Homeboy Espaсa: The Big Stage Race!
Our Homeboy Espaсa Nathan signs in with a humbling tale of bravery, as he tackled his first significant stage race in southern Spain. So you want to be a pro? – you better consider the realities before quitting school and leaving for Europe…
It’s early April and two days have gone by since my most exhaustive racing experience to date. I could start by saying that I just survived my first Spanish stage race. Last week I took part in the Vuelta a la Provincia de Cordoba, which carries the highest UCI ranking for an amateur race and is attended by the top Spanish development/development squads. In comparison, my lowly Div III team was very lucky and received an invitation based on the fact that our team is from the same region as the race.
Life At The Bottom
Being that we’re a low budget team, things got off to a bad start as far as team moral was concerned. When we arrived at Pozoblanco on Tuesday evening we found out that due to our low budget we would not be staying in a hotel like the other teams, but in a hostal. In the end it wasn’t too bad, but with the other teams having multiple extra bikes, box vans and mechanics and on top of that real hotels, it deals quite a blow to your moral. There was also concern as to whether we would be receiving additional uniforms for the 4 days or not. When I talked to our 2nd DS, Antonio, he said that if things go well and we finish the race, there would be second uniforms for everyone. So basically we would have to earn our uniforms. Also, to top things off, if you finish outside the classification you have to figure out a way to get home because the team would not be paying for anyone who wasn’t racing. Wow, what a headfull to try and race with!
Stage 1: Rice & Toast
Wednesday’s stage started at 1pm. We were to do 120km route that started and ended in the same town, over rolling terrain with a CAT 3 climb. After breakfast, which was a horrible mandatory plate of rice and toast, we got all our stuff together and rolled out to the start. Today was first and last time I ever eat rice for breakfast, as I had a bad feeling it would come back to haunt me.
The official sign in, just like the pros use.
There was an official sign in (just like pro races) and then an official presentation of each team. I was in a daze and couldn’t believe how professional this race seemed. We finally lined up and did the typical neutral lap around the town and then the race was on. Twenty minutes in the race, I was afraid my Vuelta was over. I got caught in split with a group of about 15 due to high wind. We were fighting our way back, but it didn’t seem like anybody really cared that much if we made it. Eventually we did get back in and I made sure to tuck myself into the peloton and out of the wind.
The race then took on the typical style of racing here in Spain. It was high speed in the gutter while the stronger teams tried to launch riders off the front. We averaged 48km/hr during the first hour of the race. Finally a group got off the front and the peleton settled down a little. I was in the main group and feeling pretty good (apart from feeling slightly bloated from the rice), when for whatever reason I looked down at my front wheel and realized I was losing air. I put my arm up and got to the right side of the road. I kept riding along slowly as the peloton sped down the road and the caravan of cars came up, but to my dismay our car was nowhere to be found. 30 seconds or so passed, even though it felt like 5 minutes, and the 2nd Avila-Rojas car pulled up. Their mechanic jumped out and gave me a wheel. I got back on and then they pulled up beside me, I grabbed the car and they towed me up the back of the race caravan. Thanks Emilo!!
When I got there I found one of my teammates, Leo, with a rider from Ciclos Cabello. Apparently he had had some problems with his seat post and that’s why he was off the back. Our car finally came up and we motor paced until the last 10km or so when we started to run into stragglers that had gotten blown out as the pack picked up speed into town. With 3km to go we caught a group of about 5 or 6 riders and made it into town inside the time limit. Unfortunately I can’t say the same for all of my teammates. Each team started with 7 riders and 3 of ours got eliminated on the first day. Not a very good start considering there were tougher days ahead and a team time trial on the last day. The four of us now had to make it through together no matter what or it was over. To be honest I really had my doubts we could do it.
Stage 2 Palma del Rнo – Palma del Rнo 111.7km
Even though today’s stage was shorter, it had the potential to be equally difficult as the previous day. Yesterday after the stage we packed up and head to our hotel in Palma de Rнo for today’s stage. Following the same plan as the day before, we had breakfast (no rice) at 10:00am and then started to get ready for the race.
