Week two of the Giro d'Italia started off better than we could have hoped for. After enjoying our rest day, we enjoyed two more. Many followers of the race complained about the boring, pancake-flat sprint stages, but we in the peloton savoured every minute of boredom, knowing what awaited us for the remainder of the Giro.
Our only objectives were to get through the sprint days safely and spend as little energy as possible. To that end, we had a competition within the team to see who could have the easiest day. I posted a photo of my average power and heart-rate for stage 10, and Twitter blew up, as expected.
Yes, it was a very easy day, but those numbers are misleading because of the effort and skill required to make it so easy – sagging every small rise and every acceleration out of corners, as well as taking "hiding in the bunch" to extremes. Some of my lighter teammates averaged 40 watts more than me, so even among professionals with the same goal, the effort varied greatly. And for those wondering: I came in a very close second in our competition behind Jan Bakelants, but I did win our heart-rate mini-challenge.
Having navigated the sprint stages well, we set our sights on breakaway success as the race entered the mountains. Already eyeing the final time trial in Verona, I focused more on helping my teammates get into the breakaway, before taking it as easy as possible until the finish.
I prefer the second-to-last gruppetto, as this is the group that prefers to climb marginally faster and descend with a bit less risk, whereas the sprinters' gruppetto aims to take back time on the descents.
An added challenge for the gruppetto is that, by the time we get there, many spectators have already begun riding home on the course and don't always do a good job of getting out of our way, which is kind of like a Formula 1 race being held while a vintage car club takes leisure laps.
The mountains have been as brutal as expected, but I'm happy to report that I'm climbing well. Most of the climbs are too steep for me to excel on, so I've opted to play the long game and wait for the final stage. It's a risk, but I'm gambling that most of the top time triallists will be more tired than me by that point.
Everyone who complained that the Giro was not exciting enough in the first week has since eaten their fair share of crow, as all the energy saved early on is coming forth with exciting attacks.
Katusha's Ilnur Zakarin and Trek-Segafredo's Bauke Mollema took a big risk and made big gains only to see them lost the next day, and the next day Richard Carapaz [Movistar] seized the race lead with a decisive attack. Each stage is delivering exciting racing now, and there are still many tough stages to come.
On stage 13, my teammate Louis Vervaeke's stomach doomed him. I burned 6000kJ during that brutal stage; he couldn't eat or drink properly, and you can only go so deep into the hole before your body gives up. The Giro takes no prisoners, and we were down to five after that day. Then the next day Sam Oomen crashed out with a fractured hip bone, and left us fighting to keep our morale.
We'll keep trying, though. On stage 15 to Como, our young Aussie duo – Jai Hindley and Chris Hamilton – have shown that their climbing legs are only getting better, and I hope they can do something special soon. Jan has also shown that he's eager to race, and I'm doing everything I can to preserve my legs for six more stages, going all-in for the final 17km of the Giro.
We have a skeleton crew, admittedly, but the Giro is a great race, and we'll fight until the end. The persistent rain in Bergamo – expected to continue through Tuesday's stage – has certainly dampened our moods, because the last thing we want to do on a recovery day is ride the trainer, but looking at the start of stage 16, we certainly can't afford to let our legs shut down.
Even the rain and the rollers can't ruin my day, though, because my wife is here to boost my morale for the final week of what has been an unforgiving Giro. Her company and a lot of carbs are my recipe for a successful rest day, which is already into its waning hours. Time flies when you're dreading a rainy Mortirolo, I guess.