Monday 14 October 2019

Conor Dunne's Giro d'Italia diary: 'I burned 7,125 calories on yesterday's mountain stage – the equivalent of 14 Big Macs'

Saturday May 25: Stage 14: Saint Vincent to Courmayer (131km)

The mountain stages use a lot of energy
The mountain stages use a lot of energy

Conor Dunne

Mountain stages of Grand Tour use up a lot of energy.

I burned 7,125 calories on yesterday's six and a half hour mountain stage – the equivalent of 14 Big Macs, so I knew I had to replenish my energy stores at dinner last night.

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The problem was that after so much physical effort I was finding it hard to eat. At the Vuelta last year I had the same problem but my then teammate Larry Warbasse forced me to eat, so I had his voice in my head last night as I sat force feeding myself three bowls of plain pasta.

It wasn't pretty, and took about an hour, but I knew I had to get the carbs in or I'd be empty for today.

Having finished dinner at 10.30, I went straight to bed but had a brutal night's sleep.

For taller guys like me there's a lot of high torque twisting and pulling to get through the mountain stages and my back has been sore since yesterday. It's been good all Giro but yesterday it started to seized up a bit. I'm not really sure what's wrong with it but I think it's just the fact we've gone from relatively flat stages to suddenly, wallop, into steep climbs. It's probably just a change of muscle use but my body's not responding well to it at the moment.

Being tall also means I often have my feet sticking out the end of hotel beds at races but last night really took the biscuit. The bed was so small that it ended just below my knees and I spent the night tossing and turning in an effort to get comfortable. After a fitful night's sleep, I woke up at 6am, struggled to get a bit more shuteye before cracking and getting up for breakfast.

When you're a bigger rider like me, day's like today are hard enough without having any extra problems going on so, with five mountains ahead of me, I did a good warm up before the stage in anticipation of a hard start.

The fireworks started as soon as we hit the first climb, after just 7km, with the overall contenders attacking each other and pulling clear in an elite front group of 27 riders. Behind them, I was pushing 500 watts in the wheels of a fracturing peloton and was on the verge of blowing up.

My back was killing me and I knew I couldn't sustain the effort to the top 6km later without going so far into the red that there'd be no coming back, so I just let them go and rode my own tempo, ending up in a group of maybe ten riders behind the main peloton going over the top.

We took turns on the front and were lucky that the overall contenders all ended up looking at each other and sat up after about 25km. When the main part of the peloton screamed past them with points leader Arnaud Demare's FDJ boys leading him towards an intermediate sprint a few kilometres later, my group were still off the back and chasing hard.

As luck would have it, we only regained contact at the bottom of the first category ascent to Verrogne after 38km. It only took one hairpin for me to be in trouble again. I was first one out the back door, with almost 100km left, but I wasn't panicking just yet.

A 10km climb is about a 45 minute effort, depending on the steepness, so I rode just off the back of the group for a few hairpins, knowing that some riders had gone too hard at the start and hoping that if I kept a steady effort they would come back to me before the top.

I'm normally confident that I can set a decent enough tempo but I really had to grit my teeth today. Up ahead on the slope, I could already see Demare and a few others losing contact and there was another big group just ahead of them. I was swinging off the back of Demare's group by the top but I just had to dig in and only hung on through sheer determination.

More back pain forced me to stand up out of the saddle for the duration of the 9km second category ascent that followed and, to add insult to injury, on the way up my wheel started rubbing against my brake block, making things even worse. I waited to the top to change it and immediately felt a lot better.

I was unsure how today would end and whether we would make the time cut until we caught a big group containing my teammates Awet, Cimo and Guillaume on the penultimate climb, with 40km to go, and our grupetto swelled to maybe 35 riders.

I knew once I was in this group that I'd probably be okay, but I had to fight hard to stay in there and wasn't even strong enough to give them a turn at the front today. I was really on a bad day and struggled the whole way around but it could have been worse. Awet has had a cold for the past few days and was absolutely suffering today. I could hear him coughing behind me for the whole 10km incline.

The problem in a big group like ours is that everybody climbs differently and today they rode at an annoying tempo; going hard for a while, then easy, then hard again. There were guys shouting at each other a bit and I was yo-yoing off the back for a good while. It was doing my head in, so I decided to just ride at my own pace.

With the daily time cut calculated on a percentage of the stage winner's time, our directeur sportif in the car behind us did the maths and said that we had 50 minutes after the winner to get to the line if we wanted to stay in the race. When we got a time check at the top, with 30km to go, we were 28 minutes down and had another 22 to spare.

I sprinted back onto the group at the summit and as soon as I learned we had time in hand I tried to chill out a little bit on the descent and recover for another tough day in the mountains tomorrow (Sunday).

The uphill finish was barely a climb compared to the rest of the day and I crossed the line one place ahead of Awet in our group, second last on the stage and 40 minutes behind stage winner and new race leader Richard Carapaz of Movistar.

I think I was the second person dropped on the first climb today, after just 9km. I lost contact maybe 50metres after Bardiani rider Enrico Barbin. I got back in - but the Italian didn't and abandoned the Giro today, so that's how close the margins are sometimes.

I'm absolutely wrecked now. My back is killing me but I know from experience that I can pull through it. If I keep getting massages and doing stretches I can bring myself around again but, to be honest, I'm just focusing on getting through tomorrow now, getting to the rest day on Monday where I can get our osteopath to do some work on it and I can hopefully recover for the final week.

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