Race Updates

Stage 4 & 5 - Coppi e Bartali


And we are done with an exciting five days of racing in Italy! The outcome couldn’t have been any better with a GC podium sweep from some of the team’s young guns, and this race was another big step in their progression.

I came into this race unhealthy and frustrated to be missing Volta Catalunya, but now that I’m coming out the other side, I have a greater appreciation for being a part of this team. I’m better another honed in with my teammates and being a part of any win feels great. This one really stands out because it featured such a young up and coming group; I was happy to lay it on the line for them.

Looking back the past two days, our seven-man squad took the race head on and asserted ourselves as the team to beat.

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Stage 4

Yesterday’s “sprint” stage was dictated by a breakaway and some teams chasing them severely miscalculated the chase. We were happy to sit back and save a bit of energy for the final stage but we were still all hands-on-deck where we needed to be in the crucial moments of the race.

Observing the teams who lost out on the sprint was perplexing as they clearly had the horsepower but mismanaged their resources bringing the gap down amazingly fast from 8 minutes to 2 minutes but then let it creep back up. They underestimated the final kick from the break and the role GC team position fighting would have in inadvertently distrusting the chase in the final lap.

Stage 5

Today’s final stage was sure to be a doozy with the classic Italian roads--busted pavement and hardly a straight kilometer. I was pleased to finally feel great from the start and put in some big efforts over the first climb to keep things under control and key rivals in check.

 From there, our freight train of Sam and Cam went to work. When a few counterattacks happened from guys sitting around a minute back in GC, it didn’t even remotely phase or deter them. Those guys dropped us off into awesome position with two climbs to go, and this is where the meat of my work took place. We paced some dangerous surges from Movistar up the climb and battled them to stay in the front group over the top.

After analyzing this effort post-stage, I would see this was my best five minutes power of the year and another good indication that my health and form are on the return.

The early break was almost back, but we were happy to leave them out there at a minute and so. Other teams came to drive the pace into the final climb. Rob and I used our last big digs to deliver the guys into the final climb in first position. Our three leaders set a super hard pace that deterred anyone from getting away. Damo sprinted to a solid third on the stage, and they locked up 1,2,3 on GC.    

This race maybe didn’t have the depth of some of the World Tour races, but it was great to control a race from start to finish and give Lucas, Damo and Nick a chance to shine. For me, it’s a bit of an adjustment. In the past, a race like this would have meant an opportunity for a result, but I found myself inspired and excited to execute a role for the guys and was really pleased with how we all came together and delivered in key moments.

Now it’s back to Girona, for a quick reset and then a build towards an anticipated Giro start.


Stage 2 & 3 - Coppi e Bartali


For the past few days, it’s been impressed and excied to work for some of my youngest teammates: Rob Stannard, Lucas Hamilton, Nick Schults, and Damian Howsen.  These guys were all world class (and even world champion) U23's and are clearly making huge strides as they step up into the pro ranks.  Over the past two days, we’ve been defending the lead and doing our best to control an aggressive peloton on some equally crazy roads and terrain.  

Stage 2

For Stage 2, it makes for tough work but we were happy to ride at the front.  The road conditions were dismal and the terrain relentless. When you add in the unknown of cars sneaking their way onto the course and some corners being less than clear as to which direction to go, it was a real bonus to be up front and have a clear line.  

Stage 2 was an awesome team work day where everyone contributed in a very obvious way, which isn't always the case and nice when it happens.  My role was to take over from Sam and Cam for the final two climbs through the up/down finishing circuits.  With the help of Nick, I got the boys about halfway up the final climb when the attacks started coming.  Whether its early, mid or late in the race, it’s a good feeling to take over at the front of the bunch and whip up the pace for teammates who are riding strong and eager to deliver.  Lucas claimed a close second on the stage and moved into the overall lead. 

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Stage 3

Friday was another up down, twisty circuit that we tackled seven times. Fortunately, most of these roads had been resurfaced in the past 20 years and I think the close circuit made things a little safer in terms of the race marking and controlling road furniture. 

The ballistic first lap finally gave way to a solid breakaway that we were content with getting up the road.  We kept them in check but were ok if they stayed away for the stage win because it would neutralize the available time bonuses.  Sam and Cam put on a tempo clinic through the halfway point before a few other teams began ramping up the pace. At times they would shred it full gas, only to lose most of their teammates and then sit up.  This sliced the gap to the break, and it looked like it would be back together for the final lap. 

I fought hard to stay in contact with the reduced group over the top and provide support for our leaders. The group began to swell on the downhill back to the finish and the fast run-in was chaotic and uncontrolled.  We were happy to get our top three guys safely in on same time and now look to tomorrow which should be a sprint day but seeing how most of these teams ride and how little they are willing to commit for any one leader, its anyone’s guess how it will shake out.  

On good news--my guts seem to be improving little by little. It’s challenging to get stomach recovery in when we are tossing down the quantities of food needed to fuel for these races, but I’m encouraged that I'm at least going in the right direction and hoping to keep improving.  

Photo: Bettini 

Stage 1a/1b - Coppi e Bartali


Winning day!  

It was a long one and I can't remember the last time I did two races in one day?!  We are back in Italy, but it feels so different from Tirreno. 

Physically, I am feeling much healthier than a week ago when I was literally hugging the toilet all night, but I can feel my body is still rebounding from that and paying the price from a week that was a wash in terms of training. Right now, it is more about getting back to baseline. 

Everything started in the morning with a 100-kilometer road stage.  This is a much smaller race, and we saw it immediately with super aggressive teams and slightly confused race organizers about where we were going in the neutral. We made it through the morning stage without incident and headed into the afternoon with big objectives. 

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From the winning squad in Tirreno, there was only me and Damo, but as with most good TTT teams, the depth shows through the entire roster and today we had an awesome balance of youth and experience.  

Pre-TTT prep was a challenge with the course never really being closed for any inspection, another example of a smaller operation race. We knew the focus would be about riding off one another and getting good info from the car.  It was a very technical first five kilometers with a little more speed in the second half but still some roundabouts that make things technical at those speeds. 

We started fast, kept going fast, and I think finished faster!  I came off the group with around 2 km to go.  I know TTT's need to be an egoless affair, but my ego still takes a bit of a beating seeing the guys ride up the road.  Fortunately, it was enough to come out on top and it was all smiles on the podium.  My young teammate Rob Stannard is in the lead after his fifth place in the morning stage.  This dude is 20 years young!  Watch out world!  

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I’m looking forward to supporting the guys and we'll take each one day-by-day as the racing will no doubt prove unpredictable and crazy at times as these Italian teams fighting like their national pride is on the line and the more international teams are looking to flex their muscle in a unique opportunity with a slightly less deep field. 


Stage 2 - Tirreno-Adriatico


Stage 2 of Tirreno-Adriatico was a good day, especially with open Italian roads and the leader’s jersey in the squad. The stage had a very Italian feel with a break going immediately. The twisty, undulating roads mixed with poor surfaces and winds kept us on our toes, but the boys rolled at the front all day, which gave us a chance to sit up front and out of trouble. It’s a special time to see the leader’s jersey riding tempo in the peloton. Heppy was doing that today and putting aside his own ambitions for Adam’s chance at the stage and the GC hunt. Overall, it’s a telling vibe within this team. It definitely made me feel grateful to be part of this group.

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The boys kept the break on a short leash and as we approached the final climb, Quickstep came up to finally close the gap for their man JA. The position fighting was nuts and was really hard to stay together as a team. It was one of the shorter days of the race, but we still put in 195 kilometers. With those solid five hours, I could feel the day in my legs as we battled for position into the last climb. Apparently, this climb is a Tirreno staple, so many of the guys knew what was coming, which makes positioning even harder. It was my first time on this climb, so I definitely was sparing a moment’s glance away from the wheels eye the GPX file on my Garmin as we approached the climb whenever I could glance away from the wheels on all sides of me.

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The final climb was in steps and proved to be quite tactical. Our guys launched Adam through the first step with an impressive show of power. I was caught a little farther back but was happy to be there as a safety for Adam. This came in handy as a few gaps began to open up and I did my best to seal them up for him. In the end, I was hanging onto the reduced group of around 30 as we hit the line with Adam in fifth.

Tomorrow looks to be a long sprint day at 225 km but features an especially hilly and technical opening phase of the race. With only a few major sprinters here, it could be a more open race. We will keep taking it one day at a time with Adam now in the race lead.



Race Images: Getty Images

Stage 1 - Tirreno-Adriatico

A winning day and it feels like a blur.

These team time trial days are such pressure cookers. They are so drawn out from wake up to bedtime. It’s a huge effort from staff and riders to check all the boxes and execute every step of the process, culminating with the performance on the road where there is no hiding. We see the ultimate test of team power, cohesion, communication and technique. If there were a way to get in sync with these guys as fairly new teammates at 60 km/hour for 20+ minutes on slickened and pothole-ridden roads, we would do it! 

Coming into the day, I had to remind myself that I’ve been here before and know what it takes to contribute to a winning TTT effort. While the bike still feels a bit new and this would be the first time lining up in TTT formation with a few of these guys, we had some serious experts in this group. It was a very well-rounded group and overall a deep team. I could see the others reacting and feeding off each other almost on autopilot and I did my best to dive in and trust my instincts too.

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The day wasn’t without drama as we had a bit of confusion about our start time. After a bit of scrambling, we got up there and were organized. After that bit of adrenaline, we shot down the ramp and into the tailwind at warp speed. I think it initially made us all wonder how we could keep it up for 20 minutes.

We receive time checks throughout which were encouraging but we knew there would be little to no buffer and every second counted. Coming through the few corners about halfway, I got a couple quick breaths before launching back into the headwind where our turns on the front shortened up and the suffering really began to sink in.

We got some selfless and powerful turns from Damo and Chris inside the final 5 kilometers before they peeled off. Then it was five left and with the fourth guy crossing the line time as the one who counts, so there was no room to burn anyone else.

