Former king of the mountain classification and stage winner at the Vuelta a Espana Simon Clarke is back for 2014. He's an aggressive all-rounder cyclist known for his climbing as well as his strong sprint finishes. During this year’s edition of Vuelta a Espana Simon will be keeping us all up to date with how his tour is going. Jump on daily to see the latest updates from Simon.
Stage 21 - 9.77 km, Santiago de Compostela
We had a 9.7km individual time trial today to finish off this year's Vuelta Espana. We raced around the town of Santiago de Compostela which is famous for being the finish town for the Pilgrims Camino and in a sense today's TT felt like we were here finishing our own 3 week Camino circling Spain. We started at the Library of Galicia which is an amazing piece of architecture, and from there we wove around the streets of Santiago before coming flying down the main street of town and finishing at in front of the town's huge Cathedral. For me it was just a goal to get through safely and start thinking about the World Championships which are in 2 weeks time. Fittingly as I was to start it bucketed with rain which only made me ride even more cautiously, being very careful not to risk anything on the slippery corners. I got through without any issues and came in roughly about 2min behind the winner who was fortunate to race the course in dry conditions.
So that ends this years Vuelta Espana with Alberto Contador taking out the Overall Classification and me finishing my 5th Grand Tour. I hope you have enjoyed a bit of insight into the up's & down's and in's and out's of racing one of the world's three Grand Tour's.
Image courtesy of Graham Watson.
Stage 20 - 185,7 km, Santo Estevo de Ribas de Sil - Puerto de Ancares
It was the last big challenge of this year's Vuelta today and going by other years it has always been a day to dread. The organisers always seem to find the toughest course with the toughest finishes to close out the race. Although today was definitely tough I would have to say they were some what more lenient than the last couple of years. The finish was in Ancares of which they actually used a similar stage in 2012, which ended up being a pivotal stage for me in the race for the polka dot jersey. The stage started off with the usual attacking except today I didn't bother being apart of it as I was sure the GC teams would chase it back for a showdown on the last climb, which I would end up being proved correct. Once again an unusually small breakaway of 4 riders got clear to be the break of the day and after a short time it was Sky and Astana that moved to the front to begin the chase. I just floated around and helped the boys with some bottles and food, and made sure they were looked after.
When the speed really began to crank up on the second to last climb, I was feeling pretty good and decided to dig a bit deeper and get over that climb with the front, which ended up being a group of 30 or so. I then just hung on until the road really kicked up at about 10km to go before shutting things down and cruising up to the finish as easily as possible. The rest of the boys came in without to much trouble and although the bad weather threatened it never eventuated until the drive home which it then bucketed down luckily enough.
Tomorrow we finish things of with a 9km time trial in Santiago de Compostela instead of the historical cruisy ride into Madrid. It will be something a bit different and with a very different atmosphere but will surely be a nice experience to finish off what will be my 5th Grand Tour.
Image courtesy of Graham Watson.
Stage 19 - 180.5km, Salvaterra de Miño - Cangas de Morrazo
Being the last stage for any non-pure climber to have a crack, it was on for the breakaway. But it seems as though every team is so desperate for the breakaway that nothing sticks. Sure enough the same thing happened today. Every decent sized group that got away was closed down by another team until finally only a group of three got clear and the group stopped.
We then turned to our other plan which was to support Michael, hoping he could get over the Cat. 2 with 25km to go and contest at the finish. We had Sam and Mitch ride on the front with Giant whilst the rest of us looked to set Michael up for the final climb. We managed that quite well and both Adam and I were able to get over in the front group to help Michael after the climb.
There was a little pinch with 6km to go which was always going to make things tricky and when the attacks went flying I couldn't keep up the pace and fell behind which only left Adam to control the group coming into the finish. Adam Hansen launched an awesome attack with 5km to go and despite our Adam doing everything he could to chase Hansen back, he got the better of him and stayed away to win the stage. Michael still did what he could in the sprint and came in 5th.
Only one more big mountain day to go before Sunday's TT. Tomorrow is just going to be more survival than anything else for us. Bad weather is also forecast which will make it that little bit tougher.
