Well, after saying I felt pretty good at the end of the opening week, I can say those last few days before the second rest day really took their toll. Its slowly built up in the legs now. Even the flatter days before the mountains were pretty hard. They may not have seemed hard from the results or profile but they were solid days.
On the mental side of things, you would have heard it before but you have to take it day by day. Otherwise it all gets a bit too much. Having the second rest day was a good mental point for me to focus on because it’s too difficult to concentrate on the end of the race.
Physically everyone is screwed. I’m at the level now where I’m tired from the first kilometre until the finish. I know I won’t really recover overnight anymore so you ride with tired legs every day. It’s something I’ve had before – but nothing like this! This is completely different now. I guess I’m finding out what some of the other guys have experienced many times before in a grand tour. I have a lot more respect for those guys now.
We went into the three mountain stages and the first one really set the scene. Stage 16 was, considering the profile, quite a relaxed day. It was controlled and everyone seemed to get through ok but the end was epic. The last three kilometres finished everyone off. It didn’t matter what group you were in...It was epic.
I few times I looked down and I was doing 5km/h. It was pretty horrendous up there. That climb is steep even when you’re fresh. It was about 17km before that you were still on a good climb and then the last 3km was just the last straw. I was going so slow and just hoping that someone would give me a little push just to keep the wheels turning.
A few of us were using compact cranksets for those three mountain days just to make sure we had enough gearing. Even when you’re going slow you still want to make sure you can spin the legs. We went smaller again for stage 16 with a 34T at the front and I think a 28T cassette but it’s still not enough on that kind of climb. You really need the ‘granny gears’. Everyone I saw had a compact on – I couldn’t imagine doing it without it.
My body hasn’t changed that much so far. We take on board so much fuel through protein shakes and amino acids that the muscles remain very full and heavy. We have a set of scales to make sure no one is losing heaps of weight or putting weight on – just trying to remain steady. The legs are a little more ripped. It’s nice to get a little bit back after two weeks of racing full-on.
We had a fair bit of fun making the “Call Me Maybe” clip. It’s nice to get away from cycling for a little bit. On one of the days Dan Jones, who produces the Backstage Pass, put on this “Call Me Maybe” video from the Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders and then everyday we were like ‘put that on, put that on’.
After a few days Neil said we are going to do our own version and we laughed it off before it became clear that he was serious. We filmed an underwater scene and then a few of us said ‘let’s do it’. The ball got rolling and then the guys were getting competitive, trying to make better scenes in the bunch or with Simon Clarke on the podium.
It didn’t take too much energy for the amount of enjoyment we got out of it. It was pretty funny and it’s great to see so many people take a laugh from it. Even though it’s pretty full-on here and there isn’t a whole lot of time to do other things, it’s good to try and do something that isn’t all about the race and recovering. Some of those scenes took only a couple of minutes but that gives you a few hours to talk about something else.
It was a shame to lose Cam because some of those tough days when it seemed like the break might not go or it’s hard to get into it, he managed to come through. He’s a bit of an engine. When you lose a guy like that it’s a real shame but he’s in the team for the World’s team time trial and so he’s got something else to focus on. He could have gotten to the end of the Vuelta no problem but it would have been silly for him to ride all the way till the end just to finish and not be 100% for the TTT.
We are staying at a bit of a resort today and we enjoyed a late breakfast and an easy two hours on the bike. A few of the guys opened it up on a couple of climbs and even though they don’t want to, it stops the body from shutting down. There’s an ice bath which a few of the guys might get into later on before we drive to our next hotel. As for me, I’m going to take it pretty easy for the rest of the day.
The race is by no means over but I know I’m that much closer to reaching Madrid.
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Mitchell Docker is riding his first grand tour at the Vuelta a España for Orica-GreenEdge after spending the past three seasons with Skil-Shimano. The 25-year-old Australian had a rough start to the year after crashing during a training camp and while he began his season later than normal, he's motivated for the challenge that awaits over the coming weeks.