Its been 72hrs since the curtains came down on this years vuelta espana and I have only just found the energy to concentrate on my final blog for the event! Such is the bubble you go into during a grand tour that once you finally cross that finish line for the final time do you give your body a chance to realise what's its actually been through. All of a sudden fatigue both mental and physical engulfs your body but at the same time an overwhelming sense of relief and disregard for this fatigue due to fact that the 21 days of racing is over. Therefore I am always just left worn out. All of a sudden you don't have to do anything, the racing is done, the daily time schedule's all behind you, and of course the post race focus on recovery for following stage is no longer existent. Now all you can think of is slamming down that beverage you have been craving for so long or simply just laying on the backseat of the bus as I did reflecting a little on nothing other than the fact that if I wanted to sleep for the next week I could do that! I put my body through a hell of a lot more than I had planned to this vuelta. I expected my fatigue to come from pushing the pedals, in the end the only suffering I endured was at the hands of a broken bone and the complications associated with racing with one for 2 weeks. Still like every major race I learnt a lot from that experience about myself and also viewing the race from a different perspective and am already champing at the bit for my next major world tour hit out in Lombardia. For now however a few reflections on the final day and also the Vuelta Espana in General.
The final stage into madrid was broken into 2 distinct part. An initial 65km procession if you like from the outskirts right into down town madrid. This couple of hrs gave the riders in the bunch a chance to catch up and reflect on the past 3 weeks. Finally chat with some excitement about the adventures and suffering we had been through rather than worrying about what was ahead, finally we could relax. I spent a large majority of this time chatting with Adam Hansen. Adam was completing his 7th grand tour in a row so surfice to say any conversation with adam is an interesting one. Adam is certainly one of the nicest fellas in the bunch, renowned for his reliability and hard work for his and also as a winner in his own right on the rare occasion he gets to sail his own ship. Adam always has all the time in the world for everyone and if you have a concern or a querie about anything he is always the natural bloke in the bunch you go to discuss it with. From farrari's to what to eat during a race, Adam has an educated answer for absolutely everything and although his intelligence is without a doubt way ahead of anyone I know, speaking with him he never makes you feel stupid. Instead he seems to relish the opportunity to challenge you to learn somthing yourself, be it through his own knowledge on just about everything, or engaging you in a discussion to help you find the answers for yourself. Yep he truly is a top bloke so was great as always to have the chance to have a good old fashioned chinwag with him for the social part of the day stage.
Phase 2 was the final hour of power. 8 laps of a 6km circuit in downtown madrid which would conclude the 2013 vuelta. Us Cannondale Pro boys had simple objective for the day to put ratto in a good position for the final sprint. With that in mind as we entered the team snapped into action. Longo Locomotive Borgini surged to the front of the bunch and we were all tucked in behind him. A circuit that contained 3 hot dog turns was always going to snap the legs quickly if you were in bad position so was no surprize that dallantonia and Longo had us up the front in perfect position. Another prominent at the front all day were the greenedge boys lined up behind simon clarke. I said to leigh howard, Mitch Docker, and Bling Mathews after a couple of laps that the circuit suited those boys perfectly as it was like the lycon street crit in the suntour, just with one less hot dog turn! Should have been a piece of cake for them and as it turned out it was! Still Simon Clarke held them in the pefect position at the front all day and in the end Bling delivered and while I am on a rival team, you always appreciate the success of other teams when you see how hard they worked to deliver there captain to the line first. Anyways back to our race and we held good posi.
With 2 laps to go longo locomotive had had enough and wanted to lay down the hammer on the front of the bunch. It caught everyone off guard and the peleton was instantly in single file. It took me a lap to get up there to help him but as the bell sounded for the final lap I was right on the front with longo and the adrenaline was pumping. Sky decided to take up the pacing and I slipped back to make sure ratto was in a good spot. I found him surfing through the wheels as he likes to do between the sprinters working who's best to follow, all was going to plan. From here I just sat behind him incase he needed someone to get him out of strife in the final couple of km's. He didn't and into the final km was on the wheels he needed to be. In the end as expected Bling Mathews showed everyone a clean pair of heals finishing of the great work by his team. Danielle was amongst it finishing just outside the top 10 but was just not his day. He had had an incredible vuelta with almost certainly the most exciting victory of the entire race. His is a young rider and had a lot of pressure on his shoulders at the race as the team leader for the sprints and handled this exceptionally well. While he may not have got the additional placings he was after he was always in the right position to strike should he have had his usual kick so its only a matter of time before he turns these top 10's into podiums and then victories in grand tours in the future. He certainly has a huge career ahead of him. For me, I felt the best I had felt all tour. Surprisingly fresh and the ability to continue to push for the front position had finally returned which is a good sign my body was beginning to recover well. Taking it easy the previous days had certainly paid off and it was nice to be able to enjoy the final km's of the race from the front and being amongst the action. Certainly crossing the line feeling like this gives me a lot of optimism for the races in the final part of the season.