Flying into the last chicane with just over a kilometer to go, we came out and there was a lady and her dog in the middle of the road! Fortunately, the corner had us on high alert and out of the aero bars. We just missed hitting them and battled home with Whitey yelling in our ear to sprint for the line and fan out. Heppy drove us through the final 500 meters and had the pace so high we were all strung out and glued to his wheel as we got to the finish. Then we heard the awesome news that we had won! 

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I’ve done Tirreno a few times but was never part of one of BMC’s winning TTT teams here. I was often a reserve during those years. I was even here at the hotel in the days leading up only to then not to start. 

To come here with this squad--an awesome group of guys I’m getting to know better by the day---and execute out of the gun is an awesome, awesome feeling and one that is shared equally throughout the team no matter what part of the process or ride you contributed.  

We will enjoy having Heppy in the leader’s jersey tomorrow and take each day as it comes.  Five very long and demanding road stages coming up over the usual bonkers Italian roads with an exceptionally deep field will keep us on our toes and test all of our early season capabilities.

Race Images: Getty Images

Strade Bianche


After being pulled out of last year’s Strade Bianche just a few days before the start, I have been itching to get back. Being a new guy on MTS, I’ve been very accepting and open to management’s proposed program, but this was the one race that I asked to do. I was grateful they supported my ambition to get back on the white roads of Tuscany.

My first edition of Strade was back in 2010 and I was instantly hooked. Although it carries a high dose of madness, danger, and difficulty like most one-day classic style races, this is a race that gets me amped up just thinking about it and that finish line scene in Sienna is my favorite in the sport.

Coming off UAE and less than a week in-between, I knew to anticipate a shock to the system as we blazed through the technical neutral and into km 0. This was the first time I've done this race without a recon the day before and that amplified the shock. Add to new tires that I had never ridden on these surfaces and being a bit unsure of pressure, the anticipation ramped up even more.

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Our young guys did a great job marking early moves, which allowed the rest of us to stay as calm as possible. It was still a fight into the first sectors, and I think everyone was blown away by the amazing amount of dust and extreme lack of visibility. This was the loosest and driest Strade I've ever seen it. Some areas felt like loose gravel while others were nearly beach sand. Even at the front of the bunch, it was dusty as the cars and motos in front of the race kicked up a huge cloud.

The race played out as we expected over the first 60 or so km. It was very fast, aggressive and lots of dust! A quick regroup as we did the longest paved climb of the race up to Montalcino (the iconic 2010 TDF stage finish that Cadel won was my first foray into the Strade Bianche roads even before the official race). This is where things started to get intense with the next 20 km being continuous dirt, up, down, twisting, off-camber and windy exposed. It’s hard to stay together as a team during those intense moments, and I was reminded that we are still learning to ride together.

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The following sectors didn't disappoint when it came to drama. I saw multiple guys bite the dust, suffer punctures and on more than one occasion, I found my wheels ricocheting off riders on the ground, barely getting over and around them. There are so many close calls in a race like this that we quickly lose track of them so that we can stay present and focused.

It was my job to stay with our leaders Luke and Chris into the next sectors where the race would likely explode, and the early final of the race began. I could feel the repeated maximum efforts wearing on my legs but stayed vigilant to be up front and with those guys. In previous editions, I had escaped in late counterattack breaks on these sections and wanted to keep an eye out for the same chances. I did find myself on the front of the bunch on a few occasions with one of our protected guys, Chris, on my wheel and out of trouble.

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The Mont St Marie sector almost always proves decisive. The out of control downhill pavement into this sector sets it up and makes positioning very difficult. We all ended up freelancing a bit and turned left onto the dirt a little farther back than what was ideal. The lead-out guys were now exploding, and leaders started to make their moves. It was another max effort of desperation to make up as much ground as possible, but the splits were already happening and the damage was done. Over the top, I linked up with Chris, Luke and other team leaders such as Nibili, Thomas, Kung, Dillier--whose teams had also missed the front selection.

I dug in and began working to keep the front group in check, hoping that things would get tactical and a moment’s hesitation would allow us to come back and keep Luke and Chris in play. Luke had a problem with his saddle that required a trip to the car and put a dent in his legs. Eventually, all three of us were riding through in a last-ditch effort to stay in the game. The gap came down to 20 seconds as the front group started splitting, but as we often see in these brutal one-day races, there seems to be a terminal velocity of any group on the road and gaps became exponentially harder to close the deeper you go into the race.

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As we approached Sienna, our group began jockeying to race for a top 15 place. I had spent all my bullets in the chase, so knew I would be in survival mode up to Sienna. I arrived there having left everything out on the road and grateful to survive in one piece. I made sure to soak up the fantastic finish line environment. Personally, I know there is definite room to improve, and in terms of the team, but I am enjoying riding with them and staying focused on the process and what is in our control to improve.

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Next up, a big week in Italy at Tirreno Adriatico that will serve up another big step up in difficulty with some mountainous terrain, long stages, TTT and ITT and some new teammates to race with for the first time.

