It was the morning of the 5th stage of the Vuelta Leon and I could barely get out of bed. I was rundown and exhausted from a big week of racing. At the breakfast table I could see everyone was feeling the same, a hard week had left the team in a state. The early start didn’t help as we were late getting to bed after celebrating Oscar Cabedo’s win on the queen stage the day before. Little was said as me and my roommate packed our things before we left the hotel. For several reasons, the week at the Vuelta and the month leading up to the race had worn me down. I was ready to get the final stage done and have a break from racing.
At the Vuelta Segovia a month earlier, I had fallen ill on the first stage. I struggled to make the time limit and barely slept the following night. I had a temperature and stomach issues making the following two stages hell. I thought it may have been caused by something I ate so I pushed on with the race hoping the symptoms would pass. On the second day I managed to hold onto the peloton on the climb of Navalcerrada but ended up in the last group by the time I got over Navalfria. On the third and final stage I was determined to finish and earn my spot in the next race, the Vuelta Leon. The race was split by crosswinds but I managed to do my bit to help bring back a dangerous breakaway late on meaning we managed to keep 6th and 7th on GC with Biel Pons and Victor Hernandez respectively.
Once I had finished the Vuelta Segovia, I got a chance to speak to the team director in the car on the way back to Madrid. He was pleased with my attitude and told me I’d be riding the Vuelta Leon. We agreed I needed a few days off to recover before beginning training again.
Between Segovia and Leon I had two weeks without a race. I took a few days off and made the most of the down time by building up my winter training bike and going to the library to study for my driving test. I also went for a blood test, something we are advised to do by the team if we feel run down. Once I started training again, I found a race in the town of Antzuola in the Basque Country on the 9th of July which I planned to use as part of my training block to get me ready for the Vuelta Leon.
I went to Antzuola having trained hard the previous few days, this meant I was going to race slightly fatigued, allowing me to simulate the demands of the upcoming Vuelta Leon. I raced without pressure and enjoyed it. I caught up with friends and old teammates before the start and felt strong by the time we hit the first climb of Deskarga after an hour and a half of racing.
I had managed to make the front split on Deskarga but the race came back together through the town of Legazpi meaning we would hit the final climb of Asensio in a bunch of 80 or so. A few attacks went and small groups joined up as the bunch cruised along the valley towards Bergara, the town where Asensio starts. I didn’t follow any attacks: having raced up it before in this season, I knew Asensio was hard enough to prevent any small breakaways from making it to the finish. My laid-back approach caused me to read the situation badly. Smaller breaks joined together and before I knew it a group of 30 riders had formed with one or two of the pre-race favourites. By the time I realised my mistake, the group had an advantage of a minute and a half.
The Basque team, Ampo, had failed to put a rider in the group. To my relief, Ampo got on the front and began to control the gap. When we hit Asensio we could see the front group, they had around 30 seconds advantage. On the steepest part of the climb a rider attacked to get across, he took 5 others with him. I couldn’t follow. I ended up getting over the climb in the second group, who I rode with to the finish and came in 22nd. I knew I could have raced better tactically but I was pleased to be back to feeling good on the bike.
The morning after Antzoula I went to pick up my blood test results. I found my iron levels were very low, the doctor prescribed me some supplements. Having felt good in the race, I thought little of it. I began taking the supplements and continued training as planned.
The Vuelta Leon started with a 5km prologue in the town of La Baneza. I got the train to Madrid where I met with the team, then it was 4 hours in the car to Leon. In order to allow teams time to travel to the race and avoid paying for lunch, the organisers had made it a nocturne. This meant the first rider started at 10pm and with 180 riders, the stage wouldn’t be over till midnight. My start time was 11:30, so after an early start and 8 hours of travelling, I was ready to get it over with. I went deep and got round, I had come outside of the top 100 but I was just glad it was over.
Our plan for the week was built around Oscar Cabedo. The 4th stage finished up the climb of Ancares which suited Oscar so we were told to get him there in the best shape possible. After the prologue and two hard days of climbing the GC saw 7 riders within a minute of the lead. Oscar was 6th, 22 seconds down on the leader so going into the Queen Stage the situation was looking good for us.
After the first day of racing I could tell I was not going well. Having been on bottle duty and following early breakaways, the team weren’t surprised to see me coming to the finish in the final group each day. I would do my job then when the race got hard in the last 40km, I’d find a group and take it easy to the finish. To my team director in the car behind, my absence from the front of the race was seen as an indication of how hard I must’ve worked for the team. So as the car passed me each of the first couple of road stages, I would be passed a cold can of coke and praised for my efforts.
I didn’t tell the team about how I was feeling, instead I got in the routine of checking out in the last hour of each stage. I hoped I would find my legs in time to help Cabedo on the Queen Stage, until then I thought I’d blag my way through the week. By the third evening of the race I began to worry, even if the team hadn’t noticed, I needed to work out why I was not performing.
I thought about my blood test and began to research what being low on iron actually means. I had been taking the iron supplements for 5 days so I thought my levels would be back to normal but I learned it can take up to 3 months for supplements to take effect. I read about how crucial iron is to transporting oxygen in the blood and how a lack of it can cause serious problems. I wasn’t anemic, so I had no reason to worry about my general health, but there was no question it was affecting my performance.
When the Queen Stage came around on Friday afternoon, I was dropped on the first climb. For me the plan was out the window, I was not going to be able to set the pace on the front of the bunch to set up Cabedo. 10km into the race I drafted in the line of cars as we went over a 3rd category climb, my race had become about survival.
I managed to get back into the peloton and do the basic jobs like position the team in the bunch and go back for water, but with 60km to go I was in the back group. Luckily for the team they did the business, making the race hard over the second to last climb and Cabedo took our first big win of the season.
After the Vuelta Leon I found myself having a similar conversation to the team director to 3 weeks previous in Segovia. Once again, I was not up the standard expected. I told him about my situation and reminded him that I had been ill in Segovia. He pointed out that perhaps the two were linked, I had not rested enough after Segovia. I had rushed back into training, even having raced in the Basque Country. This had meant I had got run down which was shown in my blood test this had prevented me from being able to perform in Leon. He insisted I had a bigger break this time and be more cautious with the training. He was right.
So after a month without racing, this week I am back at it. I have 4 races planned in the Basque Country. I have had a chance to rest and do some quality training, so I am confident I can end the season on a positive note. Look out for any news in my next post.
Endika Oregi: https://www.flickr.com/photos/139223710@N02/albums
Leon Stage 1:
Leon Stage 2:
Leon Stage 3:
Leon Stage 4:
Leon Stage 5: