Tuesday 16 July 2019

Conor Dunne's Giro D'Italia diary: 'A lot of thought goes into how tight I tie my laces, I got my sums wrong today'

Friday May 17, Stage 7: Vasto to l'Aquila (185km)

The pack rides through the village of Arielli during stage seven of the 102nd Giro d'Italia - Tour of Italy - cycle race, 185kms from Vasto to L'Aquila on May 17, 2019. (Photo by Luk BENIES / AFP)LUK BENIES/AFP/Getty Images
The pack rides through the village of Arielli during stage seven of the 102nd Giro d'Italia - Tour of Italy - cycle race, 185kms from Vasto to L'Aquila on May 17, 2019. (Photo by Luk BENIES / AFP)LUK BENIES/AFP/Getty Images

Conor Dunne

Since this Giro started, I've been rooming with my Canadian team-mate Guillaume Boivin. So far, the days have been so long that we haven't had much time to chat after or before stages but we've been getting along really well.

We both like to sleep with the window open, and staying in a nice hotel on the beachfront last night meant we could hear the sea lapping at the shore as we nodded off.

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Our room contained a big double bed and a pull-out sofa bed and my gracious room-mate took the pull-out option so I could spend the night in comfort, so I owe him one for that.

We had more of a relaxed morning this morning than yesterday and I even had time to watch a bit of the F1 Documentary series Drive to Survive on Netflix before leaving for the race.

Even our commute to the start was calmer today, with less traffic and a fully functioning team bus. There are so many switches and knobs on the bus that it's a bit like the Millennium Falcon, but the guys eventually figured out what caused yesterday's electrical problems and everything is back working again now.

After the breakaway group stayed away to the end yesterday, I think a lot of people thought the same would happen on today's similar type profile, so there were plenty of riders hoping for a shot at a stage win at the start this morning and it made for very aggressive racing.

The first 100km were absolutely rapid, and were behind us after just two hours of racing.

For all of that time, there were big groups of 20 or 30 riders going off the front and coming back, only to be replaced by another one. I was feeling alright though, and tried to get up the road a few times or help the other guys get into moves. At one point I asked my Spanish teammate Ruben Plaza if he wanted to move up but he said 'no' as he wasn't feeling great.

When a group eventually went clear a few kilometres later, I smiled when I noticed he was in the race-winning break alongside our Italian Kristian Sbaragli.

With the group a minute up the road, Bahrain joined the UAE team of race leader Valerio Conti in the chase at the front of the peloton and it went from attack, attack, attack to a consistently savage pace for the rest of the day.

This chase came at the worst point of the stage too, on a section that contained loads of little kickers and with the peloton naturally stretched already, gaps began to open every time we went around a corner.

Being six foot eight means that no matter where I am in the peloton I can pretty much see all the way to the front. With the race stretched out into one long line for most of today, I could see the pain whipping down the line towards me before it hit me each time. I nearly gave myself a hernia sprinting out of corners.

Things split up a bit after about 118km and I was caught in a big group just off the back. We only regained contact 10km later, just in time for the biggest climb of the day, the second category Svolte de Popoli.

As the road went skywards, I found myself alongside Italian sprinter Elia Viviani, who soon began to ease up. As a few others followed suit, I turned to Viviani.

“Is this the grupetto?”

“Yeah,” he smiled.

“Oh, thank God for that!”

We had flown through the mid-stage feed zone so fast earlier that I didn't have time to grab my feed bag, so I had a can of coke, a gel and a bar as we set our own non-climbers' pace for the next 10km.

Everyone swapped turns on the front of our 50 strong 'grupetto' on the plateau at the top in order not to lose too much time on the stage winner and be in danger of being outside the time limit.

The descent that followed was so long, straight and fast that you actually couldn't pedal.

Instead, everyone spent about ten minutes sitting on their crossbar at 90kph whiled tucked into an aero position in order to see if we could go any faster. It was like a professional freewheeling race. Big German Roger Kluge from Lotto-Soudal won.

Unlike most guys who wear cycling shoes with velcro straps or ratchets to tighten them, I like to wear old-style shoes with laces.

The problem with laces is that you have to tie them properly at the start. It's not like football, where the ref stops everything if you're tying your laces and unlike velcro, if they're too loose or too tight, then you can't just bend down and adjust them on the move.

A lot of thought goes into how tight I tie my laces. The thickness of the sock and the probability of my feet swelling in the heat all come into the equation. Today however, I got my sums wrong and overtightened my size 14 shoes.

My feet were absolutely killing me by the time I got to the finish, 18 minutes behind stage winner Pelo Bilbao of Astana. Here, I was immediately interviewed by British Eurosport. If you watch that clip back - as soon as Matt Stephens was finished asking me questions, I bent down to undo my laces.

Best. Feeling. Ever.

At four and a half hours, today was relatively short compared to the six and a half hours we've been doing for most of the week but it was a pretty savage day and I'm feeling the first bite of this Giro this evening.

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