Race Images: Getty Images

Stage 6 - UAE Tour


Stage 6 at the UAE Tour was very chaotic with a big crash at the start that caused confusion and havoc. Our plan was to let some guys give the break a try if there was interest from other strong teams and Alba did a great job getting himself in there during those extremely fast and chaotic kilometers at the beginning of the stage.

We were hoping Lotto would let the gap go a little bigger and believed they had a chance of staying away. Like always, it depended on the wind direction and how the peloton rode the early portions of the climb.

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The final climb was another bizarre desert affair. The air quality was absolutely atrocious. For me, that was a decisive factor. The pace was quite controlled and moderate for the first 10 kilometers and the group remained large. With the big sweeping corners and large group, it became a game of holding position while still staying out of the wind and conserving energy.

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The guys did a great job positioning Tsgabu and me in the approach to the climb and on the first half of the climb thanks to some great intel from Luka who had ridden the climb before.

Sam, Jack, and Callum hung on late into the climb and gave us a hand with sheltering and positioning. Once the pace cranked up, Tsgabu and I tried to stay together but were both a little too far back when the front guys opened gaps. I closed a few of them, which proved to be my undoing in losing contact with the group but helped Tsgabu stay there a little longer.

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Considering the length of this climb and knowing this race was mostly meant to be about riding into it, I’m happy I had the chance to push myself all the way to the line. Another step in learning to work with the guys. 

I didn’t come here expecting to have the boys rally for me, but it’s a great example of the culture and closeness within this team that we all chip in where we can for each other, and I am excited to build on this in the coming races.

Race Images: Getty Images

Stage 5 - UAE Tour


It was a long day out there for at the UAE Tour. Despite being a fairly small country in size, we seem to rack up a lot of time on the road between cars and bikes, Stage 5 was 11 hours of constant moving.

Out on the road, it was once again windy and we had yet another nasty sand storm that coated the eyes, mouth, bikes and everything else. I had a few moments of questioning what I was doing here, riding across the barren desert on what seemed like a road to nowhere, hacking up sand and scraping my eyelids across my eyeballs. While wind direction was enough to keep some tension in the bunch, there wasn’t any major wind drama.

On days like this, some guys in the bunch complain about being bored or that they are losing fitness.  I put my efforts on the mental focus that it takes to ride in these conditions and so close to one another for five hours. Trust me, it is no walk in the park. 

The lead into the sprint was fast and quite hectic. At one moment I was on the right side just behind a lined up FDJ. The middle of the road opened next to them and they started yelling and screaming at each other to go! Moments later a couple of them were hurtling off their bikes and I just squeaked around them. I felt a bike or body nick my rear wheel as I went by. It was close.

 In the finish, we tried to give Luka a hand but were no match for the hyper horsepower sprint trains.

Tomorrow we get back to a new big climb at the end of the stage.  A 20 kilometer summit finish will surely prove decisive and provide another chance to test the condition after five days of racing.

Stage 4 - UAE Tour


I’ll be picking the sand and desert grime out of my hair, ears, eyes and everywhere else for a while following Stage 4 of the UAE Tour. 

A stronger breakaway group went away early and were given a substantial leash. Back in the bunch, the top GC teams played some games trying to get each other to work. I never can quite understand that squabbling, especially if you are a team like Movistar with a guy like Valverde. If you show time and time again that you have the best guy in the race, just stick a guy on the front and get to work.

They eventually did and we knew it would be a fast second half of the stage heading into some small climbs and a punchy uphill finish. 

The forecasted light winds proved false and the group was back into high alert as the winds whipped up and sand rained down on us midway through the stage. For a moment, we had some massive crosswind splits and visibility was so bad that it was hard to see who was where on the road. I think it came more out of defense than offense and we eventually regrouped as the sand storm subsided and we headed into slightly hillier and sheltered terrain.

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We planned to position my Luka for the final 200-meter uphill sprint, and we did well staying up front and definitely got lucky to be on the left side of the road when the massive pileup happened around six kilometers remaining. 

Then pace eased up as everyone took stock of who was there and who wasn’t. This made the final technical kilometer even more dicey with the group swarming on both sides. When we hit the wall in the final 200 meters, I knew I was too far back as we rounded the corner. The guys in front of me were instantly coming backward. Fortunately, Luka went through in better position and powered to a solid fifth place. I was just outside of the top 10.

Even more than the placing, I’m happy to be safely through and have another day of some substantial race efforts in the legs, though I’m sure they will leave a mark!

Tomorrow should be a flatter sprint affair, but with these shoddy forecasts and windy conditions, it’s anyone’s guess what sort of shenanigans will play out on the road.

Race Images: Getty Images

Stage 3 - UAE Tour


Flat flat flat then “whack” is how I would describe today’s stage at the UAE Tour. The square-shaped lap in the desert provided some mellow headwinds, potential crosswinds, and fast tailwinds, but never had the right combination for the crosswind action we saw yesterday.

Our plan for Mitchelton-SCOTT was to ride for Tsgabu. Being here as a climber-light squad meant the final teammate duties fell to me. It was another day of learning how to work with each other, and the guys did a great job of keeping us out of the wind and fueled up throughout the stage. 

