Race Updates

May 22nd - Stage 11 - Giro d’Italia

  • Stage/Finish: Carpi › Novi Ligure

  • Distance: 221 kilometers (flat)

 

Images ©Getty

Brent's Update:

The first eight days of the Giro saw very little impact to the overall standings but were physically and mentally demanding with around 40 hours of racing. The past few days—from Sunday’s TT to the rest day and finally into today’s sprint stage--were a strange transition. These two sprint days have been about stocking up as much energy as possible and getting the body working again after a bit of shutdown following the end of last week.

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It’s worth noting that it is super rare in a Grand Tour that you can back off for more than 1 or 2 consecutive days. Aside from the guys who did a full gas effort on Sunday, the rest of us have been in somewhat of a holding pattern for four days now. While the sprinters have put out some effort and the GC teams are still alert and on the defensive, compared to how we started and what the next 10 days will bring, these past days have been low key.

You won’t hear me complaining during these “easier” transitional sprint days. I know that means we will only race the massive mountains even harder, but it’s a strange formula for a race that is usually peppered with excitement and decisive drama.

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Jamie and her cousin Kelly visited over the weekend, which was awesome. This was the first race she’s been to since I’ve raced for Mitchelton-SCOTT and it is great how welcoming the team has been to my family as they realize the energy this brings a rider. At the end of the day, we are more than just robots on the bike.

Over the past few days, I’ve tried to make my rounds to speak with the other Americans in the bunch as I know conversational riding is about to disappear until the race is over and I’m back in Girona. There’s been a lot of hype about the climbing heavy second half and I’m sure we will see some fireworks by Friday, if not already by tomorrow….

May 18th - Stage 8 - Giro d’Italia

  • Stage/Finish: Tortoreto Lido › Pesaro

  • Distance: 239 kilometers (flat)

 

Images ©Getty

Brent's Update:


Describing Stage 8 as another long one is getting redundant, but at 240 kilometers and six hours, the distance was influential in how we raced and the day’s outcome. It’s not every day that the entire peloton echoes my mood, but after yesterday’s rock ‘em sock ‘em, it seemed everyone was on the same page to not spend all six hours smashing each other.

A break of three quickly rolled away and was soon down to two as fellow American Nate brown realized a three-up break with sprinter’s teams controlling behind was futile. We rolled along the coast with low effort and relatively high speed for a couple of hours thanks to a nice tailwind. Around 140 km, we turned off onto more undulating and narrow roads, and things began to heat up and continued to crescendo all the way to the line.

I was back on duty with Jack B to keep Simon out of the scrum with a focus of doing it as effortlessly as possible ahead of tomorrow’s TT. The course became physically and technically more demanding in the final hour and thanks to some intermittent rain, we had some slick roads. 

With a much-hyped downhill to the line, all the sprinter and GC teams were pushing for position and we spent a fair bit of time posted up on the left side next to whatever sprint teams were chasing. This cost a fair bit of energy but was the only way to ensure Simon was up front and not getting knocked around in the bunch. These Grand Tour fields require a huge amount of anticipation when it comes to positioning and today’s decisive point at 6-km to go where the downhill started would be about 40-50 km in the making in terms of positioning.

Once again, our team depth showed as we still had three good guys next to Simon as the downhill began and he safely crossed the line with the reduced bunch.  

I’ve had my fill of six-hour and 4000-5000 calorie rides this week, so I’m definitely looking forward to tomorrow’s TT. I’ll still have to push a bit to stay safely in the time cut but will look to the day as a chance to hopefully let the body rebound from the past eight days.

May 17th - Stage 7 - Giro d’Italia

  • Stage/Finish: Vasto › L’Aquila

  • Distance: 185 kilometers (hilly)

 

Images ©Getty

Brent's Update:


Today’s stage to L’Aquila had me thinking back to one of my hardest days ever on a bike at the 2010 Giro that finished in the same city. Thankfully today’s stage was not 265 kilometers and we didn’t see any snow/hail/sleet as we did nine years ago. Still, I knew the roads would be similar—relentless, undulating, and twisting. A profile perfectly set for an aggressive and intense day as more breakaway guys would be dreaming of pink and a stage win.

It was extremely fast from the start and big groups were constantly going and reshuffling. We had one of our super climbers—Mikel--sneak into a very dangerous group that caused UAE and Bahrain to invest some big energy to bring them back. A series of 3, 4-5 uncategorized climbs and a relentless chase aided by those menacing camera motorbikes put the bunch in pieces. I felt like I was exploding as I sprinted over the top and then glanced back on the downhill to see a big gap to the group behind. Fortunately, Simon was up front and out of trouble through all of this.

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The next reshuffling came about 100 km in when Lucas powered into a good one that looked like it could finally go. After a demanding two hours, I was hoping for a little respite, but we went straight back into full gas chasing with Conti’s pink jersey in danger if the group ahead got too far out.

