Whew! I survived my first UCI stage race. It was relatively short as these things go, with only a prologue and three road stages of about 150k, but it was hard. Really hard. Instead of giving you more cookie cutter race reports I’m going to try to paint a picture of what it was like to suffer through my first big foreign stage race. And with two big mountain stages, suffer I did. Oh yeah, and you get pictures too!
Racing abroad is particularly awesome when you do it on a sun-soaked Mediterranean island. We got to Mallorca two and a half days before the race began, which left us plenty of time to spin out the airplane legs and gather our strength. One of the best ways to get psyched for a race is by drinking copious amounts of coffee in a seaside cafe. Toss in a super cute puppy and you have yourself one awesome afternoon.
But when it’s time to turn your attention to the trials ahead you need to find something to get yourself pumped up. For Jamie, this means watching youtube videos of the NHL’s greatest fights. Canadians are so cool.We got to roll on bikes down to the prologue. The course ran along 7.1 kilometers of pave promenade with boats racing on the bay and a strong breeze rustling the palm trees. We did our prep in a balcony cafe overlooking the race. Probably my best pre-race moment ever. Then I hurt myself for about 8 minutes and 45 seconds.
Some parts of international racing are totally new, and they can be strange and unsettling. First off, the peloton is no longer a bunch of your buddies that you see every weekend and bullshit with. Instead, it’s a multicolored, multinational, multilingual group of hardened killers. It’s crazy to be cruising along in the bunch and hear conversations going on in at least 4 different languages. When a team car pulls up alongside your group you never know if you’ll be able to bum a bottle using English, or if you’ll be staring dumbfounded as some rider gets screamed at in German. Take a look at all those colorful jerseys:
I’d have to say that while German is probably the most motivating language (due to its severity), you can’t beat a good string of Spanish profanity. Dan Craven of Rapha was setting a good pace in the grupetto up Soller, but it was a bit too much for some of the Spanish guys hanging on the back. You should have heard the string of insults that came out of them. Spanish swearing sounds lyrical and operatic to me, plus I could picture vividly the outrageous hand gestures that were no doubt accompanying the outbursts. Classic.
On top of new, strange racers, an international stage race means new roads. This is one of the coolest parts of racing abroad, as well as one of the most trying. Some of the roads we raced on I knew from training camp, but some were totally new, including the hair-raising descent off of the Puig. You have to put your life in the hands of the riders you’re following and your faith in whatever higher power you believe in. One of the tricks of cycling is being able to shut off your brain. You see, part of the reason we’ve survived as a species is our inclination towards self preservation. No sane being would rip down a mysterious, choppy descent at 50 miles per hour surrounded by lunatics. At least not unless you were being chased by something even more dangerous. Yet that’s what you’ve gotta do. The only thing you can do is focus on the wheels in front of you and free your mind. Because if you start thinking for even half a second about how dangerous what you’re doing is, or about the three dozen things that could go wrong and leave you damaged or dead then you’re already sunk. Honestly, it can be terrifying. But mastering that fear is part of the struggle, and it is very rewarding.
Racing abroad can mean getting some curveballs between stages as well. Such as dealing with the local cuisine:
Luckily the buffet at the host hotel was pretty solid, with solid results. Still, you have to exercise a little caution. I’ve heard too many stories of cyclists being forced out of races due to food poisoning (especially in the Asian races). I think it was Phil Gaimon who brought a whole suitcase of food to an Asian stage race.
Another cool part of UCI racing is the sign on. It’s a chance to get all prettied up before the stage, and it’s cool that someone wants your autograph, even if it’s on the UCI official. I like this picture in particular because the perspective makes me and Jamie look roughly twice the size of Cronshaw. Awesome.
Yes, there are a lot of things that make foreign UCI racing cool and new, but at the end of the day it’s still a bike race, complete with all the standard bike race trappings. Like countless trips to overheated portos for example.
As with any bike race it seems like you spend more time getting ready than you do actually racing. We did have a pretty sweet setup (peep the washing machine in the van!) and some grade AAA help from Pete and Helen. Having people take care of you is a big bonus, but the pre-race lounging and trashtalk is standard the whole world over.
Another thing that seems unchanged is the hurt that a bike race puts on you. It really doesn’t matter if it’s a local crit or a UCI stage race, you’re doing it right then racing is going to wreck you. I definitely got taken to school: Big Cat Climbs 101. I took a little self-shot midrace and you can see the classic signs of wear and tear: man stubble on the cheeks, bags under the eyes, greasy helmet hair and a particularly nice helmet tan on the forehead (which jumped up to burn status by the last day).
I’m still rocking at least a half smile in that shot, and how could I not be? It was a real treat to have a crack at racing such a cool tour. I got to see some pretty amazing stuff like… the field exploding on SollerThe bottom of my feed bag
Cricket’s superhuman strength both on and off the bike
and the blue bandits nabbing their first UCI points.
I can’t even begin to express how impressed I am with out team. There were some really talented riders at the Cinturon, and these guys could ride with any of them. Richard Handley did some amazing rides to take the KOM jersey, and the rest of the team busted their asses to get secure that jersey and sear the Raleigh name into everyone watching or participating in the race. It’s fun to ride a race like this, but it’s straight badass to be ripping the same race apart. Two days in a row Raleigh had two guys in the break and if we hadn’t suffered some bad luck we’d have even more to celebrate than we already do. That breakthrough win is coming. I can feel it.
Huge thanks to the staff for taking such good care of us. It is a huge logistical undertaking to keep a big team running on the road 24 hours a day. Between travel, equipment, meals, massage, and the thousand other little things that need to be factored in it is a herculean task. Our team could not run without that support, and my blog posts would be much less interesting.
Rich came out smelling like roses and got some much deserved press. More big races to come, and hopefully some more podium pics. Here’s some video of Cricket smashing the the field to bits on the Col de Soller in stage 3. Look at him get all Derulo on their asses.