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I definitely didn’t come here expecting to be up there with the best climbers, but I also wanted to do my best with the opportunity of not having to plow wind or work too hard in the early phases of the stage.

Like any flat stage with a summit finish, the battle for position started super early and was especially hectic and fast with a full peloton and plenty of sprinters and lead-out guys there to whip up the pace and play chicken into the roundabouts and corners.

The team did a great job of keeping Tsgabu up front and I ended up surfing on my own. Approaching the final climb, I linked up with Jack Bauer. He did a fantastic job of dropping me off in a good spot---not too close to the front but far enough up that I was clear of the dropped rider shrapnel as the pace lifted.

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Just like last year, the pace on the climb was very fast, but I think a little steadier. Still, once we hit the meat of the climb, I was doing everything I could to hold the wheel and stay in the group. I saw Tsgabu start to slide backward and eventually lose contact. I ratcheted it back and waited for him for a moment hoping he would refind his rhythm. He told me just to go, so I set out to regain contact with the group I’d dropped from.

The effort crushed my legs, but I steadily clawed back a few guys as they started to explode while other riders came past from behind. I kept the pressure on and finished with a respectable small group just over a minute back.  The communication delay is another example of how I’m learning to work with and for my new teammates, so I’ll chalk it up to experience.

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Now we reshift our focus. Tomorrow will be an interesting stage as it could suit sprinters or even fast GC riders. I was sixth on tomorrow’s finish when I last did the Dubai Tour (2015), but my teammate Luca will be our rallying point and leader. If we come into the dam as a full bunch, we will look to slot up there for the punchy uphill kick to the line.

Race Images: Getty Images

Stage 2 - UAE Tour


Stage 2 of the UAE Tour took us out into the desert with an expected bunch sprint in the end, but the day was by no means straight forward. The final sprint was only a small fraction of the action with strong winds making it a day of contrast.

While I’ve gone through the pre-race motions to have the hang of it, the first day of wiring up radios, metering how much food I put in my pockets and having a pre-race strategy meeting with the guys was a bit of an adjustment and reality check that the race season is here. Some additional “new team” challenges included learning how the different bottles are labeled and having a new director on the radio for the first time.

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In these desert races, it’s no secret that wind direction makes all the difference. Today, kilometer 66 was the big ‘X’ on everyone’s stem sheet, and that proved accurate. It was the exact point where things heated up and blew apart.  Last year, we raced this same section with same wind drama, so that made the battle even more anticipated and crazy.

The bunch split into more than a handful of groups as the wind literally sandblasted us, and everyone panicked to move up while staying as sheltered as possible. It only takes one small gap for a moment and then the elastic snaps.

We had Sam Bewley up in the front group while the rest of us were caught in groups farther back. We contributed to some of the chasing in hopes of keeping the front guys close enough that they would lose some enthusiasm once we reached bigger roads with less drastic wind.  Fortunately for us, other top GC and sprint teams missed getting their leaders up there and we had enough to pull things back together.

Then it was calm while everyone refueled and stocked up for the next block of potential wind and sprint lead outs. Tsgabu--our protected GC guy here--had an untimely flat with about 10 km to go, but a quick bike change and teamwork got him back without too much stress.

Tomorrow we head to Jabel Hafeet. I raced up that beast last year, and I don’t have fond memories of it. It’ll be a bit of a climbing test as we work to help Tsgabu do his best ride possible.

Race Images: Getty Images

Stage 1 - UAE Tour


The race season kicked off with a blazing fast TTT at the UAE Tour. It was a good way to start the season and to finally have my first official outing with the MTS crew.

These TTT days pack so much into a short race effort, so I feel like I got a lot of bang for my buck in terms of settling in with the guys, the bikes, staff, team protocols, schedules, etc.

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When you are out in the desert and away from the usual team trucks and buses, it means that everyone is a little more relaxed and adaptable around the TT buzz. For me, this is a solid way to start.

Physically and mentally, it means a very focused and intense effort and today was far from flawless.

We almost all came crashing down after a touch of wheels and slight misdirection from the wind and miscommunication after about 6 kilometers. Fortunately, we kept it up with a couple of guys going off into the sand. Quickly we regrouped and got it going again. After that, we found a nice rhythm and were able to empty the tank by the finish. Everyone gave everything of themselves for the team.

For me, I really appreciated how quickly we regrouped and handled the adversity. It’s a real takeaway to see how everyone handles moments like those. For me, I will only continue to improve on the new TT bike, and I’m confident we laid a solid foundation for the year ahead.

And we have maybe learned a few lessons and place to improve. Tomorrow we head into the road stages where the wind always is a factor and potentially decisive.

Race Images: Andrew Laity @andrewjlaity




  


2018 UCI Road World Championships

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The time spent with the USA crew leading into Worlds is some of my favorite moments of the year. This past week was an awesome block of time. We had amazing early fall weather, and the scenery and roads we trained through were jaw dropping and stunning.

After a few relaxed days in paradise, it was time to get down to business, and we knew Sunday would be a massive day with colossal attrition.

