Credit: Mitcheltom-SCOTT

This story was written by Esteban Chaves, exclusively for L’Étape Australia.

Before starting my first Grand Tour since the 2018 Giro d’Italia, something in me told me it was going to be a very special race. For that reason, I decided to write down what I felt after every stage. Today, I want to share with you my thoughts during the three weeks of the 2019 Giro d’Italia.

Stage 1: ITT – The magic has begun.

Of course, I was nervous and it was a long day for a short 8km effort. Early in the morning, we did some training on the rollers, then we went to recognise the ITT route, and before the race, we warmed up on the rollers again. Starting in Italy was magical because people love this race, they see it as part of their history, and make us feel at home. In addition, there was another fact that summed up to the magical atmosphere: Hayman was on the car following me – Yes, Matthew Hayman. As part of the team staff, he talked to me on the radio and it is very special to feel supported by someone I admire so much. San Luca climb was incredible, there was a huge crowd shouting my name and I think I let go myself with the enthusiasm and payed the effort on the last 500m where I felt like I would not cross the finish line.

Stage result: 24’38 (+2’31’’)

Stage 2: Cycling is in the air.

Cold, wind, nervousness and high speed were on the menu of today’s 205 km. Despite the roughness that sometimes makes me hate this race, it is impossible not to love the Giro d’Italia and it is incredible to be here for the fourth time. I think I still need to work to be at my best, but I will improve step by step during the race. Today, we ended up in Tuscany, one of my favorite places in Italy. The climbs, the roads, the food and their rich cycling history (some big names such as: Richie Porte, Michael Rogers, Vincenzo Nibali, Rinaldo Nocetini, started their careers here) make you feel cycling is in the air and fans never let you down!

Stage result: 4h 44’48 (+0’05’’)

Stage 3: “Mild” stage against the odds.

We woke up this morning expecting a stressful stage since crossed winds were forecast. We had some at the beginning but we were very lucky it slowed down, we finished with a sprint and we ended up having a “mild” stage. I use the quotation marks because it was 220km in 5h23 which is not easy at all and my legs know that.

Stage result: 5h 23’19 (+0’00’’)

Stage 4: Well rid of the crashes.

235 km written on the paper + 10 km of neutral section + 2 km to the hotel = 7h on the bike. From the beginning, I knew it was going to be a long, high speed and dangerous stage. It also seemed like a dangerous finish, so the objective of the day was to be at the front and try to avoid any accident (even though it has a lot to do with luck). Narrow roads and slippery round-abouts are some of the risks we are used to manage at the Giro d’Italia and you have to be always alert to escape from the multiple incidents. I felt lucky I was not involved in any fall and only lost 20 seconds.

Stage result: 5h 58’35’’ (+0’18’’)

Stage 5: Well rid of the rain.

I woke up this morning feeling some fear. Maybe it was because of the rain I could see from my bedroom but also the fact that I felt really tired from yesterday. I was not wrong, even though it seemed like an “easy” day, it was almost 4h of cold weather, no food, no hydration and a battleship for avoiding falls and crashes. At the end, we saved the day and got safe and sound to the finish line.

Stage result: 3h 15’44’’ (+0’00’’)

Stage 6: Pink Towns. 

Last night felt like a 15 minutes nap, I was very tired as soon as I woke up but opening the blinds and seeing the sun shining gave me some moral to face the 240km ahead.

The stage was very similar to the one Dumoulin felt so it was a fact it was going to be a stressful day, but while I’m riding between the crowded Italian towns full of pink decorations, I remember how lucky I am to experience these moments. It was a long day with some changes in the GC and despite the fall, it was a good day. Now, all I can think of is tomorrow’s stage. L’Aguila always brings surprises to the Giro.

Stage result: 5h 52’20’’ (+7’19’’)

Stage 7: L’Aquila never disappoints.

