Today I kicked of my european campaign for 2014 at the volta catalunya in spain. While I already have 3 races in the pins the season never really feels like its started until that first race in europe is out of the way. I have to be honest in that it still feels like a bit of a holiday when racing in aus, a treat if you like! When you have that first day back in europe things are all that big bit more serious in the peleton and the honeymoon racing period is officially over. Its not that the speed changes so much or even the distance or terrain as is the case here in catalunya this week. Its just all of a sudden and particularly at the world tour level everybody is taking it seriously and everybody is back in race shape so I guess for us aussie's, that little edge we have at the start of the year thanks to training in the perfect climate is now gone and were all back on the level playing field. Still its also an exciting day for me to see where you stand and how you handle things when its steps up a notch or two.
Stage 1 at catalunya has in the past had the potential to through up some unexpected surprises. In the previous few editions small breakaways have been given too much lee way and survived to the finish and small splits have broken the peleton on nervy decents in the final km's. Today it seemed the whole field was determined to see no surprises and ensure a hard but fair bunch sprint was played out along the coastline of the Mediterranean. Also this year its a star studded line up so that always adds an extra bit of control to the race. With that being said I nice little manageable 2 man break formed which was never going to be too difficult to control.
Our cannondale boys had a couple of clear objectives here today. Firstly to ensure daniele ratto had a crack at the bunch sprint and secondly to make sure we did not lose any time on the general classification. Its my first race back with Ivan basso for a while and its great to have him back at my side. He is a captain of the team and is so in every sense of the word when in the race. His results over the years command respect and as such when he suggests something we do it. Ivan loves to know exactly what's going on at all times and so do I, that's a major reason I love racing with him. With him we always ride as a team at the front and here I feel much more in control of what's going on, its great. Today Ivan wanted us to take some responsibility in the race in take control of the pace setting in the final 50km. This gave the team a clear objective and we set up camp on the front all the stage. Just the place I love to be, up where I can see what's going on. The plan was for me to ride the 6km climb 30km from the finish at a good tempo to basically keep us at the front for the potentially tricky dangerous decent. From there we would have good position for the final short fast climb and fast techniqual decent and as a consequence ratto would be in a good spot for a shot at the sprint, like plans often do it sounded pretty simple!
So onto the penultimate climb and as usual I was champing at the bit to get to the front and ride tempo up the climb. I had been bouncing out of my skin to do this job for the previous 100km and 1mm after passing the "porto inzia" sign I was on the front and happy as a pig in poop. All the boys were lined up behind me so all was on schedule. One issue with riding on the front is you close to camera motorbike which for some reason unbeknown's to us all wipes out your SRM power meter signal. Not to worry I simply needed to go on feel and with the captain of the ship behind me I knew he would tell me if I needed to change my rhythm. Up the climb we went and all went according to plan and onto the decent we had the control of the field. This was perfect as we were up out of harms way and most importantly ratto was able to save as much energy as possible for the sprint. I was having a ball being on the front all the way up and all the way down. It was by no means an exercise in trying to make the race hard but simply make it as easy and stressless for the cannondale clad boys in green. On the flat micheal koch took over and kept us well positioned and before we knew we had 20km of mostly downhill to plunge back to the Mediterranean coastline.
As expected daniele the rat man ratto had been diligent all day and was in a great position. Jean marc, the awesome team mate I was so fortunate to first ride along side in taiwan was assigned to guide him into the finish and as expected was right there with him when it mattered. As they hit the km to go micheal koch was putting his german powerhouse tt skills to the test and providing an excellent lead out for daniele. When he swung off the sprint in earnest began and when the dust settled daniele would be a very creditable 5th pace for the day. This was a great result for daniele as he has had a slow start to the year and his first world tour race day of the season so excellent for the days weeks and months ahead. From a team perspective it was again great to commit to a task and carry it out together, nothing ventured nothing gained and while we did not get the win we atleast laid the foundations for one so that will give us motivation to go out and do the same again tomorrow.
Being back in europe means seeing some faces you haven't seen for a long time. One such face was that of the 2013 le tour de france champ chris froome. I hadn't really seen chris since having dinner with him in monaco early last year so was great to catch up with him and have a chat. Surfice to say he is an incredibly interesting guy and as such its always an enlightening conversation with him. Today we actually discussed training in california and how awesome it is. It seems that the bug to spend your off season training and season breaks stateside is fast spreading through the peleton. He was interested to here about my month there over december january period where I trained with the likes of taylor phinney and motogp star cal crutchlow. It was one of the most awesome months I have enjoyed on my bicycle and chris was keen to here all about. I certainly did my best to recruit him to the group, more the merrier, its really an awesome awesome spot to ride you bike in california. Will be interesting to what he decides to do on that one.
Anyways back to the racing here in catalunya and tomorrow looks suited to a similar outcome of today. Flat by spanish standards with a few narly little twisty turny sections in the final 20km to spice things up a bit. I am feeling good, I have been a lazy slob this week and slept into atleast 9am so have adapted perfectly to spanish race timing. We rarely start racing before midday so the ability to sleep in is quite crucial to being at your best for hard afternoon in the saddle. So with that being said its time for some shuteye!
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