sprinter) on our team in Fabio Silvestre and he surprised with 3rd on the first stage and then two top tens; good enough for me! I've narrowly avoided the crashes on stages one and two, and kept my stress levels to a minimum today by surfing the back of the field all the while thinking to myself, "it isn't a matter of IF, but WHEN will the crash happen?" Thankfully for me and anyone who would be involved it didn't happen today.

Tomorrow is the most unnecessarily long stage of the race at 237km, all flat, where we will ride a u-shaped course from the start to the finish and then make a loop back to the finish. All the while we could've just gone point to point, maybe with a loop or two on the end for a nice total of maybe 140-150km of racing and likely the same result, but instead we get to test the comfort of our chamois and ability of the sunscreen to protect our skin for around 6 hours. Fun!

Other than the racing, things are fairly normal. Ok I lied. The WiFi here is very poor. You'd think such a tech obsessed country would have blazing fast internet, but I guess they don't need it because everything is censored/blocked by the government anyway. You can't even search Google! Also we've been doing our own laundry, by hand! Not sure why it seems so impossible to get laundry done at a hotel or even find a laundromat, but I certainly don't speak or read Chinese and I don't think my European counterparts do either, so figuring it out is difficult. And lastly, the food is on par with any race in Europe, so that's to say pretty bland. I'd love to try the chicken curry or beef dish, but I'm not eating the meat because of the fear of contamination with doping controls. So that means I'm eating rice and maybe some veggies. I've been spicing that up with some hot pepper sauce I've discovered here combined with some peanut butter I brought for kind of a spicy peanut rice. It's alright actually. Usually we're lucky enough to get eggs for breakfast, so that at least helps. And they seem to have lots of different pastry options, so you can have that if you want/need. I can certainly say that I'm looking forward to a nice hamburger or steak upon my return to the USA though! Alrighty, well I've written a lot more than I planned and successfully killed enough time that I can now head off to make some spicy peanut rice rice. Bon appetite!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Racing Around Jasper

It's my first time doing this race and being to this area of Canada. We raced into Jasper National Park yesterday and today we got to race in the park. It is an amazingly beautiful place with acres upon acres of untouched wilderness. The small part of the park that you can see from the roads is rival to any place I've been in terms of beauty, no doubt. I'm not here on a sightseeing trip though! We had 160km of challenging racing with 3 circuits of some rolling terrain in the park, followed by a 12km ascent up to the ski area of Marmot Basin. The start was a little hectic, but we maintained good control and only 3 guys went away. It was easy for Marco and Kristof to control the time gap and it just took the usual turn up of the gas in the closing kilometers of racing to bring the gap down quickly. We hit the climb and continued to set a good tempo on the front. Jesse did a good portion of the beginning of the climb, setting a really hard tempo. A few guys tried some attacks, but our tempo kept the at bay. I took over for Jesse until a few more dangerous guys attacked and Bauke decided he needed to follow. It was a bit of panic on his part that he covered them because it wasn't so dangerous yet. Instead he should've let us keep pulling for a bit and keep things a little more under control because shortly afterwards, he was isolated with still 5km to go. In the end it didn't matter thankfully as he finished second on the stage and kept the jersey. So that means tomorrow we will have to protect the jersey again, although we should get some help from some sprinter's teams. And then barring anything crazy with the gravel roads tomorrow (flats for example), it will be a little dicey on the final stage. It is a tricky circuit in Edmonton and Bauke only has 6 seconds to Yates in second place, which is dangerous because the time bonus on the finish line is 10, 6, and 4 seconds, so if Yates finished first or second and Bauke isn't 3rd, we will lose the jersey. We have confidence in him though!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Alberta Catch Up

Three stages down here in Alberta and we're on a good track for a successful week. Things began great when we won the team time trial and put Bauke into yellow. It was pretty exciting as we sat in the "hot" seat, shivering ironically, almost certain Green Edge would beat us, but when they crossed the line there was a momentary pause and we saw we had won by less than a second! Fun times.

Starting stage two with yellow meant we had to go to work. We let a small break go and controlled the rest of the day. There was some action on the second of the final three climbs, but we stayed calm and kept control without a lot of stress. Eventually Green Edge came to pull the final sprint and our job was done. Mathews won the sprint and took the jersey from Bauke. All good though.