After wrapping up the race for the overall 24hrs earlier on the angliru, it was great to see chris horner navigate the final stage safely and become the 2013 vuelta champion. Much has been said an continues to be said about his victory which is really disappointing. It seems these nimrods and there bogus calculations seem to be surfacing again as they did in Le Tour surrounding froomie's performance. All unfounded of course and like any attention seekers fortunately eventually the media ignored these fruitless claims and these so called experts crawled back into there little holes where they belong.
Like I have said many times before this year there is nothing I have seen or felt within the peleton that is not a believable performance. You can look at your SRM and pretty much predict how long the pace will stay like it is and if its going to get faster or slower. Of course you need to be strong enough to actually do these powers and more times than not this year I haven't been. Either I was not strong enough or I had worked on the front and also with that, if I pulled on a climb at a certain power I always knew pretty much how many would be left on the wheels and not only that but which riders. There are no surprizes these days. Also when I was not there in the final I would always ask a few guys who were what the pace was like and be able to figure out where the power levels where and never have I heard anything you would not expect. Not only that but if riders where doing the wrong thing and "unbelievably strong" the other big riders would If a particular performance was suspect it would simply not accepted by the sport and its current generation. One way or another something would be done or noise made to ensure offenders were no longer in the bunch. That simply has not happened in this vuelta. Riders now seem genuinely respectful of each others performance and everybody respects that all results and performances in the biggest races are built of sheer hard work. So suffice to say the performance of chris from within the peleton was met with nothing but admiration by the other riders. Never did he simply destroy the field but merely calculated his efforts perfectly. Took a few seconds here and a few seconds there and never lost any unnecessary seconds in the process. And guess what in the end he merely won by a matter of seconds. It was an incredibly exciting race because you had 2 great champions in vincenso nibali and chris going hammer and tong at each other using all there experience and talent in the process. At any moment one of them could have imploded and consequently they were aware of there limits, this made the duel even more intriguing.
If you look at chris's career its littered with excellent results. For so much of his career in the big tours he has used this talent and ability to selflessly work for his team captain. I have heard cadel say on more than one occasion that chris was one of the best team mates he ever had and cadel only ever gives credit where its due. Perhaps if chris had a chance to ride for himself in the past he would have won more grand tours or atleast had some higher GC placings, who knows. He has spent these years working for others and doing it to extinction, all the time banking hours of hard work and learning what it takes to win a big tour through his respective team leaders. Now finally at 41 he has had a chance to lead his team, not only but lead one of the most experienced and powerfull GC teams in the peleton in a Grand Tour. And therefore it comes as no surprize to me that finally for chris all these years of learning, working his arse off, waiting in the wings, and finally getting his chance, it all paid off for him to perfection. No there is is no doubt in my mind the Chris Horner and his radioshack team mates at extremely worthy winners of this years vuelta, full stop.
I have really enjoyed this years vuelta. I had a great group of team mates and staff within the Cannondale Clan. Daniele's win was by far the highlight for the team and I truly believe it was the most exciting victory of the race. To blow the doors of the 2 of the best riders and breakaway kings in the world was simply a class act. The fact that one was the world champion only added to the storyline and the billing that Ratto is one of the most exciting riders within the peleton. The way he won by out climbing, out descending, and simply being tactically smarter than the best riders in the world shows a victory of nothing other than a great champion. It certainly will be a day and smile on Daniele's face I won't forget in a hurry, simply awesome.
So for now its a few more days rest and let my body tell me what it wants. The last 3 days has meant a lot of sleep, a lot of eating, and the remainder of the time spent on the sofa catching up on missed TV time! Tomorrow I will start my recon for Lombardia by checking out a couple of climbs so time for some rest as like in the vuelta, I can't wait to get up in the morning and get back on my bike!!
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