Tour d’Azerbaijan UCI 2.1
I was heading to the Tour of Azerbaijan after a very ordinary Giro del Trentino. The combination of crashing, being sick and travelling is difficult to deal with when you have another race coming up soon. After returning back to Girona, I had about a week before departing for Azerbaijan. How many days off the bike should you have to become healthy again? How many hours should you train? How much intensity should you do? Lots of people say you can use the form gained from racing to remain fit for the next race, and in between should be about maintenance. But if you creep around as badly as I did in Trentino, I’m not quite sure this principle applies. It’s a difficult balancing act, and I’m sure with the more racing you do, the better you are at it.
In saying this, I didn’t really do any intensity at all between Trentino and Azerbaijan. I took a couple of days off to recovery, and then spent the majority of the time doing endurance training. I tried to keep my heart rate somewhere in ‘zone 2’ (for me, this is somewhere between 120-150 beats per minute) for the majority of the training. I usually try to keep most of my training in this zone actually, except for when doing specific high intensity interval training (HIIT), or easier recovery rides. So basically whilst flying off to Azerbaijan I hadn’t really done any proper efforts and felt a little apprehensive about where my form was at.
Azerbaijan was a UCI 2.1 five day tour. The first stage a big bunch sprint, and the first real general classification selection happened on the stage two. There was a cat 1 climb with about 30km remaining, and over the top of this there was a group of about 12. I was in this group, and felt pretty good up the climb… but it was a bit too far out to think about attacking, and Nathan Earle was just off the back of this group. Descending the other side however, I had a rear wheel puncture and had to get a neutral spare. Puncturing at such high speeds can be dangerous, but fortunately there weren’t any sharp corners and I managed to get around a couple of bends whilst reducing my speed to a stop. Being a rear wheel meant the change was slow, and I stood on the side of the road watching more and more riders come past, who had previously been dropped up the climb. I later heard that some of these guys made contact with the front of the race, as did Nathan Earle. I would never see the front of the race again, and finished +2minutes behind. It was frustrating, but that’s bike racing. The positive was that I knew I felt good, and my heart rate was back in the high 190’s. (It barely got into the 180’s at Trentino)
Stage 4 was the next climbing stage which would most likely see who was going to win the tour. It was a shorter stage, being 115km long and with lots of hills, it was always going to be a pretty fast and hard stage. With about 35km to go in the stage, we climbed a short 3.8km section averaging close to 8% which got rid of 95% of the peloton. I think there were 16 riders left over the top of this climb. I made it over this climb in good position and still feeling good, but once we hit the final climb I actually started feeling worse. It was pretty windy, so we were basically riding in the gutter and the climb wasn’t overly steep. In fact, the entire 20km strava segment averaged only 3%. However, as we got further into the climb and the gradients became steeper, I started feeling better and there was more cat and mousing happening at the front. A couple of riders were already off the front who had attacked earlier, and I picked a moment when the road was steeper to try and bridge across.
Fortunately, I made contact with the leading 3 riders just over the top of the summit, with the final 2km’s being downhill or flat. Having a chance to win the stage now became possible, and it was exciting. But then Rinaldo Nocentini and Luca Wackerman had a discussion, and immediately after Rinaldo attacked and Luca sat up. The third rider, Nikita Stalnovn had been solo earlier, and I didn’t think he was going to chase it back. In hindsight, I needed to be more willing to lose the race at this point, than to make sure Rinaldo wasn’t riding away for his own stage victory. I brought him back, giving Wackerman a free ride. My next mistake was leading out early, with about 300m to go. I ended up finishing 5th on the stage, as another rider made it Markus Eibegger managed to pass me on the line. Overall, it wasn’t a disappointing result, and I was happy to be there contesting the stage win. You don’t get too many opportunities like this, so knowing what the best thing to do in the situation can be difficult. The most important thing is gaining this experience, and using it for next time in similar scenarios.
With my stage 2 mechanical, I was still nowhere on the general classification, sitting 14th, and would lose more time on the final stage 5 racing around the city of Baku thanks to some cobble climb, some crashes, and various splits throughout the stage. Overall it wasn’t so bad, and I was glad to be leaving the Tour of Azerbaijan feeling good, without having lost any skin or suffering from being sick. I was looking forward to racing in the Tour of Iran, which would have some bigger, steeper climbs probably more suited to my style of riding. Unfortunately, I had to miss this race due to my plans of travelling onwards to America. (You can no longer travel to America after visiting Iran without having a Visa, and I had planned to travel using the Visa Waiver program). The decision was made to miss Iran, rather than having complications with entering the States.
So here I am back in Boulder Colorado! This means bagels are back on the menu, along with a reduced power output whilst training thanks to the altitude. I’m staying with the same amazing family who hosted me last year, and everything feels like home again which is refreshing. I have a little break in racing, so it will be the first time since leaving Australia that I can have some time off the bike to rest and recovery, and then get a really good training block in preparation for the Tour of Austria, and the Tour of Portugal. I’m keeping track of quite a few metrics whilst living in altitude. I went to get some blood tests done to get some baseline values, and monitor things such as iron, which is impacted by living at altitude.
With this time, I plan to write a little bit more about lifestyle and travel pieces; including living in Girona, spending time in Italy, and living out of a suitcase. If you have any specific questions regarding the above, feel free to get in touch and I’ll try to address it in the next post!
Thanks always for reading,