The last climb of the day brought back some PTSD from 2010 as I remember being totally alone between groups on this section of road, unsure if I was even still on course as the hail and rain pounded me. Today was much different with a big group and a very fast pace. Up ahead, Lucas was riding smart and looking for a stage win. Behind, we knew we had to deliver Simon in good position into the final technical kilometers. I linked up with Simon, so I could drop him off just under two km to go while up ahead grand tour debutant Lucas did an impressive ride to fourth place. Twenty-three years young, this won’t be the last time you see him contesting a win at a Grand Tour.

Tomorrow, we have the longest stage (in distance at least). Conveniently positioned at the end of an already very long week, we will rack up nearly 40 hours on the bike.

May 16th - Stage 6 - Giro d’Italia

  • Stage/Finish: Cassino › San Giovanni Rotondo

  • Distance: 238 kilometers (hilly)

     

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Brent's Update:

Another big day out that finally saw a breakaway going to the line and a new race leader taking over. This was definitely predicted as a pre-race possibility because Stage 5 was most likely going to be too hard for any sprinters and the GC teams were unlikely to commit massive energy to keep things in check.

The roads were generally better. These were big momentum carrying type roads. That didn’t prevent a massive pileup from happening 30 kilometers into the stage as the breakaway riders were fighting to get away and the rest of the group was sneaking around in the group staying covered. I’m not sure what happened, but before I knew it, there was a wall of riders on the ground just in front of me and more piling up from behind. Thankfully my bike took the brunt of rider impact from behind. Durbo, Simon, and Esteban were all caught up. There was so much chaos and confusion that I actually had time to walk back to the stopped team car and grab a spare wheel as the mechanic tended to Simon and got him going.

Even though race leader Roglic crashed, up ahead, the race was still going full gas and it took a while for a temporary truce that helped us catch back on.

Once the break went away, there was a period when it looked like the stage may be in play, but no teams came forward to help Lotto, and they eventually let it roll out. I don’t blame them. It is a long way to Verona! We were content to sit back and not spend excessive energy while staying alert and switched on. There was a solid 15 km climb before the finish and the bunch was tensely waiting to see if any GC team would light it up to bring the gap down.

The Italian press will be happy with an Italian stage winner and an Italian in pink. It will be interesting to see how much effort is put into defending that pink jersey over the next two days as the stages are a similar long format that is likely too hard for pure sprinters and more suited to a breakaway.

May 15th - Stage 5 - Giro d’Italia

  • Stage/Finish: Frascati › Terracini

  • Distance: 140 kilometers (flat)

  • Weather: Dumping Rain

 

Images ©Kramon

Brent's Update:

The guys who did the Giro last year kept telling me they didn’t have a day of rain. Today alone made up for a completely dry 2018 race. It dumped on us all day.

We were wet even before the start as race organizers required all the team busses to leave 30 minutes before the start. A couple hundred skinny guys in Lycra packed under a teeny tent with a few wet chairs wasn’t my idea of taking care of the “the world’s best cyclists.” We tried our best to laugh at the ridiculousness of it as umbrella-protected spectators waved for us to pose for pictures as a fence separated us. It felt like being animals in a zoo. 

We started with a couple tough climbs (for the Asheville folks, think Elk Mountain and Town Mountain) and I think I wasn’t the only one relieved when there wasn’t a massive battle for the early break. It was still very tense over those climbs and down the descents as the rain made visibility really challenging and the roads were littered with massive holes and cracks. We spent some energy to keep Simon up at the front and stayed out of the scrum in the middle of the bunch.

From there a long gradual downhill caused the rain and cold to really sink in, and I don’t think I was comfortable for the rest of the day. I changed both of the jackets I was wearing to fresh ones from the car but was still cold and wet.  The rain was relentless and the filthy water spraying up from the road was even worse.

We saw some nice consideration for our safety when the race officials when they decided to take GC time after the first crossing of the finish line, a definite perk of having a circuit finish format. Seeing the massive amounts of standing water on the circuit, I think this was a good call and the fans still were treated to an intense sprint battle that basically like water skiing or wakeboarding when I watched the replay.

Tomorrow things will get heavy as we do another 240 kilometers with a mountainous amount of climbing. It’s almost 700 km away, but I’m already setting my sights on that Stage 9 TT where I’ll enjoy a calm solo ride and try to bank a little recovery. It will be needed with these next three days.

May 14th - Stage 4 - Giro d’Italia

  • Stage/Finish: Orbetello › Frascati

  • Distance: 223 kilometers (uphill finish)

 

Images ©Getty

Brent's Update:


Stage 4 was a good leg deadener and tank emptier as we aren’t even halfway through this first 9-day “week” of racing. One hundred and fifty miles and 6.5 hours is a big day, no matter how you slice it. When three guys from smaller Italian teams peeled off immediately after km 0, there was mumbling in the bunch of it being a long boring day, but in the end, I don’t think anyone arrived at the finish bored or with too much energy to spare.

It was super windy out there again, which kept the tension up in the bunch, especially when combined with poor road surfaces that had us dodging some massive holes. The sprint teams played around with each other and let the gap go out, brought it back, let it go out, and then repeated this cycle. Not efficient but seeing the demanding finish and also the sheer length, it was understandable teams were skeptical of investing such a huge commitment.

