Saturday 17 March 2018

Cycling: Vuelta Diary Stage 6 - Benalmadena to La Zubia

'I was so hot that my head felt like it was going to explode'

Spanish cyclist Alejandro Valverde of Movistar celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the 6th stage of the 69th edition of 'La Vuelta' Tour of Spain
Spanish cyclist Alejandro Valverde of Movistar celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the 6th stage of the 69th edition of 'La Vuelta' Tour of Spain

Philip Deignan

As soon as we arrive at the start every morning, my Sky team has a 20-minute meeting on the team bus.

On a big pull-down screen behind the windscreen, our directeur sportif Dario Cioni runs us through a very methodical presentation of the stage each day.

Included in the discussion is a map of the course, the stage profile, the expected weather and wind direction.

If there are any technical stretches of road or descents we haven't seen before, Dario will have pictures and even video of the important points on the route; especially the places that could cause trouble if we're not near the front.

Every rider also gets a different job to do during each stage, whether it's to ride at the front, keep team leader Chris Froome out of the wind or go back to the car for bottles for everyone.

My role today was to be near the front on the 4km climb to the Vuelta's first summit finish but unfortunately things didn't exactly go to plan.

A two-man breakaway went up the road after about 10km this morning and with all of the teams playing poker with each other, their lead grew to 12 minutes.

With the temperature up near the 40s again today, nobody wanted to waste energy chasing the lead duo so we spent an hour ambling along the coast towards Torre del Mar at around 30kph.

Riding along the beach-front for so long, it was hard to look right and see everyone lying out in the sun enjoying their holidays, knowing that we had two more weeks of being scorched by the Spanish sun ahead of us.

Today I had one of those days where you try to convince yourself that you're going to get better as the day goes on. But I never did.

My first inclination that I was on a bad day came shortly after Dan Martin's Garmin Sharp team took up the chase at the front of the peloton.

They were pulling hard on the second category climb after about 65km, and I was so hot that my head felt like it was going to explode.

At the feed zone in most stage races, we get two bottles in our bag, along with some energy bars and gels to see us through the rest of the stage.

Because of the heat at the Vuelta though, we get an energy drink, a Thermos flask filled with ice and an extra bottle of water just to dump over our heads.

I must have drank a dozen bottles today and also did a quite a few mobile ice bucket challenges during the stage.

I still wasn't feeling great on the third category climb after 116km though and by the time we reached a critical section with around 20km to go, I knew my number was up.

Due to turn off a big main road onto a narrower technical section leading to the summit finish, we all knew we had to be at the front.

All of the other teams knew too, so there was a big fight to get into the first 20 or 30, but I didn't have the power to get up to the guys and was so far back after the section that I knew I'd never make it to the front.

Unable to help the guys coming into the climb and with no hope of helping them on the climb, I pulled the pin with about 10km to go and rode to the finish with a big group of non-climbers, losing 22 minutes on the stage.

Up ahead, the guys had done their job and got Chris into a good position for the climb. Pete Kennuagh led him into the bottom and Mikel Nieve was still with him on the ascent as the front group whittled down to just the overall contenders.

Chris got second on the stage, behind Alejandro Valverde and is now up to fourth overall, just 18 seconds off the lead, so we're all pretty happy with that result.

Personally, I'm quite disappointed in my own performance today. It's a bit demoralising, but I know from experience that things can change and I have to look ahead and hope to feel better in the coming days.

Thursday, August 27, Stage 6: Benalmadena to La Zubia (167.7km)

Irish Independent

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