The 2013 Tour of Beijing kicked off today in surrounds I felt very comfortable with! The Olympic rowing centre from the 2008 games was the location for the days start so I had a feeling it had to be a good oman for my cannondale team and our sprinter elia viviani. In 2011 Elia won a stage of this very race which finished at the rowing course and his team mate peter sagan was 2nd so I felt that we had a good chance of atleast giving a elia another shot at glory today, before the start of that particular stage I told the boys we would win as I felt I was a good oman for a finish at such a venue! Today I naturally figured the same and was confident of Elia winning again! The neutral zone of todays start included a lap around the rowing course. It was certainly the fastest and most painless journey along the length of a rowing course I have ever had today! Ah recalling the suffering on that stretch of 2000m I had endured over the years! Now I am in a sport that involves 5hrs of torture! Amazing how 6-7min doing a rowing racing can be equally and even more taxing than 4-6hrs racing a push bike. To say one is harder than the other would be disrespectful to the other. The truth is I remember being just as KO'd from both sports, a race in either can takes days and even weeks to recover from, such is the efficiency of the body to know how to calculate emptying its tank! There's certainly no easy days when competing at this level no matter what sport your doing! Still I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to compete at this level in two very different disciplines.
So back to todays race and we had a simple objective today, a sprint victory for Elia. The first job was to ensure a large breakaway that would be difficult to control skipped away and fortunately almost from the gun 4 riders broke clear and the peleton was happy to let them go. The first stage of any stage race is always the same, nobody wants to be the first to ride on the front. Consequently we always slow to a pedestrian pace and the breakaway immediately establishes a big advantage. Now this has the potential to be dangerous for 2 reasons, firstly the gap can get so big that you use up a huge amount of resources to chase it down, and secondly the breakway does not need to work hard to gain this massive advantage. This means that by the time the peleton starts chasing often the breakaway is just as fresh as the peleton and therefore catching them can be difficult. I don't like leaving any of this to chance and if I am going to be riding on the front I don't see the point in giving them a massive head start. I figure give them a moderate lead that they have to work hard for to establish and then methodically wind them in on the run to the finish. By keeping the race under control also keeps stress in the bunch down and to me this is important. Basso our team captain for GC here in china also thinks like me also so I know the more control we have the more relaxed he is and inturn gives him a better chance of having more biscuits to spend on the hard stages. The little things can all add up over the course of a stage race so its important everyday to do all we can to allow our team leaders to do there job.
So not surprizingly it was Ivan who decided the breakaway was getting toward that advantage that could prove to be stressful to chase down. He came and found me in the bunch when it was at 8 minutes and I immediately knew what he was thinking and knew it was important to get up there and ride a moderate tempo. Yes we were the first team to crack on the stage one stand off!
It was my task today to do the tempo riding on the front with my young team mate micheal koch so I was happy to get things under control asap to avoid a torturous final couple of hours chasing an in the balance advantage of a breakaway.
When chasing a break its always a mental game between the workers on the front of the bunch and the breakaway. There are always moments in the stage when both feel they have the upper hand so its important to ensure you have the upper hand more often than the breakaway. So after 20km of 192km stage we were on the front. I said to micheal to just ride between 300-340 watts for the first hour as at this pace the breakaway need to ride above a comfortable zone to increase there advantage. Sure enough over the next 30km they gained an extra minute on the bunch but I knew they would have paid for this. At this point I upped the pace to 340-360 watts for the next hour and sure enough the gap started to fall. When riding on the front adrenaline always kicks in and provided you have a good conditions you always having to hold yourself back at these power levels. You start seeing some 400's and even 500's on the rollers and you have to dial it back a bit. Along with a very strong FDJ rider we were drumming out more or less 5min turns at this tempo which is short enough to avoid taking on too much fatigue at this intensity but also long enough that it gives you a great recovery period of 10min. Sure enough after halfway the break started to come back to us very quickly and with 80km to go the gap was down to 3min. At this point we could bump of the pressure as now we well and truly had implanted in there minds that today they would be caught before the finish and a bunch sprint would decide the stage winner. I like everything being under control so was very happy with this outcome.
Now we could casually role along at around 300 watts so a very gentle pace and keep the race under control. We know in the final 10-15km other teams would storm forward and ramp up the pace so there was no need to work any harder than required. Sure enough around 15km from the finish BMC stormed past en route to setting up big for thor a another god of thunder victory! At this point I had a look for the others to ensure everybody was where they needed to be. Elia was safely at the front on Ratto's wheel, a pretty good place to be considering Daniele is one of the best sprinters in the world tour on his day! Also Ivan was safely in the front of the bunch so I could just relax and enjoy the rapid 60+kmph blast to the finish. In the end the sprint did not go Elia's way but he will get another chance tomorrow. I enjoyed the day of racing, 4hrs 30min always goes a lot quicker and more enjoyably when your busy riding on the front. Pacing yourself and doing all the calculations required to keep the race under control ensures your always occupied and entertained thinking about something. Next weekend I will race Chrono des nations, a one day time trial the concludes the season so was great to get a good training session done today, hopfully I get a similar role tomorrow.
Race data from todays stage
Time: 4hrs 20min
Speed: 44kmph average
Ave power: 273
Ave cadence: 86
Kcal burnt: 4300
Time for another jet lag interrupted sleep!
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