With the Worlds just 10 days away, it is perhaps no surprise that 44 riders had quit an extremely tough Vuelta going into today's 16th stage. Many of the big names who started the race in Assen two-and-a-half weeks ago made no secret of the fact that they had come to sharpen themselves up for the Worlds in Mendrisio and wouldn't be sticking around until the Vuelta's finish in Madrid this Sunday.
But there are some riders planning both to finish in the Spanish capital and be competitive in Mendrisio, and among them is Fuji-Servetto's Fredrik Kessiakoff. The 29-year-old Swede is coming to the end of his first full road season and admits he's finding it hard going at the Vuelta, his second major tour of the season after the Giro.
"I'm doing OK, but I'm not in great form," he told Cyclingnews before today's stage start in Córdoba. "It wasn't the goal for me to come here and aim for the GC or anything like that. I came most of all for experience, and planned to get into a break on a stage or two. I did manage that on one stage but the break didn't work out. The problem has been that there are so many guys here motivated to do well. Yesterday [on stage 15] we rode flat out for 70km before the break went, and it's tough riding that hard after two weeks of racing."
In common with many other riders and observers, the Swede says this year's Vuelta route is almost too hard. "There are only about 10 guys here who are actually racing. The rest of us are just surviving," says the ex-mountain biker.
"The volume of racing has been a big shock for me, too, coming from mountain biking where I raced on perhaps 25 to 30 days a year. I would race on a Sunday, then go home to rest and prepare for a race the following Sunday. After the Vuelta, though, I will have raced on more than 100 days this year. In addition, I've been used to racing for 90 minutes to two hours, but on the road I'm doing four to eight hours."
Despite his struggles at the Vuelta, Kessiakoff has clearly made an impression this season, as demonstrated by the interest Garmin showed in him after he finished fourth in Langkawi and ninth in Romandy. That interest was followed up with a contract offer, a deal was sealed right before the Vuelta.
"I guess they're taking me because they've seen some good qualities," Kessiakoff says of Garmin. "I'm hoping that they can help me develop those qualities. I have to admit that in my two grand tours so far I haven't really done well, although it is my first year."
The Swede also acknowledges that riding for the Fuji-Servetto team has been difficult at times given the uncertainty that has hung over their participation in some races, but insists being on what was formerly the Saunier Duval team has been a great experience in the main. "I've been so happy to be on this team as I've been able to do most of the races that I'd hoped to do and ridden all year in races I'd dreamed about.
"I've done Milan-Sanremo, Amstel, the Giro, the Vuelta – so many beautiful races. We've only missed out on a few including the Tour and the setback we had of not being allowed to start Tirreno-Adriatico at the last moment. But for me it's not been that big a deal. There's been more than enough racing to keep me happy. The biggest problem I've had to deal with is the fact that the season is so long."
Despite racing almost flat out since February, Kessiakoff still has one big race ahead of him this season. "I'm in the Swedish team for the Worlds. Of course, I've got to get through the rest of the Vuelta and if I do have really good legs one day then I will try to get into a break. But I don't want to push myself too hard, I need to save my head as I'm mentally tired, so in all likelihood I'll just hold back and sit in the gruppetto.
"I know the course at Mendrisio well and I also know that it should suit me if I'm riding well. There's lots of climbing and if I come out of the Vuelta with good legs then I'll be really looking forward to it."
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).