You might imagine that the longest day in professional cycling is the mammoth Milan-Sanremo, a seven-hour springtime slog over almost 200 miles from fashion capital to fast finish on the Via Roma.
That’s not what some of the riders and staff at the Ruta del Sol will tell you.
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Stage one of the race was a split stage: a 118km road race in the morning followed by an eight kilometre time trial in the afternoon.
Riders were up and about at 7:00am. Team staff, including mechanics and soigneurs, woke up a lot earlier. Some were still working late into the night.
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“Don’t ask me about split stages,” said one mechanic, who didn’t want to be named. “They’re hell.”
Stage 1a rolled out shortly before 11am under blue skies and chilly air in southern Spain. Three hours later the riders were on the bus and transferring to a new town an hour down the road to set up and do it all again. The final rider in the time trial crossed the finish line shortly before 6:00pm.
“I think most of us would probably prefer just one stage, either a TT, a prologue, or a road race and just leave it at that,” Jesse Sergent (Trek) told Cycling Weekly.
“The feeling within our team is that we’d rather avoid them [split stages]. I don’t know about the whole peloton but I would guess [it’s the same], especially with what we’re used to.”
The time on the road was effectively the same as Sanremo (seven hours), even if the distance raced was just over 126km.
Meanwhile the mechanics had twice the usual number of bikes to prepare, repair and clean: road and time trial.
Most of those TT bikes were being raced for the first time this season, meaning a good number were turned away for tweaking by the UCI commissaires on the race – the positions and measurements not complying with official regulations.
Naturally there were teething problems like rubbing brakes and dodgy elbow pads to deal with, and some riders were understandably pretty short tempered.
Then there was a crash, which took down riders from a whole host of teams (and put Frank Schleck (Trek) and Blel Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale) out of the race with injuries) and and gave the mechanics a whole host of headaches to do with stripping and re-building damaged bikes.
“Big s***,” said another mechanic, who also wished to remain unidentified, when CW asked what he reckoned to split stages.
Another estimated that each damaged road bike on his team would take two hours to fix. Six of his riders crashed in stage 1a. Unlike those long one-day races, every one of these road bikes at the Ruta del Sol must be ready to race the following morning.
“Maybe I’ll be done by two… in the morning,” he suggested stoically.
“But we’ve got two coffee machines, plus one that makes Cup-a-Soup.”