Whenever the Giro passes through these roads, something extraordinary happens. The climbs are hard and today made no exception. What a difficult day, especially at the beginning of the stage where my sensations were not the bests. Thankfully, I felt better towards the end of the stage. I am anxious to see how next week will go, mostly the ITT.

Stage result: 4h 07’34’’ (+1’07)

Stage 8: Italian Cycling Heroes.

Once again, it was a 240 km – long stage. That made me realised that the Giro d’Italia makes us stronger. Yesterday we had a 185 km stage and it was considered a “short” one. At the Vuelta a España, when we have a 185 km stage, we all said “WHAT A LONG STAGE!”, but here in Italy, these are considered short stages. I loved the ride between Italian towns and how they are themed in memory of their idols (Bargali, Ciccione, Cataldo, Simion, Sparponi…). Today we crossed the city of Giovanni Carboni from Bardiani CSF and it was amazing how everyone seemed so proud of him, everyone cheered and shout his name. Here in Italy, cyclists are like heroes and seeing the kids’ faces when we ride next to them is priceless.

Stage result: 5h 43’32’’ (+0’00)

Stage 9: Time Trial Test.  

Since the first day of the race, I was anxious to see how this ITT will go. From the start, I knew it was going to be more than 50 minutes of pain, suffer and rain. In the end, I think I did a good job and I am happy with the result, even though I crossed the two intermediate sprints far behind due to the fear of water on the slippery streets. This ITT reminded me the 2016 one, when I had a similar result and I was in very good shape.

Stage result: 55’ 06’’ (+3’14)

Rest day #1: A real rest day. 

We were really lucky to finished yesterday’s stage very close to the hotel. That gave us the time for massages, dinner and go to bed early. Normally after a time trial stage, we have a long transfer and we arrive at the hotel late at night. Not this time :). We woke up late without any stress and it was a real rest day which we enjoyed, we had good weather, a quick ride with the teammates and some coffees between laughs and talks.

Stage 10: Flat but expected stage. 

After a rest day, I am always anxious to see how my legs will feel and how I will face the second week of a Grand Tour. It was a flat and “short” stage and I thought it was going to be very fast since everyone had “new legs” from the rest day but I was wrong. It was not a typical day on a Grand Tour: it was a slow ride, perfect for recovery.

Stage result: 3h 30’07’’ (+0’00)

Stage 11: The calm before the storm.

A pan flat stage, similar to yesterday but longer. It was a long and warm 221km ride. I will not deny it was kind of a boring one, but it is the calm before the storm.

Stage result: 5h 17’23 (+0’00)

Stage 12: Next to the best of the world.

Arriving at Pinerolo is special due to Fausto Coppi historic victory in 1949. I started the stage nervous but motivated because I knew today was going to be the first taste of the hilly stages that are yet to come. It was an amazing stage, I climbed like crazy with the best riders of the world and it is incredible how much I enjoyed that. I don’t know what will happen on the next days nor the result in Verona but days like today, remind me how much I love this sport and the reason I am a professional cyclist.

Stage result: 3h 49’52’’ (+8’03)

Stage 13: One step at a time. 

Today was the hardest stage of the Giro so far, it was unreasonably fast and aggressive. Seeing the pictures, our faces seemed like it was the last week of the race. At the end, the attacks made the riders dropped and I hoped I could be at the front with the bests. Unfortunately, with 17 km to go, I didn’t feel strong enough and I was dropped from the group. I am ok with that because I’m looking at the bigger picture: I improved my fitness a lot in a considerable short time, and I am on my way to reach my best. Tomorrow we will have, for me, the hardest stage of the week.

Stage result: 5h 55’54’’(+21’14)

Stage 14: Saving energy for the mountains to come.

I think I lost years of life during the first climb. It was madly intense but then the hills became more regular. I guess Colle San Carlos, where the stage was defined, was super hard but I decided to go on my own pace and save some energy for the coming stages.
In the end, I believe yesterday was the hardest day of the weekend, but today we saw a lot of changes in the GC.

