Image: © TDW Sport
On paper, the Amgen Tour of California was not a race that suited me. Touted as the 'hardest edition ever', almost every stage had a large amount of climbing and, well, gravity is no friend of mine. In reality, the Tour of California was definitely not a race for me. Consequently, my job for the week was to support the team's sprinters and GC rider as best I could, fetching bottles and moving them around the bunch if needed. And of course, survive.
Fortunately, I did not suffer alone. With only two stages that ended in a bunch gallop, many sprinters also had to suffer. The problem for them was that those sprint stages were at opposite ends of the tour: the first and last stages. Separated by six stages of unpleasantness that had to be endured just to get another opportunity to do what they do best.
In Stage 1, our sprinter had a fantastic finish and managed to beat some of the world's best to take fifth place. Spirits were high on the bus afterward, and there was already talk of 'next time'. However, 'next time' was a long way away.
For the next six stages, I was not much use in the mountains and, to be honest, it was as much a mental battle as a physical one. When you are not having any impact on the race and unable to support your teammates, you begin to question the point of going through such an ordeal to get the end. Each day, I found my way to grupetto and was happy just to get to the finish line, each time a day closer to that final flat stage.
By the time the final stage came around, the field has at least 20 riders fewer than the Stage 1, but our sprinters (and me) had suffered through the week and were ready to take their chances on Stage 8. The previous seven stages had taken their toll. We were tired, very tired, but no one wanted their efforts to be in vain.
The final stage finished with three laps of a 3-km street circuit, and it was going to be fast. The goal was to make sure our sprinters had good position coming into the final laps to give them the best chance contesting the finale. Mark Cavendish’s (who also suffered through the tour to get to this stage) Dimension Data team were controlling the front with six km to go when a crash on a corner split the field. Unfortunately, our sprinters were caught up in the incident and never regained position to fight for the finish.
In the end, Cavendish took the win, redeeming his week of suffering, while many others, including our sprinters, were left to question the purpose of the last seven days. I crossed the line tired, relieved and surprised that I made it to the end. If it is true when they say that suffering builds character, then my character is definitely maxed-out at the moment.