Stage 18 - 157km, A Estrada - Monte Castrove en Meis
In the 3rd week most of the stages are often good chances for a breakaway, and today was always another possibility. Although being a hilltop finish I just had an inkling that either Katusha or Movistar would chase it back to fight out for the stage win. I managed to find myself in a break early on with both Movistar and Katusha present, so I thought it might be a possibility to go away, but unfortunately Lampre and Garmin had missed it and chased it back.
Then a group of 3 broke away and this was to be the break of the day, but as I suspected Movistar moved quickly to the front to take control. They wound the break back for the first pass of the Cat. 2 climb that we would finish on and that was my ticket to drop back and take it as easy as possible with the coming days in mind. No one featured in the results from our team today as we all took it as an opportunity to rest up and back our chances in the next couple of days.
I think tomorrow there is more chance of a successful breakaway going to the line so will definitely be looking for that early on in the stage, but I'm sure it will be a tough fight to get into particularly as the breakaway opportunities are quickly running out.
Image courtesy of Graham Watson.
Stage 17 - 190.7km, Ortigueira - A Coruña
I always find the day after the 2nd rest day in a grand tour really tough. No matter the parcours your body just doesn't agree with it. Today was no different, in-fact today was so undulating that even on a good day it would have felt sluggish. The thing is the condition is there you just have you push though until your body gets going again. For me that took nearly the entire stage today, but it was a really good finish for Michael's characteristics and I knew he was motivated for it. So I pushed though and coming into the final with about 20km to go, things started to look better.
There was an initial break of 5 which we didn't really contest to try and get into as we had plans to chase it back later in the day for Michael. Giant controlled for most of the day, and then after the feed station we put Cam up the front to help and also Omega put up a rider to contribute. Because of the undulating course it was always going to be tough task chasing back the break and that it was. The pressure was really on and it was felt in the bunch. As it would turn out we only caught them with 500m to go...
I just stuck right with Michael for the 2nd half of the stage and as it got harder we started losing team mates and it quickly became apparent that I was going to be the only one left with him for the final. I really tried to conserve my energy as much as possible as I knew I had to be right there with him in the closing kilometres.
Coming into the last 5km we both had really good position at the front of the bunch which was vital as there was a tough cobbled section from 4km to 2.5km to go. We maintained our good position at about 6th and 7th through this section, then once past the cobbled section I had to make an important quick decision as the break was still about 15sec away. Ideally I was there to help lead out Michael for the sprint, but if the final two guys stayed away they would only be sprinting for 3rd. So as Michael was right there already on John Degonkolb's wheel I left him and went to the front of the 30 man front group and did the biggest pull I could. I managed to close the gap right down to a couple of seconds, but just couldn't quite peg them back. Although it was close enough that when the group started their sprint they would sweep them up.
Michael did a great job following John, but was just unable to come around him in the finish and came a close 2nd. Another good day where we were close to pulling off the day’s plan and bagging another stage win.
Tomorrow is another hilltop finish with 2 times up a 4km Cat. 2 climb which will see the GC guys playing their cards again.
Rest Day - Ferrol
Not a whole lot to report today. We had a very long transfer after yesterdays tough stage and didn't get in till about midnight. Then by the time we had dinner we didn't get to our rooms until 1am. As a result we made use of the chance to have a bit of a sleep in and a late breakfast before heading out for a ride at 11.30. We are staying in the north-western coastal town of Ferrol for the rest day and had a nice cruisy pedal around the coastline here. Once we got back to the hotel I got on the ergo to do a couple of efforts to get the heart rate up. On the rest days if you don't get the blood flowing properly you find that you body starts to shut down a bit and its really had to get going again for the following stage. So although it is always hard to get motivated to hurt yourself on the rest day, it makes for less pain the day after. After lunch Michael and I went down to the local shopping centre just to get out of the hotel and have a look around. Then the later afternoon involved the normal routine of osteo, massage, dinner, space boots (air compression boots), and ice bath. Tomorrow is an un-seemingly hard day with no categorised climbs but up and down all day following the very undulating and windy coastline.