As I was coming down the steps from signing in, a guy about my age walked up and hesitantly asked if he could ask me a few questions. He said he was from ABC Cordoba (the local version of a national newspaper), he said that he wanted to do an interview with me because it seemed odd that there was an American racing in one of these teams in this race. He asked me about the differences between racing in the U.S. and racing here, how Armstrong’s success has effected cycling in the U.S. and so on. Later when he found his photographer he caught up with me to get a few pics. No @#$%! I’m going to be in the newspaper was all I could think!
1pm quickly rolled around and we were off. The route out of town was tough and we hit a small rise and the peleton put the hammer down. The tough part about today’s stage was the fact that 15km into the race we hit the first CAT 3 climb. It was about 5km long or so and much more difficult than yesterday’s climb. The separation came quickly on the first climb. I started well, but just couldn’t hold the group. Fortunately I wasn’t the only one. On one section of the climb one of the Diputacion De Leуn guys was trying to shift and I’m not sure what he did but his rear der suddenly flew off his bike and about 6 feet into the air. What an unlucky way to go out. I made it over the first climb alone. I had one teammate, Leo, just up the road in a group of 4 and I had my other two teammates, Lucas and Ricardo, behind me in a little larger group.
On the way down, I let the group behind come up to me. Almost as soon as we got down, we started the second categorized climb of the day. Once again a CAT 3 climb. We went up as a group, but it started to seem that the group wasn’t all the interested in pushing the pace. I don’t know if they didn’t know there was a group of 4 just ahead or not. I rode off the front of the group a little, trying to get them to up the pace. I figure I’m going to suffer either way, solo or in a group, when climbing so I might as well do it at a pace I’m comfortable with. There were the 3 of us, 2 Kelmes, a couple of Cabellos, a couple of Macarios, and couple of Cordobas in the group. We made it over the climb and just after we hit the bottom we caught Leo’s group. At this point, nothing really exciting happened. We started riding a good pace line and our group finished together. There was some confusion at the finish as to whether our 15 man group would be disqualified or not as we came in just outside of the time limit. This sparked an argument between our DS and the team, as we hurriedly packed the cars to head to the next hotel.
Stage 3: Meet Our New Teammate – The Car
Today’s stage is what the Spanish call the “Etapa Reina” or the queen stage. Nearly 135km with 3 categorized climbs, two CAT 3ґs and a CAT 2. Oh, and the first climb is at 20km into the race. I woke up feeling really tired. I could tell it wasn’t going to be a good day. Last night we decided to work a new strategy for today as all four of us had to make it out of this stage still in the race to be able to take part in the team time trial the next day. We registered both of our cars for the race caravan.
Today would be the day that the cars became our 5th and 6th riders. I’m not a big fan of using the team car because I still see it as cheating. However, here in Spain the team car is viewed as sacred piece of equipment. Everyone uses the car at any chance they get, but I still just don’t like it. Oh well, my gentlemen’s idea of racing went out the window today. The stage didn’t have a single flat kilometer and in fact even the start was slightly up hill. Once again we started really fast and I tried to just hide in the peleton. That worked for a while, but as soon as we really got going the pack strung out and rode in the gutter the whole way to first climb.
Today’s climbs were much more difficult that the previous days even though two of them were still considered CAT 3. We hit the first climb and things started to separate right away. I hung with Leo and Lucas for as long as I could but I just had no power what so ever. I found myself going slower and slower until I finally found a rhythm. It turns out that even if you’re a good climber back in the U.S., compared to these guys your crawl up the hills. I wasn’t the only one though so I wasn’t too worried yet. As the caravan of cars started to come up I picked up my pace a little so that at the right moment I could jump in line and draft a little. How much drafting you can do up hill I’m not really sure, but psychologically it helped as the cars gave me a real and close objective.