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Pre-Race

The Boels Dolman women’s team was gracious enough to donate their bus to the Team USA efforts for the past week. Joining us in that bus and sharing a team car also were the Canadians.

This is just another example of the great vibe at a World Championship—competitors in the same bus enjoying time together.  The conversations swirled around, “Who’s wearing a base layer?  Who’s the team to watch today? How many gels do you take with you?”  It was all the usual pre-race squawk but with a unique combination of guys. And one of those rare moments where it was all in English!

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The Start

We knew we had a serious seven-hour slugfest ahead of us but still, the start line energy was high and position fighting in the neutral was passive aggressive as we headed into the 85-kilometer stretch from Kufstein to Innsbruck. It took a while for the break to go, and we had Ben up there sniffing out the moves. He made numerous solid attempts but unfortunately never found the right combination. After his Vuelta exploits, I think teams who were controlling the beginning were very wary of letting him go, which was probably a smart move on their part!

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The national team dynamic was clearly evident with no team wanting to commit too much too soon. The break’s gap quickly ballooned out to 20 minutes. I knew there was still plenty of time to bring them back but started to realize this meant the race would be hard fought for the remaining 200 km because there wouldn’t be time to ramp it up gradually. Instead, we would be pegged the entire time.  Sprinting out of the corners felt like we were on the final lap even when we still had 100 km to go and mountains on mountains to climb.

 

The Course

The course was hugely physical with so much accumulated climbing. While the circuit formed the meat of the racing, the stretch leading to it was very demanding with plenty of climbing and technical aspects. It equaled the hardest mountains stages of any race I’ve ridden, but what made it even more challenging was the “steel cage match” nature of the technical city circuit between the climb/descent. There was never a moment to roll along, take a breath, eat a bar and absolutely impossible pee!

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Like all Worlds, the feed zones were a cluster and proved decisive for many riders. Taking a bottle or musette means taking a risk, losing position and spending the next lap trying to regain it. Quite the snafu when the race is seven hours. One missed bottle or a short window where you miss taking in some energy can quickly lead to your race unraveling. Personally, I did okay overall but definitely could have been better at this aspect.

 

The Crowds 

The crowds in and around Innsbruck were insane. The main climb had an incredible multinational atmosphere that is only found at the World Championships. As we hammered up the climb lap after lap, I tried to occasionally snap out of the race fog and be fully aware and appreciate the fantastic environment. Each time I was quickly brought back to the reality of suffering and relentless position fighting.

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When The Race Exploded

Towards the end, I was feeling ok but not super. I knew it would be a tall order to keep myself in the mix until the final lap. I used all my experience from past Worlds and focused on spending as little energy as possible while staying in “good enough” position. My aim was to avoid falling out from the back of the pack. I definitely lost some energy being too far back through the city and got whipped around.

As we got deeper into the race, there were more and more crashes, which is always a clear sign guys are on their limit. I knew the race would soon explode. 

I was hoping I would find myself still in play toward the later moments. I’ve learned after 200 km it’s not really about feeling strong but about staying alive, so I kept telling myself one more lap, one more lap.

That chance began to evaporate on the penultimate lap when attacks flew over the top of the climb and some splits in the bunch edged me off the back. I poured it all on to regain contact. Once on the descent, I was no match for the guys up front doing their final “pull and peel” efforts, and I was resigned to chasing with a few others.

  

Final Lap

I wanted to finish but was also pretty cooked. We pushed to make it to the bell lap in time so we could continue and then it was survival mode. My legs were cramping, and it took everything I had to crawl up the main climb on the final lap.

I linked up with my BMC teammates Nico and Damiano who were also completely on empty. Misery always loves company and we decided we would try to haul ourselves up the final “hell climb.”  I’ve never been so unsure of my abilities to physically stay on my bike and ride up a climb. Even with a 36-30 gear, I was extremely over geared and found myself paper boying (zigzagging) back and forth up the narrow wall. Despite being minutes behind the leaders, the crowds were still amazing and clearly respected our efforts to push on.  

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In the end, it wasn’t the result that we believed we were capable of, but I can confidently say we did our absolute best with what we had. I am proud to have fought to the finish on such an epic edition of Worlds.

2018 is winding down but not done yet. My next race is the Tour of Turkey and then finally back home for the Binge!

Race Images: @1_in_the_gutter / @emmiecoll

September 16th - Stage 21 - La Vuelta

  • 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.  

Brent's Update:

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!

 

September 12th - Stage 17 - La Vuelta

  • Stage/Finish: Getxo › Balcón de Bizkaia

  • Distance: 157 kilometers - hilly

  • Weather: 75F/23C - sunny

 

 

©ChrisAuld_IMG_0074.jpg

Images ©Chris Auld

Brent's Update:

After a rest day and TT day, I’d hoped I’d feel a little livelier than I did today. There’s no denying it was Stage 17, and the body and mind are feeling it.

Like just about every other stage, we had a tough seven-kilometer climb after the start that we knew would be decisive for the break.

I was out of the fight before we even hit the bottom as we barreled through a sketchy city from kilometer 0 and played a high stakes game of chicken through tons of roundabouts and narrow sections. I worked my way up toward the front as we hit the climb, but the break had already formed, and we had Dylan and De Marchi up there once again.