Stage 16 - 160,5 km, San Martín del Rey Aurelio - La Farrapona. Lagos de Somiedo
Today will definitely be the hardest day of this years Vuelta and probably be up there with the hardest queen stages of any Grand Tour I have ever done. Although we didn't do any famous climbs they sent us up some very challenging ascents with nearly all the climbs averaging close to 10%, and so without including the various flat sections it basically felt like we were climbing with over 10% gradients all day!!!
We had 10km before the start of the first climb and I went with the first attack right off the gun. Thirteen of us got away and for a while there it looked like it was going to be the break of the day, but once we started closing in on the first climb, I heard over the radio that Katusha were chasing as they had missed it. It was important that they were present in the break as they are leading the teams classification. I got caught by the group just as the climb started and went into damage control to make sure I got over in the group as I had gone pretty deep to make the breakaway and was already on my limit.
I got over the climb and the bunch re-grouped as a break of 11 guys had established. The only problem was that there was STILL no Katusha rider in the breakaway so it was inevitable that they were going continue chasing all day to defend their team's GC interests. Climb after climb we were at the mercy of the controlling pace of the Katusha domestiques. On the 3rd climb of the day the group really started to fracture as we tackled 10km @ 9% average gradient. The sprinters group fell behind at this stage, but there was still over 60km to go in the stage, so they were going to be in for a tough day.
I managed to hang on over the third climb, and the following valley before dropping back on the lower slopes of the 2nd to last climb with a group of about 10 guys. I stayed with these guys for the rest of the day and made it up the final 16.5km climb to the finish without to much trouble.
The sprinters group cut things very fine and only made the time cut by a mere 40sec, so I was glad I hung with the main group as long as possible and didn't run the risk of being put out of the race.
Image courtesy of Graham Watson.
Stage 15 - 152.2km, Oviedo - Lagos de Covadonga
Today was the 2nd of three big mountain stages and with bad weather forecast it was always going to be a tough stage. Our destination for today was Lagos de Covadonga, a very famous finish for the Vuelta that has been used many times and with its amazing scenery and views combined with a difficult climb you can see why. It is a 12.2km climb averaging 7.2% with it's steepest part at a 17.5% gradient.
Once again, attacking was on the agenda and with many riders having the same idea it was always going to be a hard task to get into the break. We had both myself, Adam and Cam trying to cover the attacks which we shared very effectively. After nearly 50km of attacks a group of 5 broke clear and we had Cam there which was great. The breakaway got out to over a 10min buffer and things were looking good for it to stay away. We had one hard Cat. 2 climb (which really should have been classed as a Cat. 1) to pass before getting to Covadonga. Movistar hit the front and really pushed the pace and as the front group diminished very quickly. I dug deep and managed to get over with the 30 or so that remained in the front. That way I could give Esteban a hand coming into the final climb.
After a very tricky wet descent from the Cat. 2, and various crashes and mishaps in the group, we finally got to the bottom and I was able to go back to the car and get Esteban some fresh drinks and food. I then stayed with him up right up until the bottom of Covadonga before checking out and cruising up to the finish. Meanwhile Cam was doing a great job in the breakaway and for a while there was looking like he was going to be able to fight it out for the win, but he suffered on the 2nd half of the climb and was caught by the GC guys about 2km from the finish. Unfortunately Esteban suffered as well today and lost some time to his rivals but we have to remember this is his first ever grand tour and he is doing very well none the less.
Tomorrow’s super mountainous day is going to be one of the hardest days of this years Vuelta, with bad weather forecast again and over 4500m of climbing which includes 1x Cat. 2 climb and 4x Cat. 1 climbs and finishes at Lago de Somiedo which climbs for 16.5km at 6.2%. It’s going to be one hell of a day!!
Stage 14 - 200.8 km, Santander - La Camperona. Valle de Sábero
Today was the first of three big mountain days and was quite a long one at over 200km. There was a Cat. 1 and a Cat. 2 climb during the day before having to tackle a very rude 8km climb in the final with the last 3km hitting gradients of nearly 20%. There was a lot of attacking at the start as it was another good day for a break away. I made multiple efforts but missed the decisive move which happened at the 40km mark just after the sprint.
