Team Sky rider Ian Boswell has provided Rapha with this dispatch from the frontline of racing at the Vuelta a España. His words below were written on the race’s second rest day on Tuesday 6th September.
It’s been a busy day. Among the things I’ve done: doping control, ride, photo shoot, answer questions from journalists. It’s now later afternoon and I’m back in my room for the first time since I left for my ride at eleven this morning.
Rest days are more of a ‘get everything else’ done day; everything you’ve put off for the past two weeks. Last night, we got to the hotel and I put a swimsuit on, walked across to the sea and jumped in. It felt good to feel like a tourist on holiday.
Even on the rest day, you still have the routine. Your body needs the rest, but you get used to the structure of the race and the support staff setting things up, so that it becomes really easy. It becomes the way of our day, and it simplifies everything.
Helping with the routine have been hotels with good blinds, air conditioning, and earplugs. Pete Kennaugh has been my roommate: I’m lucky that he puts up with the AC running all night. It’s a cultural thing – euros think that air conditioning makes you sick. My theory is that not sleeping well for 21 nights is worse than air conditioning.
I start my sunscreen application an hour before the start of the race. I’m usually the first person dressed and applying sunscreen. I dress, put a layer on, wait five minutes, put on another layer, wait ten minutes, another layer. I haven’t been burnt so far, which is good, considering I’m pretty pale. There are new freckles, but no burn.
We started off the race well, winning the team time trial. We didn’t prepare the way the Tour team does. We did TTT training together on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday [prior to the race]. It’s not a ton of practice, but at this point of the year, everyone seems to have a reasonable level of fitness, and with the level of experience we had, we were quickly able to figure out how to race the course well. There were so many things that contributed to it being so good.
On Sunday’s Stage 15 [where Froome lost 2:37 to Quintana after an early attack by Contador, and 91 riders, including Boswell, finished outside the time limit but were allowed to race the next day], even afterwards we were… confused. We didn’t know what happened. We know now. If there was a stage start where we weren’t expecting an early attack from the race favourites, it was that day. Contador and Quintana took advantage of it, and we panicked. It was no one’s fault, but it was everyone’s fault.
We were caught on the back foot. It was the perfect storm of what we didn’t want to happen. It wasn’t for lack of trying and it wasn’t for lack of legs. It was just a split-second when the gap went and we weren’t on top of it. Once they had the gap, it wasn’t going to come back.
We were in the third group with our rivals and were chasing Froomey’s group. We were pulling the gruppetto, and when we sat up, nobody wanted to ride. With the day before being so hard – Saturday [Stage 14] was the biggest day I’ve ever done on a bike – I think lots of riders were physically and mentally fatigued. There was kind of an internal dialogue in the peloton: if we had started riding hard, we would have had lots of backlash from everyone else.
I was talking with Tyler Farrar [an American cyclist for Dimension Data], and he said he’s never seen anything like that, where a stage cracked so many of the world’s best riders.
Dave Brailsford quickly reminded us that we learn a lot from a day like that and not to have our heads down. The result makes winning more difficult, but there are still a few days left.
Sunday’s stage was pretty decisive for the race. Until that point, it had been my best Grand Tour. It shows how volatile cycling can be. For 14 stages we were toe-to-toe with Quintana and Movistar, but within 8km, everything had changed. It was fascinating to me. It’s a very delicate sport, where things can change in the blink of an eye.
There’s still a chance to win, but it’s more difficult now. The time trial on Friday will be a crucial day for Chris. The final uphill finish on Saturday (Stage 20) too. We’ll assess things after the time trial to think about what to do heading into Saturday.
This will be the first time I’ve been part of a Grand Tour team where we have a chance of winning this late in the race. Because Chris is in second place, the race isn’t over until Madrid. In my other Grand Tours, I was racing to survive on Stage 20. Now I’ll be racing to win.