It was a classic Basque Country stage with lots of uncategorized climbing and urban sections. It never feels like we roll along but instead pinballing through cities and up and down mountains.  

The last climb was another Vuelta special with sections 20 percent and some insane fans. I rode up with local Basque hero Mikel Irizar and the cheering for him was incredible and deafening. The road was only visible when the fans parted the moment before we ran into them.

Upfront, Dylan was locked into a tight battle for the stage win and narrowly got edged out by Mike Woods. Dylan earned five top 5 stage finishes at this race — completely incredible persistence and consistency -- but of course he really wants that win.

Again, the stage wasn’t over at the top of the climb, and we navigated another 25 minutes back to the bus as I nursed a flat front tire for the final few kilometers.

We were still weaving through thousands of fans that were all in a hurry to get back to their cars. Somehow our 157-km stage turned into 180 km of riding over 5.5 hours. A few more hours in the car to wind down and get closer to Catalonia where in theory we should have a flatter day tomorrow.

 

September 10th - Rest Day - La Vuelta

  • Santander

  • Distance: 0.0 kilometers

 

 

Brent's Update:

The second rest day at a Grand Tour feels like the arrival at an oasis after a long, bleak trek through the desert.

Despite being situated literally in a gas station parking lot--don’t be jealous, the view out my windows is overlooking gas pumps—it was great to get through last week and especially the gnarly Stage 15.

Jamie came in along with a few of my other teammate’s wives/ girlfriends and having some fresh outside enthusiasm immediately lifted the mood.

For the rest day, it was business as usual with a team ride where we checked out the TT course, followed by massage, and then a physio check-up. My back has been tweaked the past few days, but thankfully we have some awesome support to put me back together each day. 

 I’ve been debating how to approach the TT.  I see potential opportunities in the next four road stages, so it may be wise to ratchet it back and take it as an “open back up” day as opposed to an all-out onslaught.

On the other hand, having the freedom from not protecting a team GC position is also an opportunity to test us late in the race. Obviously, Rohan is guns blazing ready to go and has been targeting this stage since day 1. I think my roomie, Joey, will also do the USA skinsuit proud.

For the rest of us, it will likely be a matter of feeling it out knowing that there is always an opportunity but also being aware of the demands that lie ahead in this final week and managing resources accordingly. 

September 8th - Stage 14 - La Vuelta

  • Stage/Finish: Cistierna › Les raeres. Nava

  • Distance: 171 kilometers - mountain

  • Weather: 83F/28C - sunny

 

Photos: ©Chris Auld & ©TimDeWaele/GettyImages

Brent's Update:

It’s been a challenging mentally and for team dynamics riding a grand tour without any team GC ambitions. We have been half-joking that the new rule is either off the front or out the back, but there are some truths and practicality to this in how we effectively use our resources. The past week, I’ve been trying every day to get “off the front.” Some teammates made it happen and found fortunate breakaway combinations and race scenarios that allowed them to go to the line. 

Despite all my attempts, it wasn’t until Stage 14 that I managed to get away. 

It was the usual tense neutral and fast start with a five-kilometer uncategorized climb. Despite being pushed to the back during the neutral, I snaked my way to the front just in time for the drop of the flag and immediately began going with attacks. With each one, my oxygen debt increased but I kept telling myself to commit over the top of the first climb. It was a deep effort but going over the top we noticed we had a small gap and immediately began rotating to speed up. I was happy to see my teammate Nico there but unhappy to see Kwiatkowski as he was only five minutes back on GC. 

Despite having some serious horsepower including a former world champion and three Grand Tour top 10 finishers, it would be a long shot to stay away. We could hear our directors lacking optimism over the radio. The first recommendation was to “attack Kwiatkowski on the climb and get rid of him.” Nico and I looked at each other thinking, “no chance of that.” So we began working together. 

It’s been mentally tough being in the peloton conserving energy while still suffering. The feeling of going for it was something I relished despite the heavy toll it took on my legs with each gnarly climb. So despite the low odds, it felt good to commit to the effort and enjoy some open road. 

Eventually, we got word that the GC group behind was blowing to pieces and going full gas. This was Kwiatkowski’s cue to pour on the pressure over a nasty Cat 1 climb. Nico and I both struggled to hang on but managed to stay in contact over the top. A few kilometers into the downhill and it was just us three. That road was nuts! One lane, decreasing radius corners, moss on the edges and grass growing in the cracks of the busted pavement. This one would claim a few victims between the breakaway and peloton. 

By the bottom of the descent, our lead had been slashed to a minute and dropping with Bahrain doing a full steam pull and peel. I came off on the next and penultimate climb, while Nico hung on with Kwiato. I was surprised to see the GC group so small when they caught me, but when I felt their pace I could see why. Part of my mind was saying sit up and save the rest for another day, but another part said to do my best to hang on over one more climb. It wasn’t a free ride, but I was happy to stay in the mix to the base of the final summit. 

