Stage/Finish: Alcorcón › Madrid
Distance: 100.9 kilometers - flat
Weather: 86F/30C - sunny
Images: ©BrentBookwalter & Chris Auld.
First one—ice cream bar on the bus pre-Stage 21.
Second one-crossing the finish line of my ninth Grand Tour.
Third one—enjoying a beer on the bus after Stage 21.
Every Grand Tour I’ve raced felt like its own complete season or maybe even a lifetime’s worth of bike racing packed into one race.
This year’s Vuelta was my ninth Grand Tour, and once again, it was an all-consuming few weeks of racing with the sport’s best. It tested me both mentally and physically. It feels great to be through it, and I’m proud to say I’ve finished every single Grand Tour that I’ve ever started.
There is no easy way through three weeks of racing at this level and almost a full month on the road. You are surrounded by the sport and contained within a traveling circus.
What I enjoyed the most about this Vuelta was the relatively laidback environment. It definitely felt different from my other Grand Tour experiences, which were 100 percent committed to the overall GC cause. This time, we had some freedom to race each day as we choose, but I can’t exactly say that made it any easier.
Instead, it meant adjusting, which involved a new challenge for me. When riding for the GC, you approach every stage with an “all for one--one for all” mentality. There is never a lack of focus. Every kilometer of every day counts, and it squeezes every drop out of you and your teammates. It is mentally and physically exhausting, but it provides an anchor and purpose.
So this Vuelta, I had to replace that focus with the sense of opportunity and flexibility, and it took some recalibrating and relearning for how to approach each day. Even after 21 stages, it was still a work in progress.
In other Grand Tours, I’ve looked at riders on teams who didn’t have a GC rider to protect and thought to myself, “Wow, that must be nice. If I were them, I would just sit at the back and wait for tomorrow because there is essentially nothing to lose.” This year, I learned my viewpoint wasn’t completely accurate. There is still suffering and danger; the race is still live and the battle is being waged.
And I learned a new perspective of why every rider out there fights and remains in the mix. It isn’t all about protecting a result or a leader; it is about protecting yourself and keeping your head in the game. I learned that the best way for me to stay engaged was to push myself into the fight, stay in the moment and remain focused. That was my constant goal and objective.
I also learned that highs and lows come together. Riding in the breakaway on Stage 5 was a perfect example of this. A savage start and almost two hours of attacking to get in the break, making it in there, feeling super strong, knowing it would likely go to the line to contest the win.... only to be followed by missing the crucial splits and missing out on an opportunity for a big result.
The absolute highlight of my race was when Jamie arrived for the second rest day and stayed through the time trial and came back for the final stage in Andorra. Preparing and getting through a Grand Tour involves such a tremendous amount of support from loved ones and those close to me. It felt incredibly special to share some of those moments during the race with her. I cherish those memories and will use them to empower me in the future.
Now back to Girona for a few easy days and then over to Austria to race with Team USA at the World Championships!