After missing the break away I just set out to take it as easy as possible and save some energy for tomorrow. Quickstep really pushed the pace on the Cat. 1 climb and really split the group so I dropped back and looked to take it as easy as possible. The final 3km was terribly steep and seemed to drag on forever with such steep gradients, but eventually I got up to the top at my own pace and headed straight back down to the bus.
It ended up being a very long day not only with the long stage, but we also had a 2.5hr transfer in the bus after the stage to the hotel which meant that we didn't get to the hotel until after 9pm, and by the time I had had a massage we didn't get down to dinner until near 10.30pm. I really like the look of tomorrow's stage, I'm really hoping I can make it into the break and have a go at cracking a stage.
Stage 13 - 188.7, Belorado - Obregón. Parque de Cabárceno
Today's 13th stage, like Stage 3, was another big goal for the team that we had set out at the start of the Tour. It was a solid day with 3 decent climbs in the middle of the stage, and then a tricky little up hill finish into the Parque de Cabarceno. A break of 11 got away right from the gun. After a couple of teams that had missed the break had unsuccessful dig's at getting it back, we set out on a stage long effort to pin them back for the finish.
Brett was to pull out after today's stage as he is heading home to prepare for TTT world's, so he was assigned a solo mission of keeping the break at bay and then slowly bring them back to a time gap that we could finally close with our other guys once the bigger climbs came.Brett did and awesome job for over 100km pulling virtually unassisted and managed to bring the break back from 4min to 2min30 and hold it there for the whole time. He managed even to pull over the first of the 3 main climbs before checking out and giving the reins to Cam and Sam. They covered the next two climbs and closing in on top of the 3rd and final climb we had them back at 1min30. But by this stage we had lost both Cam & Sam and were left with a very tough decision!
Either we could have continued to chase with myself and Mitch, but apart from Esteban we were the only two left, so then Michael would have been left all by himself to setup for the finish. The other option was to take a bit of a gamble and completely stop riding and hope another team would close the final gap that way we saved myself and Mitch to help Michael in the final. Our director backed the 2nd option and pulled us from the front with 30km to go. This was a big call because we risked throwing away all the work the other boys had done for the whole day if no other team took up the initiative.
Tinkoff Saxo took over but showed no interest in closing the gap, and let it get out to 2min again. Then after a couple of nerve-racking kilometres FDJ came flying to the front and set out to catch the break.
Mitch and I then turned out focus to setting up Micheal in perfect position for the finish. Mitch did a great job taking us to the front with 5km to go and then it was then up to me to take Michael into the bottom of the climb like I did on stage 3. I lost him a little bit this time coming through the final few corners and I left him at about 15th position. Unfortunately Michael didn't have the greatest of legs today and had suffered a bit more than we thought through the climbs in the middle part of the stage, so the final climb got the better of him and he was unable to feature in the sprint for the line.
Although we didn't come away with the result that we had hoped for today, there are still some positives we can take away. The fact that we set out with a plan and executed it to near perfection and with the odds against us with basically 3 of our guys chasing a break of 11 all day!
We made a good decision to stop riding as although it was a gamble it paid off for the final.
You can't win every time you commit like this and when you don't all you can do is try to learn for the future.
Now we have 3 BIG mountain days coming up which will most likely be the hardest part of this year's Vuelta.
Stage 12 -166.4km, Logroño - Logroño
Today we had a circuit race around the town of Logroño. It involved 8 laps of a 20km circuit and virtually dead flat. Seeing that it was such a given that teams wanted a bunch sprint, no one attacked at the start. Eventually one Cannondale rider attacked alone and set out on a solo escape. We continued rolling along for another couple of laps, and then slowly picked up the pace.
It's was a bit of a tricky run into town and extremely fast, so positioning was vital. It was my job to take the boys at 3km to go and go as far as I could. I had everyone lined up and ready to go and then just before the 3km to go banner the boys got tangled up with some riders coming back through the group and lost my wheel, so I didn't go. I then spent the next 2km slowly dropping back wheel by wheel until I found them again right at 1km to go. It was already a bit late and we were a little far back but I thought I'd try and get them up there as far as I could. Then suddenly CRASH as two guys in front of me collided and Mitch and I went flying. We were going so fast we didn't actually hit the ground to hard but we slid a long way and took off quite a lot of skin. In the end both of us were okay and we were able to get up and ride to the finish.
