On the open road

The first road stage of this year’s Vuelta is now behind us and it was a good sign for our captain Ivan Basso. The plan for the team today was pretty simple: ensure Ivan started the final climb of the day in the front of the peloton knowing so long as he was there at the start of the climb he would also be there at the top of the climb.

By day’s end he would finish eighth on the stage in a small group containing all the GC contenders. Following yesterday’s disappointment, there was a big smile back planted all over his dial.

Now, taking Ivan to the climb in a front position is much easier said than done. Add to the fact you have a peloton full of fresh legs on the first full day on the road and it’s always an absolute chaotic 20km run-in before such an important corner to start the climb.

As always the Cannondale lads were working perfectly all day keeping us up at the front. In fact, until 5km before this all-important turn I don’t think I was ever further back than 20th wheel. Perfect! Yeah, almost …

At this point I realised Ivan was not at the front so I started drifting back a little to find him. Sure enough I did, well momentarily anyway. He came roaring passed me around the outside of the bunch with Paolo Longo Borgini who is the absolute expert at positioning his team captain at these crucial moments.

So seeing this I immediately moved out to follow, only to boxed-out of the the way by some other riders sensing the chance to follow our team captain to front. This would have been manageable but all of a sudden we only had half the road and I was forced to stand still with the front of the race travelling at 50km/h.

So with only a couple of kilometres until the climb I had to bite the bullet and hope that I would be able to ride my way back on the climb. While I eventually made my way to the back of the split, half-peloton, I saw riders getting dropped left right and centre. With Ivan safely in the front I waved the white flag realising I would not be any help to him on the final climb today.

Lessons learned

Taking the climb in the front is one of the major lessons you learn at this level of racing. The reason is simple: the rubber band effect of the peloton when you hit a climb means that you can often be doing double the power at the back of the peloton compared to that of the smooth pace at the front.

Also, from my physiological perspective I am always going to struggle with surges as it’s simply not an ingrained rhythm instilled in my legs from a young age. I have a diesel engine [ed. developed through years of rowing] so for it work at its optimal it needs to be a nice consistent pace.

For example, at the front the pace can be as high as 500+ watts for a few minutes at the start of a climb like today. That’s not so bad when you are right there and your wattage merely varies 30 watts either side. Today however, being nearly 100 riders back I was constantly accelerating and decelerating, going from 700 watts to 300 watts. I can only handle this for a short time.

Sure you can train for it and get used to it by spending a bucket-load of time at the back of the bunch or trying to simulate these accelerations. In recent races we have spent all our time up front so it was an extra shock to my system today to experience this difficulty and I instantly found myself in the red. Anyway, the simplest way to fix the issue is start the climb at the front next time.

Whenever I have my better days on the bike the pace has always been nice and constant and I’ve always been in the front position. It’s simply how I roll and it’s probably taken until this year, where I have been at the head of the race more consistently, to really understand this about myself. So there you go — I should have known to be up front to do my job properly. I wasn’t and I ended up out the back!

Having said that it always is a big shock how quickly you can be out of position in a WorldTour peloton full of riders wanting to be at the front. I’ll make sure I don’t make the same mistake later in the race when we next hit the real mountains.

Fortunately all the Cannondale boys were at Basso’s aid and got him safely in the front so my mistake did not cause any damage today. Still I couldn’t just shrug my shoulders about it — I need to accept it and remember how responsible I feel for potentially letting Ivan down and its a feeling I don’t want. Most important thing is to move on and avoid it happening in the future.

So a good first test for our captain and again it was great to see all the boys doing such a brilliant job keeping him safe. The system we worked hard on the past couple of races was clearly evident and the moral of the group is nice and high at the dinner table this evening.

It’s been great having Guillaume Boivin, a young Canadian kid on the team for this Vuelta. He did an awesome job today for his first day in a grand tour peloton. He was completely un-daunted by the task at hand.

Also, its funny seeing another culture that is not Italian at the table. I always seem to eat in a little different way to other guys. For example, to avoid over-eating I just have one plate of food. So I spread my pasta around my plate until my steak or fish arrives, plop it down on top of my pasta and munch away.

The Italians love their three-course-serving style and separate everything. So with Boivin at the table it’s nice to not be the odd one out anymore as he does exactly the same thing. Little things like this are making this Vuelta experience an enjoyable time with Team Cannondale.

It’s funny how such small things can make you feel that little bit more relaxed. The more relaxed you are off the bike the more energy you have to concentrate while you are on it. All things point towards an enjoyable three weeks ahead.

Until stage 3, cheers.

Cam