Vuelta A Espana diary
After finishing fifth in the road race at the European Championships on Sunday, I got two days of family time at home before leaving for Holland and the first three stages of this year’s Vuelta a Espana.
It’s always hard to leave home, but now that I have an eight-month-old son it’s become that bit harder.
Benjamin is growing and changing every day, so any time I go away I feel I’m missing something.
He’s pretty close to walking now, so going away to a race for almost a month means there’s a good chance I’ll miss out on those first steps so that’s an incentive to make sure this trip is worthwhile.
A couple of injury and illness-hampered seasons behind me mean this is my first Grand Tour start since 2020 when I won stages at the Tour de France and the Vuelta. Now, I want to show that I’m back to my best or at least that I’m heading in that direction.
I know I haven’t shown myself this year but I’m not worried about getting through the three weeks. I’ve got through some pretty gruelling Grand Tours, even after crashes and illness that saw me vomit during stages.
The biggest fear for me would be to come out with no stage win.
That would be a disaster.
I’ve never gone to the Vuelta and not won a stage.
I would have had more than one in each one I’ve ridden if I hadn’t been relegated in a sprint during my last Vuelta, so I’d like to keep that run going but I know it’s not going to be easy and sometimes there is a bit of luck involved.
While fifth place in the Euros last week was a decent result, I went home ruing the fact that after following the Belgian squad for the last lap, I jumped across to the Dutch train in the final kilometre.
Looking back, I should have stayed with the Belgians, because their sprinter, Tim Merlier, went with 300m to go and if I followed him I would have been almost guaranteed a medal. A podium was definitely possible.
I don’t know if the legs were good enough for the win on the day, but it would have been a lot closer.
On a positive note, I was happy with how I floated in the bunch though, how I fought for position and felt a bit more like my old self throughout the race.
It was a step in the right direction and I think when you’re disappointed with the result afterwards it’s because you know you’re capable of more, so that’s also a good sign.
Since arriving in Utrecht on Tuesday, I’ve had two Covid tests, got some new kit, checked out my bikes to make sure they are all the same, ridden part of the team-time trial course, checked out the finish of the first road stage and done lots of media stuff including photos for the race organisation.
Standing with my race number in front of my chest for the first photo today felt a bit like getting one of those mugshots taken when they arrest you on TV, but it’s a quick way to let the photographer match the photos with the riders names and team.
These head shots and little-victory celebration videos are what you see in the corner of the TV screen when the results come up at the end of each stage, so hopefully you’ll get to see mine at some point. We then had more interviews, social media stuff for the team and signed jerseys, bottles and bits for the team sponsors and guests.
My Bora-hansgrohe team for this Vuelta is a mixed group of sprinters and climbers that will hopefully see us able to challenge on most days.
For the fast finishes we have myself and my lead-out duo Ryan Mullen and Danny van Poppel.
In the mountains, we have Jai Hindley who won the Giro d’Italia already this year, Colombian national road-race champion Sergio Higuita, who has won lots of races this year and is a very punchy rider.
Both of those are capable of winning stages and going for GC, while Jonas Koch, Matteo Fabbro and Wilco Keldermann are three strong all-rounders capable of winning stages too.
The action begins with a 23.3km team time trial in Utrecht tomorrow evening.
The course looks quite technical. Every corner looks quite similar, especially when you’re tucked down and wearing an aero helmet and glasses, so we will familiarise ourselves with the route again a couple of times beforehand.
It will be hard for the last man through those corners because the first man will be sprinting out of each one just as he is going into it, so it will be all about keeping things smooth and keeping everyone together for a second before accelerating out of them as a unit.
Sprinters are supposed to be good at team time trials but I have yet to find one I enjoyed.
While the race can’t be won in tomorrow’s team time trial, it can definitely be lost there so I don’t want to let my team-mates down and hopefully we do a good ride there.
Vuelta a Espana,
Live on Eurosport, 5.15