So our whole lead out plan for today ended up being a bit of a disaster but we are still motivated and will give it another red hot crack tomorrow.
Image courtesy of Graham Watson.
Stage 11 - 153.4 km, Pamplona - Santuario de San Miguel de Aralar
We started today in the town of Pamplona in the famous Saint Fermin square, where the Running of the Bulls is held. With it being another potentially good breakaway day considering the hard finish, the pace was on right from the gun. After more than 50km of attacks there was still no successful breakaway. Finally a group of 4 got clear and the bunch stopped.
But it wasn't long before Katusha were on the front setting the pace to catch the break back for the final as it seemed Rodriguez was keen to go for the win. We rode a very quick pace for the whole day and once we started approaching the final climb the boys and I did what we could to help Esteban have good position. Once we hit the climb I shut things down and just cruised up. Tomorrow we have a circuit race around Logrono which is flat and will most likely end in a sprint.
Image courtesy of Graham Watson.
Stage 10 - 36.7 km, Real Monasterio de Santa María de Veruela - Borja
Today was a 35km individual time trial not far from the town of Tarazona. The ITT is not really my specialty so it was another chance for me to have an easy day before tackling the road stages of the 2nd week. I came in just under 4min after the winner Tony Martin. Tonight we are staying in Pamplona and we have a solid day tomorrow with another hard hilltop finish.
Image courtesy of Graham Watson.
Rest Day - Zaragoza
After 9 stages we were due a rest day which we enjoyed in the town of Zaragoza. We were pleasantly woken for a morning anti-doping test, then after a relaxed breakfast we headed out for an easy ride about 11am. At the end of our ride we finished up in the beautiful centre square of Zaragoza at Plaza del Pilar for a coffee before heading back to the hotel for lunch.
We were fortunate enough to be share an amazing 5 star hotel with Tinkoff Saxo which made the rest day much more enjoyable. After lunch the afternoon involved a little nap followed by a bit of time spent at the roof top Spa and pool, then a massage before dinner. Then after dinner I managed to squeeze a film in before checking in for the night. Tomorrow we have a 35km Individual time trial.
Stage 9 - 185 km, Carboneras de Guadazaón - Aramón Valdelinares
Today's mountain day was always looking good for another breakaway opportunity but not for myself as I was assigned to once again stay at Esteban's side particularly towards the final and provide any assistance possible. From the gun attacks were flying with substantial groups getting away at various times. Eventually a group of 27 riders broke clear and we were represented by our New Zealander Sam Bewley.
The big breakaway gained as much as 7min on it's way to the 2nd hilltop finish of this year's Vuelta and was set to fight out for stage honours. Meanwhile myself and the rest of the boys were back in the main bunch looking after our little Colombian in preparation for the final which included a Cat. 2 climb, then a fast descent with a Cat. 1 finishing climb straight after. Its was my job to stay with the front group over the Cat. 2, which dwindled down to 30-40 riders as Team Sky set a fast pace. At the top I took Esteban to the front of the group for the descent which was always going to be dangerous as it had started raining and was going to be a bit risky. Fortunately I did as Omega attacked on the descent and managed to split the group quite significantly, although by then Esteban and I had good position in the group and all the splits happened behind us.
It was then straight into the final climb of 8km at 5.5%. As the rain continued I made sure Esteban was right there safely in the remnants of the lead group, and then I checked out for the day. Esteban fought on courageously and it was only when Contador launched his attack at 3km to go that he succumbed to the pace and was forced to ride his own pace up to the finish coming in 1min20 behind the first GC contenders. We then had 3hr transfer in the bus post stage to Zaragoza which is where we were to spend the rest day the following day.
Image courtesy of Graham Watson.
