Travis McCabe (UnitedHealthcare) suffered through a long, hot day in the saddle during stage 6 Saturday at the Vuelta a San Juan, infiltrating the daylong breakaway with two teammates and then grabbing third from the remnants of the move.
McCabe apparently likes racing in Argentina, having finished third during the stage 3 sprint at the Tour de San Luis in 2016, crossing the line just ahead of Peter Sagan.
"Man, I don't know. It's hard," an exhausted McCabe told Cyclingnews when asked what it is about racing in Argentina that inspires his performances.
"It's hard racing. I think that's why I like it. There was only one easy day, and that was the first day. After that it's been legitimate racing every single day. Same with the year I was third [in San Luis]. It was just super hard, and it paid off."
UnitedHealthcare director Seba Alexandre had marked this stage out as one that a breakaway could stick to the line, and his team stacked the 17-rider breakaway with McCabe, Tanner Putt and Carlos Alzate.
On a risky day with unpredictable winds, the peloton never let the group get more than a 2:30 advantage, and as the kilometres ticked down, the bunch dutifully reeled the escapees back in.
With 20km to go, Bora-Hansgrohe had peeled the gap back to just 35 seconds, and the sprinters in the field started to salivate in anticipation of a bunch sprint in downtown San Juan.
But something happened on the way to the finish line, and the peloton never quite finished off the work. Stage winner Jelle Wallays (Lotto Soudal) jumped away with about 5km to go, and the rest of the breakaway trailed just behind.
"I didn't think we were going to make it, to be honest," McCabe said. "The way we were working, everyone was just really tip-toeing around and playing cat and mouse.
"I think when it went to a minute, everyone, uh, didn't give up, but they quit trying as hard," he said. "Finally, when it got down to 40 seconds, everyone started rolling, rolling, and with 5km to go and we didn't see them, we knew it was going to be the group of us."
Wallays timed his move perfectly and caught the others off-guard, building the slight advantage he would hold to the line to take the win with just enough room to celebrate properly. Behind Wallays, McCabe lost the battle for second with Medellin-Inter's Robigzn Oyola.
"I knew what that last kilometre was like," McCabe said. "I knew it was a headwind and I kind of got anxious. Wallays was already up the road and there wasn't much any of us could do about that. He probably went with like 5km to go, and there was a lot of disorganisation in the group.
"I just waited until that last kilometre and then punched out of that way too early, but what can you do? The Medellin rider was right on my wheel and I knew it, and I knew he was going to come around me. I tried to fake him out and then go, but he was just too strong."
McCabe said he was happy with the podium result, but also a little disappointed.
"Tactically, I could have raced it a little more intelligently," he said. "I feel like I missed a few opportunities this week. I think I had a few good chances to get some results, and so I'm happy today I was able to prove to myself and prove that UnitedHealthcare is still a team to be reckoned with."
Before he rolled away from the finishing straight to the podium to collect his laurels, McCabe reiterated one more time that it was definitely a hard day.
"A long day out there – hard, windy, hot," he said. "A solid bike race."