It’s been 72 hours since the curtains came down on the Vuelta a Espana and I’ve only just found the energy to finish my final blog for the event. Such is the bubble during a Grand Tour that once you cross that finish line your body has its first chance to realise what it’s just been through.
All of a sudden fatigue — mental and physical — engulfs your body. At the same time there’s an overwhelming sense of relief and disregard for the fatigue since the weight has been lifted off your shoulders.
It’s a strange feeling. All of a sudden you don’t have anything to do. The racing is finished, the daily time schedule is behind you, and of course the post-race focus on recovery for the following stage no longer exists.
All I can think of now is slamming down that beverage I’ve been craving for so long or simply lying down and reflecting on the past three weeks. I put my body through a hell of a lot more than I had planned in this Vuelta. I expected my fatigue to come from pushing the pedals, but in the end the only suffering I endured was at the hands of a broken bone and the complications associated from racing with it for two weeks.
Still, like every major race I learned a lot from the experience; about myself and also by viewing the race from a different perspective. I’m already champing at the bit for my next major hit-out in Lombardia. For now though, a few reflections on the Vuelta a Espana in general.
After the race for the overall GC wrapped up on the Alto de L’Angliru, I was happy to see Chris Horner navigate stage 21 safely and become the 2013 Vuelta champion. Much has been said and continues to be said about his victory which disappoints me.
These nimrods and their bogus calculations seem to be surfacing again as they did in Le Tour surrounding Froomie’s performance. All of these accusations are unfounded of course, and like any attention seekers, the media will soon ignore them and these so-called experts will crawl back into the little holes where they belong.
Like I have said many times before this year there is nothing I have seen or felt within the peloton that is an unbelievable performance. You can look at your SRM and predict how long the pace will hold and when it’s going to get faster or slower.
Of course you need to be strong enough to actually produce these power outputs and often during this tour I wasn’t. Either I was not strong enough, or I had done a lot of work on the front.
If I pulled on a climb at a certain power output, I always knew when I looked back how many riders would be left on our wheels and exactly which riders would remain. There are no surprises these days.
Whenver I was not there in the final kilometers I would always ask a few guys in the bunch who was up there, what the pace was like and what power they were pushing. From this I never heard anything unexpected or surprising. Also, if riders where doing the “wrong thing” and were unbelievably strong, the other big riders would call them out and something would be said.
If a particular performance was suspect, it would not be accepted inside the peloton these days. One way or another something would be done or noise made to ensure offenders were no longer in the bunch. That simply has not happened in this Vuelta.
Riders now seem genuinely respectful of each other’s performances and everybody respects that all results and performances in the biggest races are built of sheer hard work. So suffice to say, the performance of Chris, from within the peloton, was met with nothing but admiration by everyone.
Never did he destroy the field through brute force. He merely calculated his efforts to perfection. He took a few seconds here, a few seconds there, and never lost any unnecessary time in the process. And guess what? In the end he merely won by a matter of seconds.
It was an incredibly exciting race because you had two great champions in Vincenzo Nibali and Chris Horner going hammer-and-tong at each other, using all their experience and talent in the process. At any moment one of them could have imploded and consequently they were aware of their limits. This made the duel even more intriguing.
If you look at Chris’s career, it is littered with excellent results. For so much of his career he has used his talent and ability to selflessly work for his team captain. I have heard Cadel Evans say on more than one occasion that Chris was one of the best teammates he ever had. Trust me, Cadel only ever gives credit where it’s due.
Perhaps if Chris had a chance to ride for himself in the past he would have won more Grand Tours, or at least had some higher GC placings. Who knows? He has spent most of his career working for others and doing it to extinction, all while banking hours of hard work and learning what it takes to win a big tour through his respective team leaders.
Now, finally at 41 he got the chance to lead his team — one of the most experienced and powerful GC teams in the peloton — in a Grand Tour. Therefore it comes as no surprise to me that after all these years of learning, working his arse off, waiting in the wings, and finally getting his chance, it all paid off for Chris. There is no doubt in my mind that Chris Horner and his Radioshack team are worthy winners of this year’s Vuelta, full stop.
I have really enjoyed this Vuelta. I had a great group of teammates and staff within the Cannondale clan. Daniele’s [Ratto] win was the highlight for the team and I truly believe it was the most exciting victory of the race.
To blow the doors off the two of the best riders and breakaway kings in the world was all class. The fact that one is the current World Champion added to the storyline and the billing that Ratto is one of the most exciting riders within the peloton.
The way he won by out-climbing, out-descending, and being tactically smarter than the best riders in the world shows a victory of nothing other than a great champion. It certainly will be a day and smile on Daniele’s face I won’t forget in a hurry. Simply awesome!
For now I have a few more days rest planned and I’ll let my body tell me what it wants. The last three days has been a lot of sleep, a lot of eating, and the remainder of the time spent on the sofa catching up on missed TV time! Tomorrow I will start my recon for Lombardia by checking out a couple of climbs. As I often said during the Vuelta, I can’t wait to get up in the morning and get back on my bike!
Thanks for reading.