For us as a GC team, it was business as usual. Despite never truly riding pole position, we basically did the equivalent of riding the front for much of the day as we were positioned just off the hip or just behind whatever team was chasing. Once again, it was Jack and me who were up first with an especially long “work zone” from km 0 to km 210. Things started getting super tense and heated very far out from the finish. We spent a solid two hours pinballing through sketchy cities and down potholed roads, battling other teams as the GC hierarchy of respect or consideration was tossed out the window in the spirit of self-preservation. This was draining work.

In the end, it still wasn’t enough to keep Simon from getting swiped on the inside and taken out with around five km to go. Fortunately, he got up quickly, and the guys with him limited the damage, but it is still disappointing to lose some seconds and see your leader on the ground after a long day of working to prevent that from happening.

We will dust ourselves off and refocus for tomorrow. In theory, a sprint day, but a nasty start with two stout climbs in the first hour could shake things up and produce a strong breakaway group.

May 13th - Stage 3 - Giro d’Italia

  • Stage/Finish: Vinci › Orbetello

  • Distance: 220 kilometers (flat)

 

Images ©Getty

Brent's Update:


Stage 3 was another one of those LONG “sprint” stages. Today’s stage was defined by some extremely strong but ultimately non-decisive wind and standard first week Grand Tour nervousness from the sprint and GC teams put things on the defensive for much is the stage.

That brave solo breakaway guy will be tired tonight. Some people probably watch and wonder why more guys don’t try to escape on a day like today.  The answer is different depending on the team, but most would agree that today was just too long, and we are still so early in the race. Combine that with a stacked sprint field where they know their chances are numbered and it was always likely to be a small group.  

Our efforts remained focused on keeping Simon safe and as effortlessly as possible. Once again it was Jack Bauer and me on deck for the first 180 or so kilometers. Some of this time was spent slotted in behind the chasing teams, but on a windy and nervous day like today, we also spent a lot of time with our noses in the wind and being aggressive with positioning. It’s my first race with Simon, but we are syncing up well. It is nice to ride for a guy who is a good bike handler and can stay glued to a wheel even when things heated.  

Tomorrow is another long one and in classic Giro fashion, they added 10 km of neutral to an already hefty 235-km stage. A bump in accumulated climbing and a demanding uphill section to the finish will surely see a bigger break and an especially heated finish.

May 12th - Stage 2 - Giro d’Italia

  • Stage/Finish: Bologna › Fucecchio

  • Distance: 205 kilometers (flat)

  • Weather: Rain

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Brent's Update:

Out on the wet, open roads of Italy for Stage 2 and I was reminded that even the “sprint” days at the Giro are hilly or near mountainous. Having Simon sitting second overall adds some pressure to keep him up front and out of trouble. On days like today, that is also self-serving because it keeps us focused and generally up front on constantly twisting and technical roads. The downside to riding good position, upfront in a field of almost 200 riders is that a trip to the car takes a long time and a solid dose of energy getting back up.

Things eventually dried up, but a stiff tailwind kept us moving quickly and often splitting the bunch. It seemed the breakaway was happy to use their fresh legs in a show of power instead of going more tactical and timing their effort to a specific moment.

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My task today was to stay glued to Simon with the help from my roommate Jack Bauer and to keep Simon out of the wind, well positioned, clothed and fed for the first 150 or so kilometers before a new block came into that role for the final 50 km. We were happy to all finish safely after several riders hit the deck. It was a pretty big day out and tomorrow looks to be even longer, but hopefully less wet.




May 11th - Stage 1 - Giro d’Italia

  • Stage/Finish: Bologna › San Luca

  • Distance: 8 kilometers - hilly time trial (ITT)

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Brent's Update:

It's a relief to finally have this Giro started. There is so much build-up, anticipation, prep and thought that goes into the last weeks and months that really intensifies in the final days heading into the race. Getting to kick it all off with an individual effort was a good way to open up the race .

The start of the Giro was a demanding eight kilometers, especially the final 2 km that was super steep and gave the impression that we were crawling and creeping up instead of smashing out a peak 5-minute effort.

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Within our team, there was a lot of excitement, especially surrounding Simon. This is energy directed at him from media, fans, competitors. As teammates, we feel it. It is a force from the outside but also within the team because we recognize our responsibility in carrying a legit GC contender. It takes a little extra attention from all the support staff within the team and a day like this is built around Simon—all for good reason as seconds are on the line and may prove to be very important.

For the rest of us, today was a balance of testing ourselves, putting in a good effort, but also keeping the big picture in mind and knowing that these 14 minutes are a very, very small percentage of our work and contribution to Simon’s GC hunt over the course of 21 stages. I've been a part of some good GC efforts over the years, but I have to say there was usually more individual ambition still at play, and it’s very clear here that it is all for one, one for all.

Simon did a super ride to confirm himself as a true contender, and as teammates, that is inspiring. Now, the real work will begin and we head into a series of long, hilly stages that will most likely be wet!

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