So that left us with today. After a bit of rain and cold weather yesterday, we were really hoping for some sun. It took until the last 20km to see any sun though. Instead, we rode in near freezing temperatures and on/off rain for the first 150km. It wasn't the coldest I've ever been, but I was quite bundled up and pretty well prepared. Once the sun broke the clouds, spirits and motivation rose a bit for everyone. We raced toward the two finishing climbs. Bauke told us he wanted us to pull, so we obeyed. Jesse did a big pull at the base and put a lot of people including me into the red. I had to pull through after him though. I tried to keep the pace, but I think I slowed a bit. Eventually I was overtaken and began to go backwards. I fought to try and stay in touch with the group, but I lost touch. I chased the descent but there was no coming back. I didn't see the finish obviously, but Bauke was a very close second and retook the yellow jersey. Back to work tomorrow!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Independence Back to Hoosier and Breck, Plus a Trip to Fort Collins

Ok so let's get you caught up. Stage 4 started with the opposite side of Independence Pass from the day before and it went bananas. I tried to be present and go for a couple breakaways, but I also knew that I needed to meter my effort to make it over the top of the climb. As it was, I came unglued with about 1.5km to the top but kept a reasonable gap and was able to close it on the descent. After shoving some food and drink down the hatch, I helped to keep Julien protected as he was our best overall rider. At some point the wind got pretty crazy and the field began to split. We helped keep Julien in the front and out of trouble as best we could. Eventually the wind gave way to Hoosier Pass, so things didn't get any easier! I battled to stay with the diminishing peloton hoping I could help Julien in the final through Breckenridge before the final climb up Moonstone Road. I made it over the top and then we roared down into Breckenridge. I lost contact with Julien as we sped through town, but he managed to get himself up into the front group over the top of the climb and move into 9th overall. I simply got myself over the top and to the finish.

The next day was the TT that included the same climb over Moonstone Road as we had done in the finish the day before. I would do the TT without my TT bike because we wanted to let Julien use it to try and stay high in the overall. Admittedly I was a little nervous about the time cut because it was so windy and I would be racing against the guy who won the prologue of the Tour de France and has obviously been the strongest rider here. When it was all settled though, my time was only 2 minutes slower than the winner, middle of the results, and well within the time cut. Mission accomplished! Also, Julien had a good TT and remained high placed overall, although he dropped to 10th by 1 second.

So finally that brings us to today, when we drove down to the "low lands" of Colorado with the start in Loveland, a mere 5000 feet above sea level. I think everyone was kind of hoping for an easier day today, but it certainly wasn't to be. The first factor was the wind that was whipping around and the second was the fact that many guys wanted to be in the breakaway. It took a LONG time for the break to establish itself, something like 70km I think. I gave it a good nudge and had a few promising moves, but the cards weren't in my favor today. Leonardo, one of our stagiaires, managed to follow the right move and get into the break though. He ended up 3rd on the day as the break stayed away to the finish. That didn't mean our day in the peloton was easy though. The chase was on all day and there was more than one moment where the squeeze was on REAL tight. I'm not sure when things got all split up, but I think some guys were dropped as far out as 50km from the line. Laurent and I were in the front group with Julien and helped keep him safe to the finish.

Only one more day with one pretty good climb stand between Denver and me now. All things considered, I'll walk away from here feeling pretty happy that I was able to even race, but that I was able to finish the race feeling pretty good. Obviously it hasn't been the week or result that I hoped for, but I have to be realistic about what I was working with. Hopefully I'll get a big boost from this and be ready for good things in Alberta. That's about it for the update!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Independence Pass Take One

Today's stage from Copper Mountain to Aspen had us tackle the infamous Independence Pass for the first of two times. Prior to that though, we had plenty of climbing starting from the gun with Fremont Pass. I tried to get into the breakaway and paid for it. After only one or two efforts, I was already feeling my legs and lungs quite a bit. Before the top of the pass, I had lost contact with the peloton. I had a whole gambit of emotions going through me at that point: pain, frustration, embarrassment, anger were a few. I kept fighting to stay close and after an acceleration near the top I was able to regain contact. More than a little frazzled physically and mentally, I tried to gather myself and focus to try and help the team as best I could. Eventually we arrived at the beginnings of Independence Pass and I committed myself to try and help protect Julien and Julian. It was quite windy and a real dog fight to be at the front. Around 6km from the top the efforts caught up with me and my legs went flat. I suffered to the top and then took the long descent down to Aspen as easy as possible, surveying what I will climb up tomorrow from the gun. Certainly I'm nervous about the start, but all I can do is try! Notable highlight for the team today was Laurent snagging the most aggressive riders jersey for his efforts in the breakaway. That's all!