La Vuelta Diaries: Abi Smith

 

Eight days of hard Spanish racing has come to an end, and oh boy is it time to go home and recover! Such an incredible experience, and leaving with some great moments and also some thoughts to work on which is exciting, and will come with time and hard work of course. Each day I kept a short record of things that happened of note, to give you all a little insight into each day of the race – both overall but also from the perspective of one of the ‘helper’ riders in the race – what’s on camera is only the tip of the iceberg, so here’s some of the stuff you don’t get to see. Enjoy! 

 

Day 1 – The TTT

‘My first ever Team Time Trial, and what a place to do it – starting and finishing in Valencia city centre. I took us through the opening cobbled corners, and when we got out onto the straight road we worked really well together as a team. We crossed the line in 9th place, only 17 seconds back.’

  • Moment of the day: Something not always considered is the difficulties of putting long hair in a TT helmet – expert team hair styling done by Rachele to make sure no aero gains were lost. 

 

 

Day 2 – The not-sprint-stage

‘ Breakaway went pretty early – for the next 1.5hrs it was my job to sit on the front, keep our team safe and control the pace to keep the break at that 2-3 minute gap. Leading into the climb the pace was ramped up, the breakaway reeled in and splits opened on the hill. I found myself distanced after doing a lot of work early on, and so my day was over from there. A front group worked hard to keep their gap after the descent and nearly stayed away to the finish. They were caught but some crashes in front denied Charlotte the opportunity for a good sprint.’

  • Moment of the day: Full lead out into the climb, all 7 of us on the right positioned behind another team. They had a bottle point coming up, one of the riders (I will not mention who) goes to take the first bottle – drops it. Goes for the second bottle – also drops it, rolls into the bunch, specifically under my front wheel. I have no idea how but I managed to hold the bike upright after a scary moment at a 45o angle. Note to self: do not follow said team / rider again. 

 

Cor Vos / Team dsm–firmenich PostNL

 

Day 3 – The riding dead 

‘I was completely fried today but not sure I was the only one! Low energy and no legs, sometimes it happens. Not a good day to have it on a hard course like that, pretty constant on the pedals. The stage started hard uphill with one rider away all day, groups split but came back together. Another hard climb split the bunch again and I helped ride our sprinter Charlotte back. Flat run into the finish, but being pretty cooked I had to leave it up to the others in the last 5km to finish it off and rolled in behind. We got 2nd , 7th and best team on the day which is pretty awesome and a great day overall for the team.’

  • Moment of the day: When you are breathing so hard that you accidentally in and exhale a rice cake, so rice grains come out of your nose for the next hour. Some dignity was lost. 

Day 4 – The echelons saga (volume 1)

‘Legs felt a bit better today, luckily, as it was time for the echelons. Full cross-tailwind day, got myself in a good position to start but was totally crazy in the swirl of the ‘washing machine’. Groups started to split in the wind and I think there must have been about nine or ten echelons at one point – it was pretty mental. I was in the fourth but made it back into the main second bunch on the road. The wind continued though and groups continued to split, I stayed with our sprint train group in case it all came back together, but it was not to be today. A hard slog in the wind home ensued, let’s just say we were glad the day was over.’

  • Moment of the day: Juliette getting a puncture with 5km to go but still managing to sprint to a top 10 place on the stage. 

 

Day 5 – The mountains begin

‘Lots of attacks, I tried a few times to get in the break but the bunch wouldn’t let anything go at all. A small crash for three of us in the team meant some chasing back on through the convoy after changing bikes and straightening some bent handlebars. Good positioning from us all into the longer climb, I couldn’t quite hang on to the top with the front so again found myself the next group on the road. I rode super easy up the steep finish climb, taking in the views and saving the energy for the coming days. 

  • Moment of the day: Having a team chef at races is the best – especially when it’s pancakes for breakfast!

 

Day 6 – The long one 

‘Legs starting to feel good now, riding into each day more and more. My job today was to cover any attacks or make sure I was in the important ones. Unfortunately, the attacking went on for about 3 hours as it took a long time for a break to actually stick, which meant a lot of ‘jumping’ for me and an annoying cross headwind made it slow progress. Finally we got to the lead out into the climb, which I helped with and after that it was up to the climbers to do their thing and I found myself a group to ride up to the top with.’

  • Moment of the day: Riding up the final climb, listening to the DS on the radio about what’s going on at the front of the race, silently cheering us on from behind!

 

Cor Vos / Team dsm–firmenich PostNL

 

Day 7 – The echelons saga (volume 2)

‘ We weren’t sure what to expect today, in the end another round of putting it (and for some of us being) in the gutter. I did better this time by getting into the second echelon straight away – Movistar pulled our group but the front one stayed away again. A steep 600m finish in a town saw a day for the puncheurs and one more day to see what we could do on GC. 

  • Moment of the day: When water starts leaking from the ceiling of your hotel room 11pm at night…

 

 

Day 8 – The doomed breakaway  

‘ FINALLY! It was super hard but I made it into the breakaway of the day. The day consisted of two 45 minute climbs, finishing up at a ski resort. Got a little way up the first long climb, before I had to let go of the break as the climbers there were setting a tempo just above my limit. When the bunch caught me I could help the girls and do a few minutes on the front at a hard pace to help reduce the bunch further, before exploding backwards and crawling along for a little bit. Found my pace with the next group and spent the rest of the stage with them, making my way up through the mountains. At the front Juliette also gave her all to get 4th on GC, and all seven of our team completed the tour with a bag of multiple top 10s to boot –  a good day to end on for all.  

  • Moment of the day: Just when you thought you’d survived the entire Vuelta without any major mishaps, a very large cow decides to wander out into the road in front of you whilst travelling 70kmph on the final mountain descent. To ‘send it’ as quickly as possible past the cow was the only option. Very thankfully for both, collision avoided. 
  • Honourable mention: Pre-race full team bus karaoke at 10:30 in the morning – just the morale you need for the final day. 

 

Cor Vos / Team dsm–firmenich PostNL

 

So now back to the UK and time for some training before the next block of races begin. Keep up to date with what I’m getting up to over on Instagram @abijesmith @abijesmith.art

Thanks for reading!

Abi

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