Stage result: 4h 25’53’’ (+23’30)

Stage 15: The Hardest one so far.

Picolo Lombardia. My parents arrived yesterday, and they were at the finish line. I really wanted to be in the breakaway so they could see me at the front. I promise I tried very very hard to keep the insane pace of the race but from the beginning, the strength was not the best. After two riders went on the breakaway, our main goal as a team was to win the stage with Simon Yates, but I could not do the persecution as I lost the wheel before it was my turn to work. At the end, it was another day, the hardest one so far.

Stage result: 6h 04’30’’ (+16’15)

Rest day #2: Low-Battery mood.

I woke up this morning feeling exhausted. It rained all day and I was grateful it was rest day. I did 1-hour on the rollers listening to some music and I made the most to sweat as much as I could as a preparation for tomorrow’s queen stage. I was on low-battery mood the entire day but that is usual during a rest day, I am sure I will have enough energy for tomorrow.

Stage 16: Mortirolo is Mortirolo. 

Obviously, I woke up this morning pretty tired but nothing like Sunday. Before the start and during the first km, I was afraid because I did not feel well on Sunday and feared I would feel worse today for the QUEEN STAGE of the Giro, including the Mortirolo climb (where I don’t have the best memories from last year). Due to a tactical mistake and a little bit of bad luck I did not go in the breakaway, but we helped Yates on the climbs. In the end, I was relieved everything went well and it was an epic stage to remember. It was one of those days you feel are the hardest as a cyclist, especially considering the extreme cold weather at the finish line. I felt ok and we will see if I can go on the breakaway one of those days.

Stage result: 5h 54’31’’ (+18’08)

Stage 17: Breaking my limits.

My best result this season. It was a really fast and aggressive stage where I was lucky to be at the right time in the right place to join the breakaway. I suffered a lot and I found strength to fight until the end, finishing second. Today’s result is meaningful because I could feel the results of the recovery process I have been working on for the last months and it gave me back the feeling of confidence, my hard work and my talent. Being able to fight a stage on the third week of a Grand Tour is something that only a healthy body can do.

Stage result: 4h 43’08’’ (+01’34)

Stage 18: Painful rest.

An “easy” stage but in fact, nothing is easy after 17 stages. I had some trouble waking up and knowing it would be a stage for sprinters, it was difficult to maintain focus.

220 km at 44 km/h is never simple, never easy and on every round-about or small climb, I could  feel my sore and tired legs.

Stage result: 4h 53’13’’ (+0’09)

Stage 19: We all know what happened.

WHAT A DAY! As soon as I got on my bike this morning, something in me told me it was going to be a good day, and I could feel I had strong legs. It was the perfect breakaway from the start and the belief that I could do it gave me the chance to stand up at a podium again. It is not only the win of the stage that matters, it is also the hard work behind, and I was very happy I could share this moment with my family, teammates and close friends. They know how hard I have been working and how much this means to me.

Stage result: 4h 01’31’’ + smiles + tears + hugs.

Stage 20: Yesterday’s price.

I could not sleep very well after yesterday’s excitement, and today we had a very hard stage. We rode our bikes really fast and I paid yesterday’s effort. It is funny to see yesterday I wished for more climbs and today I wished we had none.

Stage result: 6h 10’40’’ (+24’38)

Stage 21: I did it!

Finishing a Grand Tour is always incredible and special. No matter what the result is, it is something that make you proud of yourself, and for the past three years I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did today. Arena Verona themed in pink was and incredible scenery for the last stage of the 2019 Giro d’Italia. I did it and that felt great.

Stage result: 24’38’’ (+2’31)

Final result: 91h 34’59’’ (+1h 33’12’’)

 

An amazing chapter just closed, and I am excited for the next one to come.

Esteban Chaves

 

Esteban Chaves will share more exclusive behind-the-scene stories during his Clinic on Friday 29th November in Jindabyne. Tickets are limited and can be purchased in the registration process or via the L’Étape Australia Merchandise store.