Luke Rowe column: ‘The real days that give me nightmares are the stages that start uphill’

Weekly columnist and Team Sky rider Luke Rowe explains why it's better to have mountains at the end of a stage than the start

For a guy like me, if a stage profile is pan flat with an uphill finish, that is actually considered one of the easier days at a stage race.

You do a job up to the bottom of the climb and then hit the final climb and your job’s done, and it’s just a case of riding up at a solid pace to make the time cut.

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The real days that give riders like myself nightmares and that I worry about are the stages that start uphill.

We’ve had quite a few — there were two that stood out in the Tour de France last year; one in Andorra and one in the third week — where from kilometre zero you go straight up a 15k climb.

Potentially on those days you can get dropped there and never come back.

On days like that I make sure I’m warmed up. They’re the only days that you would warm up on the turbo, doing a few efforts and getting a good sweat on so you’re ready for the uphill start.

On those days as well it’s a well-known fact that the breakaway may stay to the end, so it’s a massive fight to get in the break.

Now I’ve got to a point I can climb well enough, it’s rare that I’m one of the ones really struggling in the grupetto, so I’m fairly confident I can make the time cut.

It’s more you know you’re in for a maximal effort on the first climb, and you almost see the finish line at the top of that first climb and then assess and see where you are. You’re on the start line and just know you’re in for a horrific first half an hour of racing.

The bigger guys are nervous because they want to get to the top in a reasonable group; the guys who want to go in the breakaway are nervous because they’re the ones who have got to do the attacking, and the GC guys are nervous because, as you’ve seen recently, moves at the start can surprise GC leaders.

You often try and have a slightly bigger breakfast before the start too, because if you’re on the rivet going 100 per cent the first two hours of racing naturally you won’t eat as much as you’re focused on pedalling as fast as you can.

At the same time I’ll take less food and drink with me on the bike for the first part of racing — say I normally put eight rice cakes and two bidons with me, I’ll start with four race cakes and one bidon to save that little bit of weight and carry that little bit less up the climb.