Blowing out the cobwebs

Oof. This race is just what I needed to blow out four months of cobwebs. No training I did in Tucson...

9th Vuelta Lider al sur Chile

Oof. This race is just what I needed to blow out four months of cobwebs. No training I did in Tucson or at camp could prepare me for the California races in March like this race is doing. Familiar sensations of (somewhat pleasant?) fatigue but strength are manifesting themselves but it makes the effort no less painful. I'm just very optimistic about things again because after the first day's race I was so down; I had felt such a tightness in breathing and saw such high heart rates. My teammates pronounced empathetic and encouraging words but they didn't seem to be quite as bad off as I was on that first stage.

We are flying blind in this race. Apparently the race organization has not thought of producing even a simple photocopied stage summary for the riders, so we don't know what the coming stages have in store for us. At breakfast teams argue about whether the start is at 10 or 10:30. Nice. On the upside, stages are on generally good pavement, the crowds are great, food pretty good, and accommodation fine. Speaking of food, Justin had me two thirds converted to vegetarianism and I'd been reducing my meat and chicken intake. For now anyway I'm suspending the effort. Last night we had beef that was incredibly tender; it just tasted better than anything I've had in America. Salmon was a nice change at one lunch, but most of the time it's chicken and rice, pasta and chicken. Justin and I wolfed down 700 grams of the best tasting french fries after yesterday's double stage plus ferry transfer - long day.

Stage 2: Team Time Trial Isla Chiloe, 22 km

Eddy Merckx style means riding equipment similar in form to that used decades ago. This morning our only concessions to modernity were skinsuits and "clip on" aero bars. Most of the top teams sported disc wheels, "funny bikes" and aero helmets.

Off the line, the scary sensation of not being able to get a breath returned, but not nearly as bad as yesterday. 200m off the line as we took the first turn, a dog wandered across the road in front of us. Our lead cop on a motocross bike beeped at it, but the dog obliviously meandered across our path. Scott and Mike led us around it safely, and I hoped that it didn't portend more obstacles ahead. We lucked out with otherwise clear roads for the rest of the ride. Doug still feels rough from his cold and dropped off within a couple kilometers, while Frank's enthusiasm could not substitute for climbing form and he too dropped off soon after Doug. The rest of us beat each other up on our way to fourth place, 2:01 behind the winning team Lider. Lider is a grocery store chain that sponsors the top Chilean team and this race. Their team includes world class track riders, a fierce blond Russian who spent most of stage 3 off the front in one group or another, and generally presents an impressive lineup especially for us U.S. riders coming out of winter.

Justin and I rode back together for training purposes, which, combined with the afternoon road stage, should give us over four hours today.

Stage 2b: Castro to Ancud

After making "the" break of the day, I couldn't hang on the tough KOM climb which presented after just 20 kilometers this afternoon. I felt like a real idiot because I suggested to the guy I had escaped with that we wait for a third guy in no-man's land, thinking that three was better than two over the distance. This third guy turned out to be my undoing on the nearing berg. Lider's blond Russian smacked it hard in the peloton behind while I was coming to pieces ahead, and set up his teammates for an impressive bridge move.

Once I was caught and licking my wounded pride, I had a chance to admire island scenery. Other Chileans and Brazilians did the bulk of the chasing and the break was absorbed on the outskirts of Ancud. Knowing the climb into town, I was well positioned to try and help Sayers out. Unfortunately for us, I waited too long. UCI international sanctioned races are supposed to supply riders with a map of the final 2 or 3 kilometers of the stage, but of course that isn't happening here. Even the local racers didn't know what was coming on this new course. It reminded me of some of the disco circuits we had to do in the inaugural Tour de Georgia. Steep downhills immediately followed by 90 degree turns and the like. Not too bad if that's all the challenge, but toss in some loose sand in the apex of the turn and you've got guys flying off the road.

I missed the window of opportunity and watched from 20 guys back in the snaking line as Sayers appeared to have perfect fourth wheel position going into what would turn out to be the final turn, with again an unknown 400 meters left to the line. The first two riders hit sand (we're now down at beach level) and while they didn't "throw it away", they had to straighten up and launch onto the curb. Sayers found himself on the front, with a Lider rider glued to his back wheel, and no choice but to hit out or be swarmed. It's always the same feeling for me, as I approach the finish line hopefully, legs burning but eyes searching for clues to a teammate's success. And then I see an opponent punch the air in celebration, and I hang my head thinking about all the ways I could have used my energy better. I'm really looking forward to having the entire team together in California, when we can run a top-notch lead out train!

After the stage and a poor man's shower, everyone filled the Pola Sur (South Pole) restaurant for a good feed. The entire race entourage was double and triple parked on the street below, and noisy shouts accompanied the packing and repacking of bikes, bodies and gear for the evening drive and ferry ride back to the mainland. As this was going on, I had a popsicle from one of the literally dozens of tiny convenience shops all along any Chilean town's streetscape, and wandered the street vendors stalls along the beach. Good times.

Stage 3: Puerto Montt to Osorno 125 kilometers.

The above took me so long to write that I'm out of time. Basically, Mike was in the first big break of the day which Lider drilled back, and in the process of doing so, they created a lead group of 22 riders. Scott, Mike and I were up there, but for me it was hanging on by a thread. Two Lider guys split off (this time I wasn't the team-mate who was blown off the wheel, Sayers got today's honor) on a steep climb away from a lakeside resort town. The impetus lost from the group, eventually the 50-odd riders left in the pack were able to rejoin and then it was a 55 kph game-on chase after the two "Liders".

One was the irrepressible Russian, and they'd eked out 2:50 lead while the peloton regrouped. They faced a stiff headwind and could not hold us all off, especially when Health Net pb Maxxis riders hit the front at six k's to go. We took back the final 30 seconds and they were caught inside the last k. Sayers took fourth today in the bunch kick, while the stage went to (surprise surprise) yet another Lider rider. I really wonder if Sayers had ridden much more conservatively if he would have won... He did essentially say that a February training race was not one to take chances in, so he didn't fight too hard for wheels in the finale. All I can say is I wish I could fight not too hard for wheels and get fourth!

We're in an 80+ year old once-grand hotel right on the square, 50 meters from the finish line. It's comfy, although I was startled from my book when Gus opened the ancient casement window in his room and a pane of glass dropped out four stories below to shatter on the awning above the sidewalk. Nice.

The square is filled with people, as all Chilean towns seem to be throbbing with life. Such a contrast to the mostly deserted streets of many US towns and cities, where the only street life is vagrants and homeless, and everyone circles parking lots endlessly looking for the closest possible spot to the front door of the big box retailer they're trying to spend money at.

Tommorrow, we think there is an individual time trial on tap and a road stage as well, but don't know much about either yet. I'm usually pretty good in the TT but without the equipment and with the crutch of February training racing in mind I don't anticipate a winning ride. That's coming up in a month or two!

John

Email John at jlieswyn@cyclingnews.com

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