Ten weeks is an exceptionally long time to be away from racing. I knew I had to put in some good work and was going into San Sebastian physically healthy and mentally in a good place, but there's no training like racing. This meant Saturday would be bring plenty of suffering.
Surprisingly, I had never done San Sebastian, which always makes things extra exciting. Typically, I’ve been back in the USA preparing for Tour of Utah at this time.
It was good to get back with my teammates, but a little sobering to be back in the hotel bubble and living out of a suitcase, even if it was just for a short weekend.
Our team at San Sebastian was a mix of guys coming off the TDF who were already at or over their limit, and guys like myself who were using this race to get back into the next block of racing. Physically there couldn't be more different scenarios, but we were hopeful that a little of both was the right combination.
The clear objective was to line it up for Adam (former winner of this race) and Simon who had stomping form at the TDF the past few weeks.
The guys had hyped this race as one of the more pleasant one-day races with a nice combo of climbing, big roads, relaxed peloton, and selective finale terrain. Like we continue to see with races everywhere, race organizers continue to go with "the harder, the better" mentality and they upped the difficulty for this year’s edition by adding a couple climbs and rerouting us to some even smaller roads.
It took the break surprisingly long to get away, and my legs and lungs were searing as I helped the guys follow and control a few bigger groups that were going away.
From here, we "settled in" to a stiff Movistar tempo and pinballed through more than a few towns with lots of speed bumps and roundabouts. The Jaiskabel climb, which historically has featured in the race as a main decider, would be less decisive this year due to the additional climbs they threw in after it. Still the pace was slowly ratcheting up and getting more nervous as is usual in these long 200+ km one-day races.
A first bigger selection came on the following climb that had a nasty section of 4 km over 10 percent gradient weaving us through a sweltering and humid Basque jungle. My heart rate was going through the roof here, and I would see after the race that I hit my 10-minute peak max heart rate for the entire 2019 season, which while making things uncomfortable it is a good sign that I am carrying some freshness into this next phase of the season.
We got word over the radio that Adam wasn't good, and all things shifted to supporting Simon into the next two shorter but extremely steep climbs. I was tasked to get over the first time and ride position with Simon into the final climb. I was metering my efforts accordingly, but still nearly exploded the first time up and just tagged onto the front group over the top. Unfortunately, Simon also wasn't feeling as good as we'd all hoped, and it was just my teammate Lucas and I left in the reduced bunch. Both of us were pretty pegged and just doing what we could to hide out in that group and hope to recover for the final climb and sprint to the line.
After 5.5 hours and over 3,500 meters of climbing, that next time up was more than I had in me and I did my best to limit my losses and hang in with a solid group that was racing for around 20th on the road. I was surprised to see how cagey and aggressive guys were racing for 20th, another change of the times if I think back to a few years ago when these lower places would be less hotly contested. But with World Tour points and contracts as competitive as ever, it was a reminder that no one "rolls across the line" anymore at this one-day race.
We didn't come away with the result or outcome we had hoped and planned for, but I know firsthand that coming out of the Tour and backing up a big ride a week later is a tall ask and those guys need some well-deserved rest. Personally, I was encouraged to be back in the mix and seeing some good progression from the past weeks of training. Looks like next up will be the Czech Tour, which is another new race for new country for me. It has a nice format with a TTT and a couple hilly/mountainous stages.