So it was the second time that I have raced at the Volta ao Algarve and I managed to win it for the second time. Result! It was different to last years race as going into it this time I was the sole leader in the team. Last year I shared leadership with Richie Porte, so to carry the hopes of the team and to deliver is a great feeling.
It wasn’t all ‘plain sailing’ as cycling never is. I had a crash early, on stage 2, which was an important day for the overall classification. I wasn’t badly hurt but I landed on my lower back, a similar area to where I fractured my pelvis during the 2013 Tour. That made me a little nervous for a while but I soon realised that it was nothing more than a knock. I’ve certainly had a lot worse! The rest of the stage went well and I ended up 2nd. It was a good boost of confidence as I wasn’t too sure how I’d go, after a big block of training.
The following stage was a time trial. I have always enjoyed a time trail stage. They are long days though, as they usually include a recon of the course followed by a lot of hanging around waiting to warm up for the race. Everything is planned to the minute from waking up, to eating our breakfast and pre race meal, training, warming up. Our warm ups last around 25mins, we then get off the turbo 10mins before our start time where I’d have a last minute trip to the gents, get my radio sorted, skin suit done up, overshoes and helmet on and roll over to the start. I’ve done so many now, from my track days that it’s almost second nature. The race itself went well, although I had a problem with my bike which meant I couldn’t get my biggest gear, the 11 sprocket on the back wheel. This was a big disadvantage as the final 3-4km were super fast with a strong tailwind. As it happens I managed to limit my loses there and still end up 3rd behind Fabien Cancellara and Tony Martin. This result along with the day before set me up nicely for overall victory. I was 3 seconds behind Tony in 2nd place, with 3rd place a further 17 seconds behind.
The 4th stage was a typical sprint stage. We still had some undulations and some wind to deal with but they are generally straight forward. The main goal for days like these is to save as much energy as possible, try to recover from the last couple of day’s efforts and fuel up ready for a big day. The finish is a nervous time as there are often crashes or splits in the peloton where time gaps may occur. It didn’t go exactly to plan, as the race was really heating up and the sprinter’s teams were starting to jostle for position when I punctured. Like when I crashed on stage 2 the boys waited for me and quickly got me back up to the front of the peloton.
It all came down to the final day of racing, on Sunday. It was 169km and a hard stage with 4 categorised climbs finishing on the top of the final one. Tony was dropped with about 40km to go which meant I was leader on the road and so had to turn my race into more of a defensive game. In the run up to the final climb I was a little nervous. I didn’t feel great but knew if I rode the climb within myself and kept a close eye on Jon Izaggerre who was 2nd place on the road I would win. My team mates put me in the best position to start the climb and then it was just a case of getting to the top. In the end I felt OK and paced it well, finishing 5th on the stage and taking the overall win.
It was a amazing feeling to win, especially considering the calibre of riders that were there. Contrador and Aru had both won grand tours last year. And there were other good climbers, who had finished on the podium of grand tours like Tibuat Pinot, at the Tour de France and Rigoberto Uran who has twice finished 2nd in the Giro. As my dad says ‘got a few good scalps there’. It’s still early season though and a lot can change but it’s certainly a good morale boost going into a big block of racing from early March to May. I have 3 big one week stage races with Paris Nice, Volta a Catalunya and Tour de Romandie. I’m also doing a few one days with the longest race on the calendar, the 300km race Milan San Remo. My favourite cobbled race the Tour of Flanders and The oldest race on the calendar Liege Bastone Liege. It should be a fun couple of months!
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