Editor’s note: Instead of a traditional rider diary, this month Team RadioShack’s Ben King is sharing his race report from the Tour of Austria, which wrapped up Sunday. (Related: Final overall results | Ben’s previous diaries)
After the U.S. professional championships, I took a protocol mid-season rest from the bike. I abandoned adventurous vacation plans for the couch where my body shut down. I felt so terrible in the first week of training that I worried about my next race, Tour of Austria. In Lucca, Italy, I tackled the mega mountains and rolled out the miles. Recovering slower than normal, I struggled to beat fatigue in time to test my form before the race. Clueless, without expectation, and maybe too fresh, the immense, gondola-yoked terrain looked unforgiving out our bus window.
Stage 1: 140 km
Two climbs in the first 40 km initiated the lactic burn. Four riders broke away. We wiped out their advantage before a sprint finish. G4 (Geoffroy Lequatre) asked me to pull for the last 40 km. A RadioShack presence at the front would earn us and our sprinter, Robbie Hunter, respect in the sprint. I rotated until 10 km to go, catching the four-man breakaway. Shoulder butting, jaw clenching, position jockeying, our team kept Robbie in position. Trying not to touch my brakes, I surfed the wave of riders into the uphill finish. Team Sky lit it up. I could see Robbie seated in fourth position. Then he lunged, thrashed his bars back and forth, and saluted in victory. I pumped my fist from a few positions back.
Stage 2: 170 km
Ted “No Relation” King, a seasoned professional, called it the hardest climb he ever did, The Kitzbuheler Horn. 8 km averaging 13 percent and pitching up to 23 percent in the last km. For my Charlottesville readers, that’s five miles of Jarmans Gap. Robbie, a sprinter stood no chance, so we went on the offensive. When a Saxo Bank rider attacked, I jumped to his wheel. I glanced behind to check our advantage. At that moment he swung across the road into my front wheel. At 50kph my rump smacked the asphalt. I skidded to a stop, shocked and scared. At once I went to straddle my bike and chase. But with torn shorts, skin, and throbbing tailbone, I stood awkward like an abused dog.
I collected myself enough to ride, but the spokes in my front wheel had been shredded by the other rider’s rear derailleur. My seat had twisted to the right, so I held onto the car mirror at 80kph while the mechanic adjusted my seat and derailleur. I went from our car to the race medic, who sprayed my shredded hiny with antiseptic and shoved me back into the pack. I began to recover drafting at the back while attacks flew off the front.
I crawled up the Kitzbuheler Horn and watched my Lucca roommate, Chris Butler, in the switchbacks above me fighting through masses of sprinters to join the climbers up front. The mosquito-like climber buzzed into sixth place. Beware of the day he learns to position himself in the flats.
Stage 3: 180 km
Rather than a massive finishing climb, we railed up giant mountains all day. I overcame immense suffering to stay in the surprisingly large main group. Power sensors displayed alarming numbers. Tim Roe, Taylor Phinney, Jesse Sergent, and I — all former Trek-Livestrong riders and new to the pro peloton — exchanged dumbfound expressions. The leaders dropped me on a climb 10 km from the finish. G4 finished sixth.
Stage 4: 200 km
I clung to the first group on the Großglockner, a 15km Giro d’Italia giant, gaining 2,000 meters elevation. With 7km to go, somebody attacked. I continued to ride on my limit one minute behind the lead group of 40. Some riders who had dropped from the lead group held onto their team cars. One team’s car told me to grab on. Exasperated I said, “no.”
Assuming an aerodynamic “super-tuck,” I corkscrewed down the mountain at frightening speed and regained the lead group with 100 km to go.
On the last climb, I dropped on the final 15 percent 3km. When my director, Jose Asevedo, passed, he said, “Rast is coming. Stay with him. You can go easy now.” Again I saw dropped riders fling off their cars and go on to finish in the lead group of 40. Rast and I cruised down to the finish in a small group.
Stage 5: 160 km
Rast bridged alone to the four-man breakaway on a 1 km climb with power that blew my mind and legs. His breakaway survived to the finish and he placed fourth. I feel awful. Allergies from late-blooming Austrian flora give me a sore throat and itching eyes, and a three-hour bus ride after the race made a late night.
Stage 6: 160 km
My sore throat worsened overnight and night sweats kept me awake. Distressed I told the doctor and director. How hard should I push? A ferocious wind dashed our hopes for an easier flat stage. Knowing that teams would thrash the crosswind sections and that every director told each rider to be in front, a nervous race ensued. I took an anti-inflammitory and two coffees for my headache and sore throat.
I made the first attack — product of two coffees — and pulled a group of eight off the line. The peloton stayed close, nervous energy raising the speed.
In the first crosswinds, they stomped on the gas, caught our break, and split the field. After the crosswind I followed another attack. Rast countered it and made the break of 13. Behind our team made the selections as crosswinds snapped the pack into groups of 40.
Before the sprint haphazard crashes increased the nervousness, but the break survived the chase and Team RadioShack survived the wrecks. We averaged 47kph (29.2mph).
Stage 7: 30 km individual time trial
On the Kitzbuheler Horn we decided that our last finisher would pay for ice cream. He did, and we ruled that our second ice cream of the race would come from our fastest time trialist.
A week into racing we each face a course shooting straight through a field without corners and hills to break up the effort. Slicing the wind, focused on suffering alone, and hunting the man one minute ahead, the time and kilometers passed by at 50kph. That equals a perpetual 36 minute cinderblock of pain with the drip, drip, of sweat pouring from our shell like helmets.
Jesse Sergent clocked 34:59 for second place and a round of ice cream.
Stage 8: 122 km
During the team meeting Jose said, “No need to waste energy in the breakaway. Teams will control for the sprint.” Unable to win a sprint, and thinking, “it’s the last day and you never know if you don’t try,” I asked special permission, “can I go in the break if it’s easy to get in it?”
I followed the first attack. Eight of us rolled. I thought it might be that simple, but after 20 km they chased us back. At 60 kph nobody could escape, so I waited, anticipated the next attack and pulled away with five others including Timmy Roe. Receiving no leash from the peloton, we worked for every second. In Vienna we hit ten 6km finishing circuits. With three to go the charging peloton bore down on us. A Katusha rider attacked the break, I followed with a Saxo Bank rider. We survived one more lap. Drafting in the peloton felt so easy. In the final lap I dodged a pile up caused by fighting sprinters.
Back to Lucca for a day. Then USA.
Thanks for sticking with me all week!