Stage 8 - 207km, Baeza - Albacete
Today we raced north out of the region of Andalusia and into Castilla-La Mancha to the town of Albacete. There were no categorised climbs today so the stage was rather flat. Instead of climbs though there was always going to be the danger of the cross winds as we closed in on the finishing town. For most of the day we raced alongside a big mountain range which protected us from the wind. But at the 170km mark with just under 40km remaining the mountain range finished and there was wide open, unprotected windy plains all the way into Albacete.
It was a tail wind for most of the day, but once the land opened up it turned into cross tail wind which was always going to shape up for some super fast nail biting racing. At the 170km point as we came screaming out into the open plains all the big teams made a big push to split the group, and split it did. We were well briefed by our director through our radios of this vulnerable section and were right there ready to go. We managed to have Esteban, Mitch, Michael and myself in the front group which was great as we were aiming to defend Esteban's position on GC and at the same time try and leadout Michael if it came down to a sprint. The front group split multiple times on the run into the finish which at one stage was down to only about 20 riders and each time all 4 of us were able to make the selection. With about 4km to go the group behind managed to rejoin us and we were then set for a 50 up bunch sprint.
I stuck with Esteban in the final to make sure he didn't get caught behind any splits and lose vital seconds, while Mitch set out to drop of Michael for the sprint. He did a great leadout coming down the final straight and Micheal did a very strong sprint, only narrowly missing the stage victory to finish a close 2nd. All in all it was a great day, considering the danger with the winds, to finish 2nd in the stage and safely escort Esteban to the line without losing anytime to his rivals.
Tomorrow is another challenge in the mountains with a tough hilltop finish at Valdelinares which will provide a good showdown for the GC contenders.
Image courtesy of Graham Watson.
Stage 7 - 169km, Alhendín - Alcaudete
The fan forced oven of the last couple of days seemed to be turned down today as we only experienced temperatures in the low 30’s which was nice for a change. It was the first real breakaway day opportunity of the Vuelta so far, so nearly everyone in the bunch was keen on trying to get in there as there was a good chance of it staying away.
After a lot of attacking, myself included, the break finally established on the Cat. 3 climb after about 35km but unfortunately I missed it.
Once the break had gone my focus switched to helping Esteban. It was a very tough day with there not seeming to be an inch of flat, so after a while it really started to take its toll. After about 70km into the stage Ivan was involved in a crash on a tight dusty corner and was forced to withdraw from the race. Initially it was suspected that he had broken his finger, but x-rays showed it was only a dislocation of his right index finger, so he is on a flight back home tomorrow morning.
The break managed to gain over a 7min advantage and looked very likely that the days victor would come from there. I stayed all day with Esteban and made sure we always had good bunch position and avoided any mishap. The last 14km was an uphill drag which went up in steps, averaging about 3%. I hung with Esteban until about 6km to go where Michael took over and chaperoned him to the finish line. They finished the stage unscathed despite a crash in the final sprint and Esteban still remains in 5th @ 41sec on GC. Tomorrow is a flat sprinters stage, but if there is some wind about it could cause some havoc.
Image courtesy of Graham Watson.
Stage 6 - 167.7km, Benalmádena - Cumbres Verdes (La Zubia)
Today was the first climbing challenge for the GC riders with the stage passing through Granada and finishing up a climb near Sierra Nevada.
It was inevitable that Michael was going to loose the leaders jersey today, so our focus switched to our Colombian climber Esteban and his assault on the GC Classification. It was my job to cover the breakaways early on as I was keen to get up the road. I was in a few promising moves but eventually only two guys got away, so I was kind of happy I wasn't there as it would have been a very long and hot day with only one other guy to share the load.
After the breakaway gained nearly a 15min advantage Garmin decided to commit their men to up the pace and attempt to bring the breakaway back. They rode for most of the day and slowly managed to bring down the time gap.
Our team plan was for all of us to get organised together and hit the front just before coming into the town of Granada. Every time we go through there, there is always a lot of fighting for position as it comes just before the beginning of the climb.
I pulled all the boys to the front and did a turn as we were about to hit the town with 15km to go. The rest of the boys did a great job pulling on the front and getting Esteban in the best position possible at the foot of the climb, which he started right there in the top 10.
