- Sylvain Chavanel
September 07, 2011, 14:40 BST,
September 07, 2011, 15:38 BST
Chasing a win in the Basque Country
Imagine riding a Grand Tour and the first real flat stage for the sprinters comes after the second rest day, six days before the end of the race. Crazy, but this is the Vuelta.
I feel okay, tired of course, but it could be worse. On the rest day, I was able to recover well - we had an excellent hotel that included thalassotherapy, so I spent the day on a massage table. Afterwards there were hot and cold baths, things like that. The day went by really fast. I didn't touch the bike at all!
It was just what I needed after the Angliru. I knew this climb from 2008. It's 12 kilometres long, and at the bottom it's still a normal pass of 8 or 9 percent. After that it flattens out a bit and then there are four really difficult kilometres, all between 17 and 23 percent. I used a 34x29... It's really spectacular.
When you watch the TV images, you can see that even the best riders are in slow motion on this section. So imagine what it's like further back. I won't hide that the public pushed us a bit, you can't avoid it anyway. I had been dropped on the penultimate climb, so I just rode the Angliru at my own pace, tranquillo.
But you know, this is not the hardest climb of all. I've been told that the Zoncolan in Italy is worse: there, the hard bit that is as steep as the Angliru is not four kilometres long, but ten. Unbelievable.
We've come to the final week but the race is not over. On Wednesday, the final climb will probably see a last fight for GC, as it's six kilometres at an average of ten percent - including parts up to 19 percent. Another terrible climb, and it could see some bigger gaps. It's certainly not over for Cobo yet!
For me as an attacker, the last few stages until Saturday are all hilly and well-suited to breakaways, so the battle will be on. But it will be difficult to get away. Until now, there haven't been a lot of escapes that have gone to the finish, and moreover there haven't been many winning teams yet. There have been a number of double stage wins, for example Liquigas and Cofidis, while Katusha have even scored a triple! They say that everybody is tired, but the stage starts are just as fast as in the beginning of the race. And honestly, I don't know which team will control the race, so I reckon it will be hectic.
I like the Basque country, the climbs are not too steep – the sort of ascents where you have to use a big gear. I'll try to find the right moment to attack; I tried before, but of course they won't let me get away so easily... It's also not easy to remain focused mentally. What gives me motivation is my objective. So wish me luck...
- Sylvain Chavanel
August 31, 2011, 10:10 BST,
August 31, 2011, 11:17 BST
The climbing continued even on the rest day...
I’m writing to you on the rest day. This morning, I slept late until 10.30 – wonderful. Then, we went for a ride at midday, and I did an hour and a half. Unfortunately, our hotel is surrounded by mountains, so there was no other way than to climb... Let's say it didn't break our habits here at the Vuelta a España!
As you know, I lost the red jersey last Saturday on a wall of 28 percent gradient, when [Joaquim] Rodriguez attacked and took the stage win. It was just too hard for me. The next day, there was another difficult summit finish, averaging eight percent over the last ten kilometres, and I held on until there but then I exploded. I finished the stage tranquillo... I lost nine minutes on the stage winner, and I hope this will make them leave me alone a bit in the next few days!
I did the time trial à bloc; I liked the difficult course but you had to have a lot of power for it. On GC, I'm ten minutes down now, and I think that's just perfect. I'll try to go for that stage victory, create the right opportunity. Of course, I won't reveal my exact plans!
The competition is tough here at the Vuelta, and there are a lot of guys like me, who would like to win a stage. The level is high, and the course is difficult. We do an average of 3000 vertical metres every day... Tomorrow, it's 3700, on Thursday 2100, Friday 4500, Saturday 4600... Not bad, is it?
Fortunately, the heat has eased off these last few days as we moved north. From around 40° during the first week, it came down to 28°, then 22° for today. They’re even expecting some rain in the next few days, which suits me. I never disliked the rain! I'm not finished, I tell you... and I hope the best is still to come. I want to raise my arms wearing the blue-white-red jersey and finish off a beautiful Vuelta.
For the GC and our overall man Kevin Seeldrayers, this second week will also be all-decisive. There are three summit finishes yet to come. And I'm sure there will be some fireworks and some guys will try to move back up the classification – the Vuelta is still very open and the fighting will be intense. For the team that has to defend the jersey, it's not going to be very pleasant. Attacks will come from all sides. At the same time, Sky is a solid team.
For the overall victory, my bet is Vincenzo Nibali, who is only 30 seconds down. But everything will depend on the Angliru climb; this stage will be the key to this year's Vuelta. Last week, we saw some of the overall favourites having bad moments like Scarponi and then Rodriguez, who both lost two minutes. Other riders can suffer the same fate, especially on the Angliru with its steep percentages. The GC situation can still change quite a bit.
Bradley Wiggins is also very impressive, his climbing the other day was very strong. In the time trial, he started out very fast as I saw on TV, but then he lost some time again in the finale. But he is going really well.
Next time I'll update this blog will be after my stage win... haha! Hopefully. Let's not get carried away...
- Sylvain Chavanel
August 24, 2011, 10:47 BST,
August 24, 2011, 12:17 BST
I hope to keep the red jersey for a while
After fighting to take the leader's red jersey at the Vuelta I'm really happy but I'm also very tired.
