Chad Haga: Welcome To Pais Vasco, The Spicy Wings Of Bike Races

Matthews Attacks At Basque Country

Have you ever had a basket of chicken wings that knocked your socks off? One where you're sure the glaze and sauce will be too spicy for you, but everyone speaks so highly of them that you just have to try? 

The wings arrive and you dive in. They are delicious, but you’re starting to sweat and your face is flush with blood as you remember the four-chili rating on the menu. It’s too much, but darned if you’re going to put them down. Tangy and spicy with just the right balance! 

Not minding the runny nose and sweat dripping into your eyes, you lick your fingers clean and relish the suffering.

Welcome to Pais Vasco.

Day One

The first stage—if I’m sticking with my metaphor—was the appetizer plate of jalapeño poppers. The breakaway escaped with relative ease and the pace steadily increased as the stage wore on. We were optimistic that it would come down to a small bunch sprint after the extreme final climb and did our best to support Michael Matthews to that point. 

The climb proved too much for him in the end, but that’s not too surprising when talking about kilometers-long stretches of nearly 20-percent grades. I had been dropped by that point, but the environment on the climb was superb. 

The sensory overload was insane: noise from the shouting and clapping combined with the smells of burning moto clutches and burning weed (I’d forgotten that was popular here!), all while fighting cramps that threatened to seize me during every strained pedal stroke. 

After all the hype of Pais Vasco, I was a tiny bit disappointed that the weather had been spectacular all day.

Day Two

“Welcome to Pays Bask!” my compatriot and fellow-Texan Lawson Craddock half-jokingly said. 

We were 60 kilometers into stage two and the breakaway had finally escaped. Half of the peloton was a minute behind us after splitting on a high-speed, rain-soaked descent, the gap widening as attacks continued for another 40 minutes. 

It finally came back together, but the pace remained stuck at “quite uncomfortable” for the rest of the day until things exploded on the last climb. Michael Matthews was feeling a bit more spritely and even attacked a couple of times, but the goat-path climb was again too much for our climbing sprinter. 

My legs had been less than spectacular, but that was a real bike race and I had a blast. Again the spectators relieved some pain with their infectious enthusiasm, and the buffeting wind and rain on the descent to the finish reminded me that I had survived a real stage of the race I’d heard so much about.


Day Three

As our last and best chance at a win, stage 3 was circled long ago as the one that we would go “all in.” 

As the only team willing to do the work to bring it to a sprint on the longest stage of the race—and an uphill, headwind stage at that—our work was cut out for us. 

The first order of business was getting a small, manageable break. Our cap, if we could pull it off, was eight riders. If it wasn’t gone in the first 20 minutes before we reached the climbs, things would likely be out of our control. With help from Quickstep and Lotto-Jumbo, who wanted a respite from riding the front, eight riders were gone and the road was blocked. With the gap over a minute by the base of the climb, things were looking good until some riders broke through and the fireworks started again—because, Pais Vasco.

The fight would eventually end without any more riders joining the breakaway, but I guess at this race we like to suffer just to suffer. As the roll call of riders up ahead came through the radio, I had to laugh. It was eight riders, but we would be chasing some of the biggest engines in the peloton. I mean, just Thomas de Gent counts as four riders! 

With the unenviable task of chasing them back, we showed our commitment to the cause and set to work. Thanks to the unexpected contributions of Astana, the gap steadily fell (as did the rain, on occasion). After our veteran Laurens ten Dam and neo-pro Michael Storer were used up, I set to work. But I soon found that I wasn’t firing on all cylinders, and didn't last long.

With the win in sight, the peloton came alive and finished off the chase, but Michael was left unsupported in the closing kilometers. He was not satisfied with his top-10 placing, but winners never are. The rest of us aren’t bothered; as long as we keep working like this, the results will come.

Day Four

Today was the time trial, featuring a course so flat that we had to travel to the outskirts of the region for it. Seeing the power file from the previous stage and noting that I suffered much more than the numbers would indicate, I doubted my legs’ abilities today. 

Nevertheless, I gave it everything. I never felt great, but I enjoyed the race and got everything out of my legs, even if it was only good for 22nd place. I crossed the line today with legs and lungs burning, snot on my sleeves, and seeing through sweat-covered glasses. 

Those were some spicy wings!

Have you ever filled up too early at dinner, underestimating the size of the dishes you ordered? I’ve filled up on jalapeño poppers and three baskets of chicken wings, suffering all the while, and the table just shook with the arrival of the next course.

Welcome to Pais Vasco.


By Chad Haga

Covid-19 Forces Critérium du Dauphiné Postponement

null

Unlock this video, live events, and more with a subscription!

Get Started

Already a subscriber? Log In

The Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) called off the Critérium du Dauphiné this May 31 until the COVID-19 situation is under control in Europe. France currently has reported 52,870 cases.

Secrecy And Suspense Over Tour De France's Fate

null

Unlock this video, live events, and more with a subscription!

Get Started

Already a subscriber? Log In

Less than three months before the Tour de France's scheduled start, the possibility of cycling's greatest show taking place remains shrouded in doubt, while the organizers have thrown up a wall of silence.

Julian Alaphilippe 'Just Happy To Be At Tour of Flanders Start'

null

Unlock this video, live events, and more with a subscription!

Get Started

Already a subscriber? Log In

Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) is "happy just to be at the start" of the Tour of Flanders this April 5 in Antwerp.

Unlock this article, live events, and more with a subscription!

Get Started

Already a subscriber? Log In

Former UCI Boss Brian Cookson Says 'Time To Consider 2-Week Tour de France'

null

Unlock this video, live events, and more with a subscription!

Get Started

Already a subscriber? Log In

Cycling's former boss, Brian Cookson says the Grand Tours including the Tour de France should consider running only two weeks in 2020 if they want to find space in a season shortened by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Unlock this article, live events, and more with a subscription!

Get Started

Already a subscriber? Log In

How To Watch Bike Racing During Coronavirus This Week (3/30-4/5)

Celebrate Belgium With FloBikes

If you're as sick of COVID-19 cancelations as we are, you're in luck, because FloBikes has a plan.

Cycling Industry Helping COVID Fight

null

Unlock this video, live events, and more with a subscription!

Get Started

Already a subscriber? Log In

Italy's Santini for decades has produced cycling kits, but has modified its Bergamo factory for face masks to help stop the spread of Coronavirus.

Unlock this article, live events, and more with a subscription!

Get Started

Already a subscriber? Log In

Dates Announced For Postponed Tokyo Olympics

null

Unlock this video, live events, and more with a subscription!

Get Started

Already a subscriber? Log In

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics have been officially rescheduled to run from July 23rd through August 8th 2021, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has confirmed.

'The Timing Couldn't Be Better' - Woods Ahead Breaking Femur

null

Unlock this video, live events, and more with a subscription!

Get Started

Already a subscriber? Log In

If Michael Woods had to break his femur then this was the perfect time while the world stops due to COVID-19.

Unlock this article, live events, and more with a subscription!

Get Started

Already a subscriber? Log In

17 Coaches, Athletes And Cyclists Who Are Infected With Coronavirus

null

Unlock this video, live events, and more with a subscription!

Get Started

Already a subscriber? Log In

High-level sports was one of the first social activities shut down by the coronavirus pandemic and many athletes, who play in front of crowds and train with team-mates, have been among the high-profile victims.

French Sports Minister Evokes Tour De France Spectator Ban

null

Unlock this video, live events, and more with a subscription!

Get Started

Already a subscriber? Log In

French sports minister Roxana Maracineanusays this year's Tour de France could be staged without spectators in a bid to combat the coronavirus pandemic.