It was then all up to our little Colombian who did a great job hanging with the favourites on the 4.5km climb at 10%. It was only in the last 500m when the likes of Valverde, Froome, and Contador made their dash for the line that he was distanced. Esteban came in just behind in 7th place and is now 5th overall at 41sec from Valverde who is the new leader. A great ride for his first test on the climbs with the big boys and we hope he can continue in the same fashion in the testing stages to come
Stage 5 - 180km, Priego de Cordoba - Ronda
Today was a really long day. We left the hotel at 10am for a 2 hour pre-race transfer to the start, then a 5.5hr stage and the another 2.5 hour drive to the next hotel arriving after 8.30pm.
It's was a slightly less difficult stage today with only one Cat. 3 climb coming towards the end of the stage. Heat was on the cards again and after speaking to my masseur post stage we went through 280 bidons today which gives you an idea of the temperatures we are dealing with.
The stage got off to a nice slow start with only two guys going for the breakaway. It remained like this for most of the stage until we were about to approach the climb. About 10km before the climb Tinkoff Saxo launched an attack in the cross wind and caught us a bit off guard. I was right with Michael and managed to regain enough bunch position to launch him into the front echelon. Unfortunately he was our only rider there which wasn't ideal but at least he made it.
The next group on the road then caught me and I found Esteban our climber and GC hope, who had been further caught out. I then helped the group close the gap back to the front and then launch him over as well. That was then end of my day then and although we only had two guys in the front group, they were our two key guys who couldn't lose time and they were there safely.
John Degenkolb won the stage for the 2nd day in a row after winning the sprint from what was left of the front group. Both Michael and Esteban finished safely in the group and maintained their GC position. Michael in the Red leaders jersey and Esteban 6th @ 26seconds.
Stage 4 - 164.7km, Mairena del Alcor - Córdoba
It was another scorcher of a day with the temperature climbing close to 40degrees.
Today we set out on defending the leaders jersey for Michael and then set him up for a reduced bunch sprint. The boys controlled the bunch very well at the start to ensure only a small breakaway got away, which they did successfully with only 4 guys getting away. We then enjoyed a rather cruisy day until the first climb after 130km while the 3 boys, Sam, Brett and Mitch, did a great job again keeping the break in-check.
Then we had a Cat. 3 and a Cat. 2 climb to tackle in the final 40km before the finish. The other teams took control from there with mainly Movistar,Sky and Tinkoff Saxo doing the work to keep their GC guys in good position. Both Ivan and I stuck with Michael up the Cat. 2 climb which topped at 25km to go. Then whilst going across the ridge before the descent we clawed our way back to the front of the reduced group so we had good position for when the road went down. It was very important to have good position there as it was a very fast winding descent which then opened up into cross wind at the bottom, so to avoid getting caught out by riders dropping the wheel position was imperative.
Katusha led us down the descent with Michael and I right behind them and once we got down onto the flat they had nearly closed the 30sec gap to the 3 riders who had attacked on the final climb which included Valverde and Adam from our team. Once we caught the 3 guys with about 9km to go I jumped straight on the front of the bunch and just rode a fast enough tempo to prevent the other teams from attacking.
I continued right up until 1.5km to go when the sprinter teams took over. It was then up to Michael to follow John Degenkolb from Giant who was always going to have a quick finish. Michael did a great job following John and managed to stick with him right up until 500m to go when they were about to start the sprint. Then unfortunately he got a bit swamped from behind and lost John's wheel as he opened up the sprint and could only manage third. Although he was a bit disappointed that he wasn't able to get another win, it was still a rather successful day keeping the Red leaders jersey and another podium for Michael which also put him into the lead for the Green jersey, points classification.
Stage 3 - 197.8 km, Cádiz - Arcos De La Frontera
Wow. What a day!!! Firstly it was stinking HOT. I don't know the exact max, but it was definitely over 40 degrees for a while there.
Today was a very interesting day because all the teams knew that Michael Matthews was capable of taking the leaders jersey if he won, so nobody was interested in co-operating to help chase back the breakaway. Movistar were also happy to give away the leaders jersey to someone in the breakaway and that way saving their men's legs for later in the Tour.
