Ryder Hesjedal and I have become talented skeeter hunters. 'Skeeter' is Ryder's name for mosquitoes and a term I have quickly come to adopt. Last night, Ryder was sufficiently pleased and impressed to be woken at 3am when I, in his words, ‘took affirmative action’ with regard the hunting and killing of the skeeter that had escaped his own pre-bedtime extermination session.
This little guy was a dutch-stealth-skeeter. There was no annoying buzzing around the ears, no showing-off flying around giving aerial displays, and no parking up in clearly visible spots to taunt us. All there was to show of his existence were itchy, painful bites. After two hours of this I’d had enough. The lights came on waking Ryder up as I took things into my own hands. Ryder bravely offered himself as bait and lay there in wait. Sure enough, the little skeeter eventually showed himself and I finished him off with a towel, leaving a trail of what was surely our own blood on the wall. It was the best thing that happened yesterday.
The start of the stage was held beneath rain: very wet, Northern European rain. The grey and miserable conditions were not what one expects from La Vuelta. However they did manage - in true Spanish style - to delay the start by 15 minutes which, of course, we weren’t told about until we’d already been standing under the rain for 5 minutes. I only found out because I was standing next to one of the officials, and then only after I asked why we were still standing there after the scheduled start time. I went back to the bus and left the majority of the peloton to stand there confused, getting cold and wet, while I had a coffee. It really was miserable and quite the anti-climax after the buzzing atmosphere of the day before.
The race itself was quite calm, in that we didn’t try to destroy each other for hours on end. Rather, we all knew the parcours was enough of a handful and would take care of us all on its own. This is exactly what happened.10km in, while on crappy surfaced small roads that were turning left and right on way to a regular basis I found myself next to Tom Boonen.
"Tommeke Tommeke Tommeke, this sucks," I said. "Daveed Meellar, don’t worry, this is the worst bit. In about 20km we turn onto big roads and it is like that till the finish," he replied.
100km later I found myself once again next to Tom Boonen. "Tommeke Tommeke Tommeke, you’ve been given bad intelligence, this sucks." I said. "Daveed Meellar, I know, this sucks." The whole day was like the first 20km…
Anyway, as bad as it was for us, at least we weren’t the Andalucía - Cajasur team, who have probably been living in hell these last few days. I doubt many of them have ever set foot in Holland or Belgium, let alone raced here. Whitey was telling us that he reckons almost their whole team hit the deck at one point or another yesterday. Either that or it was the same guy nine times.
As for us, we did actually have a good day. Cycling is a team sport, and a team needs a leader, sometimes spiritual, sometimes existential. Our assault on the race was led by our desire and belief that we have the best sprinter in the race in Tyler Farrar (he’s an existential leader!). Ty had done a magnificent prologue finishing third, this meant that if he won he would be in the jersey. All nine of us did everything we could to make this happen, Ty was the first to admit at the finish, after getting fifth, that he didn’t have the legs. Proper chap.
Today we did the same, and Ty did have the legs, only Julian Dean didn’t. They’ve become a tight pair the two of them and rely heavily on each other. Julian was devastated.
Once we cross a finish line we barge ourselves through all the chaos towards our team buses. Once there, we sit down all sweaty, remove our helmets and spend a few minutes alone regrouping. It’s a brief moment of quiet before the next phase begins (shower, media, transfer etc). Rarely do we interrupt each other during this moment.
Today Julian came back and sat opposite Ty and apologized. Julian never comes to the back of the bus, where Ty, Ryder and I usually sit and have some fun. Ordinarily, Julian enjoys the silence of his own seat in the middle of the bus, so it was all the more poignant that he came back to speak to Ty in this regrouping period. Ty just looked at him and said, "Hey man, don’t worry, you did everything right yesterday and I didn’t have it, that’s just the way it is."
I thought that was lovely; very sporting. I know that they were both gutted, they both knew the other felt the same way too, but we all knew Julian was the most disappointed. And we take care of him. That’s a team and Ty is becoming a leader: it’s great to see.