Again, the motos were a little too close as this group barreled into the climb. Never directly in front but always rolling in and out of the zone where the chasing teams could get just a bit of draft. 

As we hit the base of the final climb, my legs exploded as guys sprinted to position their leaders, so Nico and I called it a day. We still had to grind our way up four km of an insanely steep, one lane goat path that required a minimum of threshold Pace in a 36-30 gear just to keep moving. 

Astonishingly, the front guys put 5 minutes into us in 5 km. The crowds out there were incredible and inspiring while riding past, but treacherous when going down.  

TV should consider including the “ride back to the bus” in their coverage; it’s another worthy viewing component on these stages. Riding down 15-20 percent, dragging the brakes and weaving through hoards of drunk fans was not exactly a relaxing cooldown! 

Today is another savage one, but we can see the glimmer of tomorrow’s rest day way, way off in the distance.

September 5th - Stage 11 - La Vuelta

  • Stage/Finish: Mombuey › Ribeira Sacra. Luintra

  • Distance: 207.8 kilometers - hilly

  • Weather: 85F/29C - sunny

 

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Image: ©ChrisAuld

Brent's Update:

“Hump day” at the Vuelta, but this race is anything but downhill from here. Stage 11 was the longest of the race and a brute with another 12,000 feet of climbing.

We talk about luck with these breakaway moves all the time, and there is indeed some involved, but there’s clearly skill, courage, and power required, all of which Alessandro had in spades when he pulled off the win.

I tried and tried and tried to put myself in that position with him but it didn’t happen. I was always in the front part of the group as it split and blew to pieces over a two-hour roller coaster of racing from the start. I was up there with Alessandro hunting for the right move, which I thought we had on numerous occasions only to have it all come back together.

On multiple attempts I told myself “all in” and that I didn’t care what happened after that. We would get some separation with a few others only to fizzle out and be pulled back.

By the time we hit a 10-km climb around 100 km in, I was feeling cooked and needed a minute to catch my breath. Desperation in the group was increasing as everyone knew the right move had to happen at any moment. Fortunately, we had three—Dylan, Nico, and Dema-- up there as they went over the top of the climb. It was a fight for the next 100 km due to some GC threats making it in the group.

Now back in the pack, I was suffering, physically spent but even more mentally defeated by the failed attempts. But it was inspiring to hear over the radio how our guys were riding up front.

As I rolled through the final 10 km trying to spin my blown legs out, I could hear Jackson screaming at Alessandro, and I realized he had done it. A quick celebratory toast for Dema’s win and my roomie Joey’s birthday made it a happy albeit late evening.

Back at it today with more technically demanding roads and “undulating” terrain, which I’ll just go ahead and call mountains.

September 4th - Stage 10 - La Vuelta

  • Stage/Finish: Salamanca. VIII Centenario Universidad de Salamanca › Fermoselle. Bermillo de Sayago

  • Distance: 177 kilometers - flat

  • Weather: 81F/27C - sunny

 

 

Brent's Update:

Stage 10 was a good way to transition out of yesterday’s rest day. With a bunch sprint anticipated, most of us kept yesterday short and easy, but the risk that comes with that is the body shuts down after going full gas for nine days.

From the start of today’s stage, it was clear that the sprinter’s teams weren’t going to take any chances and only allowed two riders to slip away.   There was enough wind to keep everyone awake and a dicey downhill into the final climb and toward the end of the stage things heated up.

Despite not having a GC guy to protect or a sprinter to line it up for, I did my best to stay switched on and up front for this part, just to feel a little intensity of the race and stay focused.

After the climb, it was back to big roads. I needed a rear wheel change due to a puncture, but otherwise, it was an unusually relaxed roll into the finish.

Maybe on TV today looked boring to the fans, but they’ll be some action tomorrow and the coming stages between now and the next rest day, so sit tight!

Tomorrow is the longest stage of the race and looks to be demanding terrain--always up and down and twisty small roads. I think about 90 guys are thinking they will try for the break, so that will make for a tense start and unpredictable day.

September 3rd - Rest Day - La Vuelta

  • Salamanca

  • Distance: 1.5 hour recovery ride

 

 

Brent's Update:

Monday was a welcomed rest day after a grueling first “week” here at La Vuelta. They call the block from the start to the rest day the ‘first week,’ but it’s actually nine days! 

So now in my mind, I tell myself that we are already approaching the halfway point. The rest days go by too quickly. After Sunday’s six-hour stage and another hefty transfer, it meant we arrived at our rest day hotel late and were all slow getting moving in the morning.

It was great not to have to zip up my suitcase, but I still had to hustle to make the 11 am training ride. We rolled up to Salamanca and soaked up some ambiance in the Placa Mejor Salamanca and googled some history on the place. I now know it is home to the oldest university in Spain, which is apparently where today’s stage starts.

The afternoon was lunch, a nap, massage, physio check-up and a couple quick catch up phone calls and emails before dinner and then back to bed. These next six stages should take us into some moderated temps, but very demanding terrain with some STEEP climbs towards the end of the week. Fortunately, tomorrow looks the gentlest, so fingers crossed we can “ease” back in.