We were left with the hard decision to chase all day by ourselves or to just give it away and try another day. After a lot of discussion with Neil Stephens, our director, we decided to commit!! Sam, Mitch, and Brett rode unbelievably all day to keep the break in check over very hilly and challenging terrain. They managed to do this for most of the sweltering 210km stage.
After the huge work from those boys and some controlling later on by Cam and Adam it was up to Ivan and myself to set up Michael for the final which finished up a 1.3km climb. Ivan managed to take Michael and I to the key left hand turn with 5.2km to go and then it was up to me to make sure I positioned Michael at the front at 1.3km to go when the road kicked up. There were many tricky turns including a tight 1 lane bridge in that 4km but I managed to keep him right up there and going under the 2km to banner we were in 9th and 10th position. I then did one big final move and dropped Michael of at 4th wheel as they hit the climb.
Because we had used so many men all day to control the breakaway, Michael was always going to be left a little bit isolated in the final but once it went up hill it was just all about who had the legs. There were many attacks on the final climb, but in the closing meters Michael managed to follow Chris Froome, and Dan Martin in the final push to the line and then show his real power by coming past them with 100m to go to take the win!! A very impressive win by him and a great ride by the whole team, and now we have the Vuelta leaders jersey to defend.
Stage 2 - 174.4km, Algeciras - San Fernando
Today's stage ran along the Southern most coastal part of Spain from Algeciras to San Fernando. During the stage we passed through the town of Tarifa which is the southern tip of Spain and only 8km from Africa. It was quite a windy day and with the route as open and exposed as it was it threatened to be a major factor, but we had a tail wind for most of the day which didn't pose too many problems.
Our goal for today was to keep our GC man Esteban close to the front in the final to ensure he didn't loose time and also to try and set up Michael Matthews for the sprint finish. It was very open and exposed in the final coming through the town of Cadiz so we had our whole team together at the front in case there were any splits in the group from the wind.
The boys didn't get an ideal run in the finish and Michael was only able to manage 12th, but Esteban finished safely in the group and didn't loose any time.
Tomorrow is set to be a much better finish for Michael and if we can get him up he could potentially take the leaders jersey as well.
Stage 1 - 12.6km, Jerez de la Frontera - Jerez de la Frontera
Welcome to my Vuelta blog supported by BikeExchange. This is my 2nd Grand Tour of the year having just finished the Tour de France and we are down in Southern Spain in Jerez for the start. We have been here since Wednesday preparing for the Grand Depart as there is always many things to go through before the start of a three week tour.
Tonight's opening stage was a 12km team time trial through the streets of Jerez. It was a very tricky course with some 19 roundabout's to tackle. So tricky, there where various reports of teams crashing on their recon laps. Fortunately we weren't one of them!
Although we have a talented team here at the Vuelta it is not one built for the TTT so we didn't have high expectations for the first stage, but in OGE, as good practice, we always commit 100 percent none the less.
We got off to a pretty smooth start but then struggled on a couple of the early roundabout's as it's always difficult to get all 9 guys through cleanly and out the other side. Once we came through the first time check we were 7 seconds behind. But from then on we really found our groove and managed to pickup the speed significantly and thanks to some of the boys putting in some big peels we come in with the fastest time. There were still 13 teams to ride behind us so although we managed the fastest time we weren't expecting it to remain on top. Sure enough a short time later Cannondale came in and pipped us by 0.01 of a second. Unbelievable really!
From then on its was very surprising to see all the big teams coming in and falling short. First BMC, then Trek, Sky and OPQ. The last team off was Movistar who were always going to be tough to beat, and sure enough they came and bested Cannondale's time by a further 6 seconds. We were to end up 3rd for the day, though right up until the last team we were looking like we were going to lose by an unthinkable 0.01 of a second...
This podium result is one that really proves that, especially in TTT's, even if you don't have the biggest horse power team but you do all the right preparation and look to ride as technically well as possible you can still achieve a great result.
This has been a great way to kick off the Vuelta for OGE and it's going to be an exciting 3 weeks.