I finally made it over the top, with a couple of riders spaced out in front and behind me. Now I had to descend which I wasn’t a big fan of before and since my crash a couple of weeks ago, I like it even less. It was a tough descent for me as it has long open sections followed by really tight corners. Ricardo and two or three riders caught me on the descent. We took off down the road in pursuit of the group that had Leo and Lucas. There were about 4 of us together and we started drafting the car in order to make up time. We finally caught the next group, however at a really bad moment. One of the Cordobas was lying in the corner screaming and Lucas was in the middle of the road trying to put his chain back on. He got his chain on and got into the group.
Now it was the 4 of us plus a Cordoba, a Cabello, and a Kelme. We started to ride together and were using our team cars as much as possible. Even to the point where we would grab a hold of the car with 2 riders on each side. The second Ciclos Cabello car came up and started helping in the same way. Our group went over the CAT 2 climb together, using the cars as much as possible. As we got down the other side, I could see across the very small valley a group of at least 20 riders. I couldn’t believe we had made up that much time. We started working again with the new goal of getting across to that group. We finally made it and you could tell that everyone in this group was absolutely beat. We kept a decent pace, but nobody really pushed it because we still had another climb to do and we figured there was no way they would eliminate a 30 man group. The group had multiple riders from almost every team in the race. We tackled the last climb in good spirits, sharing our food with anyone who needed that extra bit of energy to make it home, and we finally rolled in well off the pace of the lead group.
Today’s stage was won by a rider from Caja Rural. We packed up and headed back to the same hotel. After showering and cleaning our own bikes (I thought we had a mechanic for that?) we took an easy walk around town to by sugar food and of course to look for a copy of the newspaper. Sure enough I made the press even though the article embarrassed me as the guy had taken a lot of journalistic freedom when writing it and made me out to be much more than I am. Damn journalists!
The survivors. The upside is that things can only get better for Nathan and his teammates!
Stage 4 Cordoba-Cordoba 20.7km TTT
Well, we made it. I’m not sure how, but the four of us some how pulled it off and survived the previous three days. All that was left was the 20km team time trial. We got up early today in order to go and preride the course, as we were the first team to start, being the last place team. As we were out on the course presiding on our regular road bikes, without aero bars, the big teams were at the start prepping their time trial bikes. The difference in budgets was easily seen again today.
30 seconds, 10 seconds, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, go! We started off down the first stretch. Things were going ok, although it was a tricky course with traffic circles and a number of corners in the first part. Then it was out of town on a straight road with a tailwind. We did pretty good with our pace line considering the first time we practiced together was this morning in our pre ride. As we came around the corner to head back to the finish we were smacked in the face by a strong headwind. To make matters worse, we had a small climb on the way back and this is where any form we had before went out the window. We struggled our way through the remaining 7km and finished in 29’56”. With only 4 riders and without aero bars we lost almost 4 minutes to the winners, a full 7 man squad on TT bikes. Oh yeah, today’s stage was broadcast live on TV. Not bad for 4 days, get in the newspaper and on TV.
We did it, the 4 of us made it through the entire Vuelta. It was quite a struggle physically and mentally and hopefully I’m a stronger rider now because of it. I changed, grabbed my stuff and headed off to the train station to go home to Sevilla. For the next 2 days I didn’t even want to look at my bike, let alone think of riding.
Nathan Deibert is a 27 year old, young American living in Sevilla, Spain, riding for the Campos Lorca Elite-Sub23 cycling team, and living a dream every day.
Gratuitous Sponsor Plug Thanks to:
Campos Lorca-Miсa Car: My new team sponsors. Campos Lorca is a great local bike shop in Mбlaga, Spain.
Mike Kuhn: My coach for the last 3 years and counting. If you’re looking for a great coach in the central PA area or around the world, send him an email: [email protected],
or take a look at the website: www.endurancenetwork.com
Holmes Cycling and Fitness: The best bike shop in all of central PA. They’ve got everything you need from serious race equipment to great recreational equipment. Check them out at: www.holmescycling.com
My Parents: for never telling me I was crazy through all the years of chasing this dream.