Cautious Vuelta start gets me over Giro crash jitters

Vuelta Diary: ‘We got around safely and have plenty of time to make up lost ground’

The peleton in action in action during the second stage of the Vuelta a España over 174.4km from Algeciras to San Fernando, southern Spain. Photograph: Carrasco Ragel/EPA

The peleton in action in action during the second stage of the Vuelta a España over 174.4km from Algeciras to San Fernando, southern Spain. Photograph: Carrasco Ragel/EPA


Saturday: Stage 1, Jerez de la Frontera team time trial, 12.6km: We’ve lost some time, but we are still upright. Safety was the priority on Saturday’s opening stage of the Vuelta a España, and with good reason. When we rode the team time trial on day one of the Giro d’Italia in May, myself and several of the team hit the deck. That crash smashed my collarbone and put me out of the race, so the crucial thing was to avoid a repeat.

Four of the guys who were in the starting order yesterday were in the team at the Giro and crashed, so we were very conscious of the dangers.

It was always going to be a bit nerve-wracking on such a technical course. You could see your reflection in most of the road, too, which was really worrying. Some of the roundabouts were so shiny you didn’t really know what the grip levels were like. Had it rained, I’m pretty sure they would have had to cancel the stage. It really was that slippery.

At Garmin-Sharp, we had a no risk policy and we just got around it safe. That might seem like a bit of a negative attitude to some, but it was important to get some confidence back.

You had a 12km team time trial with about 19 roundabouts and 10 corners scattered along the course. There wasn’t actually any time to put any horsepower down in between the corners, so whichever team was willing to take the risks to win obviously deserves to win.

For us, we preferred to hold back and not take chances. It was definitely better to lose some time and while we finished back in 18th, losing 41 seconds to the winning Movistar team, that sort of gap is nothing in a Grand Tour.

There’s three weeks ahead and plenty of opportunity to get that back.

Getting through the team time trial safe was very important for me after what happened in May. It was nice to have got past the next one without any problems and to move on. I’m starting to build confidence now, being on the wheels and trusting my team-mates in that situation. Saturday helped me put the Giro crash fully behind me.

So, even if we lost some time, the day was still a plus. Sunday: Stage 2, Algeciras to San Fernando, 174.4km: Day two was very different, a mainly flat road race with one climb early on and a big sprint to the line at the end. French rider Nacer Bouhanni won, while I rolled in towards the front of the peloton, placing 27th.

I was pleased with how it went, as I felt really good all day. I was pretty much in the front for the whole stage.

The boys looked after me well. That was important as it was really windy all day and it was important not to be caught out by any big attacks or gaps in the bunch.

We went through a place called Tarifa after the descent off the first climb. It is one of the windiest places in Europe, known as a wind-surfers paradise, and so it was important to stay near the front and keep out of trouble. My team-mates did a great job in helping me do that.

The other thing about the stage was the heat; it was really, really hot out there. Even though it was quite an easy stage, in terms of the course profile, you could see at the end the other guys were tired and covered in salt. It definitely takes a lot out of you.

Luckily I tend to cope with the heat better than most. I live in Spain and that is an advantage, in that you acclimatise a bit. Also, being lean definitely helps with heat dispersion. In the past I’ve always done well in the Vuelta and the weather conditions we get here.

In 2011 it was a really hot Tour and I felt really good; for sure genetics is part of it. It’s also important to have a good drinks mix and to keep guzzling it down.

I think today is going to be a real battle of attrition because of the temperature. It is 35, 36 degrees and we are heading into the mountains. It is going to be really testing day.

I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes. I felt really good, really focused and really relaxed.

I was comfortably in the front without too much effort and that’s very good for the confidence.

Today will be more of a test. There are four category three climbs during the stage and the finale is also testing, with a short, steep ramp up to the line. Getting through it without a time loss is the important thing, but if I am feeling good I will definitely give it a crack.

The finish is one kilometre uphill. While there are a lot of strong sprinters here who can also climb, the overall profile of the day suggests that they will be pretty tired at the end. It is going to be a really aggressive final. Hopefully we will be in the front, the guys will put me in a good position and I will be able to try for a strong result.

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