Obviously I'm very proud of what I've achieved. I missed out on the overall lead on Monday after being in the break but I managed my effort really well on the climb of Sierra Nevada and it paid off.
During the climb I carefully limited my losses, especially when Nibali attacked, because I knew that the climb was hard but that the last part was a little less demanding and at only four or five percent. I knew it suited me better and that I'd have a chance to close a gap or keep things under control. I was extra motivated because I knew I was riding into the red jersey.
I think I'm climbing better than ever. As I explained in an earlier blog, I've done a lot of specific mountain climbing this year and done it at altitude. That's helped me improve my climbing and it has really paid off now.
I've had leader's jerseys at the Tour de France and other stage races but I've usually lost them pretty quickly. Perhaps this time I've taken it at the right time. I hope so. If I lose it, I'll change my strategy and try and win a stage later in the race.
It's going to be hard to keep the jersey because I'm still feeling the huge effort I made when I went in the break on Monday but I'm going to fight all the way to keep it as long as possible. If I can hold on to it during today's up and down fifth stage, then I should be able to hold it for a few more days after that. I've got a 43 second lead on Moreno and more on the other guys. That's not a lot but it's pretty good too.
I'm sure a rider like Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha will go on the attack on the steep climb to the finish. It's perfect for him. I've heard it's got a gradient of 23% at one point. Fortunately it's only for one kilometre and so it might not make big gaps and splits in the peloton.
The heat here in Spain has been terrible. The temperatures have been close to 40°C and so the amount of liquids you need to take on board is enormous. We have to drink a lot of bottles but that means you are full of water and when you finish the stage, you feel very bloated. It feels like you're about to explode.
You have to try and stay cool by pouring water over yourself. I don’t usually like doing that but here there's no choice. Just like a car, we've got to keep our engines cool too.
Wish me luck for during the stage and hasta luego –hopefully still in the red jersey.
- Sylvain Chavanel
August 19, 2011, 2:05 BST,
August 19, 2011, 3:24 BST
My first entry from our hotel in southern Spain
Hello Cyclingnews readers,
I'm writing this first blog entry to you from our team hotel in Alicante, just outside of Benidorm. It's hot and dry out here in the south of Spain, as it should be for the start of the Vuelta. Today's 100km of training felt like I had a hair dryer in my face the whole time!
It's the third time I race the Vuelta. I remember when I wore the golden jersey here in 2008 it had been the first time for a Frenchman to take it since Jalabert - it was special. I also remember my 16th overall placing in 2007, which I achieved with a broken rib. I still felt discomfort from that in November of that year!
I'm very motivated for the race this year. It was my choice to come here instead of the Canadian races [Quebec and Montreal] (which I also like) to better prepare for the Worlds. Two Grand Tours give you a big motor for the Worlds, so that is what I needed to do. But I've also come here for the race itself. My objective is always the same: give the best of myself. I want to hang in there during the first stages and then see if I can take some risks to go for a stage win. Tuesday, the first summit finish will already take us above 2000m. We'll see how I go there and then set my objectives.
I feel good, my sensations are pleasant. I can't say that I'm fully recovered from my crash at the Tour, because I still have some muscular pain in my shoulder sometimes. But there is always something isn't there!
I've been carrying a small hernia in my back since 2008. My back is quite a construction site... But I won't complain, I'm used to pain. And in a way, you need such bad times like the one I had at the Tour in order to bounce back!
Regarding the team, I've been given total freedom, and I have no pressure, which is great. I'm rooming with Kevin De Weert, who placed 13th at the Tour this year. Tom Boonen is also with us; he will go for some sprints I'm sure. I saw that there are many Spanish sprinters in the peloton, so there should be some fast finishes in store for us. But then, many teams will also be interested in breakaways. We won't be the only squad to be opportunistic. I just hope we'll have more success than our rivals.
Respect for the Monuments
The Vuelta may be less prestigious than the Tour - and quite different in a number of aspects - but it's still one of the three Grand Tours. They are part of cycling's historic monuments with the Classics. This season, my biggest regret is of course to have finished second at the Tour of Flanders. I don't like to talk about it now, it's the past. But certainly, that day I had the legs to win, and I tell myself that if I had won it as well as the French Championships, it would have made an enormous difference looking at my season. Still, the French champion's jersey was something I wanted to have for a long time - it's more than a great victory. It was really important to get it at least once in my career, and I did.
So even if I have "only" one victory so far this season, I consider myself very happy with it. Other riders have to make do with placings of honour all their careers, they have to be content with that. These days, you have to be Philppe Gilbert to win every week-end... What he does is just beyond competition.
Until now, I've worn the leader's jersey at the Tour and at the Vuelta. I won stages at the Tour, too, so now I still need a stage win here in Spain. I want to finish the season in style. With the tricolore jersey on my shoulders, I won't hide in the pack - that you can be sure of!
- Sylvain Chavanel
French national champion Sylvain Chavanel (Quickstep), a veteran of 13 Grand Tours will be sharing his experiences and insights as he rides the 2011 Vuelta a Espana. Chavanel has won 38 races in his career, including multiple stages of the Tour de France. A noted time trialist, Chavanel has shown his versatility in recent years, and has developed into one of the strongest cobbled Classics riders in the peloton.
The 32-year-old has had a lean 2011 season by his own lofty standards and will be looking to have a successful Vuelta as he prepares for the UCI Road World Championships in Copenhagen.