Nick Schultz diary: Reflecting on the first week of my first Grand Tour
Australian Nick Schultz (Cara Rural-Seguros) is currently riding the first Grand Tour of his career — the Vuelta a España. Nick checked in with CyclingTips before the race and now, with nine stages complete, Nick is back with his perspective on the first ‘week’ of the Spanish Grand Tour.
Well, here we are. Day 10: the first rest day. What an experience so far! A teams time trial and eight brutal stages mean that this rest day is well earned and very much needed.
For the rest day, we are staying on the east coast in Alicante. It’s currently the mid afternoon and the team and I have just finished lunch after a very steady 25km roll, including a lengthy coffee stop. From what I hear, everybody responds differently to rest days during Grand Tours and often this means different approaches for different riders. I very much enjoyed the relaxed approach that our team took.
Here is a quick day-by-day recap of the Vuelta so far:
Stage 1 (TTT): The TTT was held in Nimes, France. Odd isn’t it? The Tour of Spain starting in France? This seems to be becoming more and more common, however, and is a good tactic to globalise the sport.
The parcours was short (14km), technical and quite spectacular. There were constant twists and turns with the inclusion of a passage through the ancient Nimes Arena. With our team not being a big powerhouse in such an event, the objective was to keep everybody pretty much together and stay safe. At the finish line, it was mission complete.
Stage 2: What could have been one of the most relaxed stages of this Vuelta, due to its dead flat parcours, turned into an incredibly stressful day. Strong winds were on the cards, and given they were blowing in a direction favourable to crosswinds, that meant one thing: stress. There were plenty of crashes and a lot of near-misses but for the most part the big favourites for the race got through unscathed with limited time gaps among them.
Stage 3: What sort of Vuelta would it be if there wasn’t a mountain stage in the first few days?! Sticking to tradition, the race headed for the high mountains on stage 3, crossing the borders of Spain and then Andorra. Kilometre 0 was at the bottom of a long mountain pass and I would say the majority of the peloton was happy when the early break (EB) established itself very quickly.
With two notable climbers on our team (Jaime Roson & Sergio Pardilla), we wanted to position them as well as possible coming into the penultimate climb. We did that and they finished respectably (33rd and 24th).
Stage 4: A long, mostly downhill stage from Andorra to the Spanish coastal town of Tarragona. My girlfriend was coming to visit me at the end of this stage and she told me she had baked some muffins. I was pretty excited for the stage knowing that I would have two of my favourite things to look forward to at the finish line.
With that excitement, I had extra motivation and made the day’s EB. To be honest, it was a savage day to be up the road. It was a block headwind and there were only five of us, including my teammate Diego Rubio who is a breakaway machine. The peloton let us dangle out the front but things were always going to be complicated when QuickStep started riding the front to ensure a sprint for Matteo Trentin.
A gradual climb after 135km saw an attack from the Cofidis rider in the breakaway with Diego promptly responding. This was my ticket back to the peloton where I got to enjoy a bit of time in the wheels. Diego’s efforts unfortunately came to an end inside 10km to go, but he had earned himself the day’s most combative rider award which was a big bonus for the team.
Stage 5: With some sore legs from the previous day’s efforts I was pretty nervous about this one. An up-and-down day with a typically brutal hilltop finish was on the cards. My wish for a controlled day came true and I was able to take it easy up the final climb and soak up the atmosphere from the enthusiastic crowds.
Stage 6: One of the hardest bike races I have ever done. Full-gas from start to finish; this stage blew my mind. I don’t remember the peloton being in anything but single file for more than two minutes on this day. To top things off, I had a fall while returning to the peloton after a flat tyre. The fall wasn’t so bad, but it was a knock regardless. I was happy to see the end of this day as was the majority of the peloton.
At this point, I will mention that our team managed to infiltrate the breakaway on every stage so far. It is the main objective for our team and pleases the sponsors and supporters who follow.
Stage 7: The breakaway went a little bit quicker after the shenanigans of the prior stage had worn out quite a few of the protagonists. A large group took a sizeable gap and Sky were happy to see this one go to the line. That meant a whole lot of cheering for those of us back in the peloton as things were a little bit more relaxed.
When I say relaxed, I don’t mean easy. It was still a 200km day with quite a lot of elevation. Rafa Reis from our team made the move which presented an opportunity for a quality result on the stage. Unfortunately, during the closing kilometres of the stage, Rafa had an encounter with a race motorbike, ending his chances and hopes of a high finish. Regardless, it was a stellar performance and he finished 14th.
Stage 8: What we were all scared of: missing the break. Yep, we missed it. It may sometimes appear easy to get up the road, but it certainly isn’t. It requires a lot of persistence and some strong legs to back that up. Sometimes it can take an hour for the break to form, or it can take 30 seconds. This was a day where the battle was on and the guys who made the break had superior legs.
It was another undulating day with the inclusion of a super steep climb followed by a 3km descent into the finish. Another day of scorching temperatures meant that we were happy to tick this one off.
Stage 9: The day before the rest day. I feel as if a lot of guys had that in the back on their minds on the start line. That was quickly reflected in the general motivation for those trying to slip up the road. It took a while for the move to establish itself, but our team redeemed itself with two guys sneaking into the move.
With the sad news of Cannondale’s uncertain future they were out to show themselves. They weren’t letting the break get too far away and held them on a tight leash with the hope of setting things up for their man Michael Woods on the steep hilltop finish that loomed. Credit to them — they almost delivered Michael to the win on what was a great ride under such circumstances.
I’ll leave it there and put my head down for a siesta. I’m certain I need it.