Russell Downing: One day at a time

Anyone who follows the sport will know that Russell Downing is a class act. Not only did he dominate the racing here in Britain for years, he has also won the Tour of Ireland and the Tour de Wallonie as well as a stage in the Critérium International.

Russell has shown he can compete in the pro ranks very well indeed which shows just how hard the Tour of Italy is when he says, two weeks in, he’s trying to survive and is taking the race one day at a time.

Talking to pros who have ridden the race in modern times, many will say that it is a harder race than the Tour de France because the organisers  love to stick the race up mountains day after day and so there is precious little for the sprinters and those who might win a stage here of there over rolling roads. And this year is acknowledged as being one of the hardest ever.

No surprise then for a Grand Tour rookie, one suffering a cold, Russell Downing says today was the hardest one he’s had on a bike — ever.  The stage today was 100 miles plus and finished in Austria up a bloody big brute of a climb, the Grossglockner.

Yes, there is some downhill but its spent chasing to get back into the safety of the peloton.

The night before, the likes of Mark Cavendish, Mark Renshaw, Daniel Hondo, Alessandro Petacchi, et all all left the race and with no more flat stages, that was always on the cards. Stage 13 was always going to be an epic stage with four mountains but at least it was sunny at the start even if it wasn’t at the end.

Talking from the team bus, Russell explained “my role was to cover the early moves which I did and that put me into the red. Nothing was being let go” he added. It was 50k into the stage before a break finally broke free. By then, Russell, suffering from a streaming head cold, was not well and gritting his teeth at the back of the peloton. Not long after the break had gone, the gruppetto formed, but Russell was doing his best to stay with the peloton for as long as he could.

“My goal was to hang on in there until the really big climb and get over that with the main bunch and that is what I did (40 k or so to go).  You have to think about the time limit and you can’t relax but you have a better chance to make it to the finish the longer you carry on.”

After a short descent of the Iselsbergpass, Russell came to the  final climb and  it was brutal. Asked to describe the terrain, he said it was ‘indescribable‘. “I was either climbing or chasing to get back on” he says of the 100 miles. “The only things that come over these sort of climbs are the Grand Fondos but they take 10 hours and we take five.”

It was all so different to the day before on the sprint stage where he rode shot gun for Davide Appollonio of Team Sky for the last 15k of the stage. Today, the final brutal climb was like riding up the steep part of the Strines (Derbyshire) for an hour, pretty brutal says Russell.

The racing is very different to a pro race like the Tour of Britain where the break goes, the peloton is controlled and riders can recover. In the Giro, says Russell, its rapid every day all day. “They don’t want to let anything go and if they do, it’s only for an hour. It never lets up.”

The worry is that the gruppetto is no longer the domain of the sprinters either as they’ve gone home and instead comprises of riders who can actually climb a bit which says Russell, means he‘s going to have pull his finger out. Russell himself can climb a bit as anyone who has ridden with him in Majorca will know but this race is a different ball game.

Almost two weeks in and it’s no surprise that the legs ache all the time now and breakfast is starting to get a bit tedious. Russell explained they have a great chef and so dinner is always good but breakfast, having to get all that food down them before the stage, is not easy. “I think I’ll be down to blender later on!” he says.

The breakfast he says is some porridge followed by an omlet and pasta and if they can squeeze it in, some bread. Oh, and a smoothie drink.

But, if breakfast is tedious, at least Russell is enjoying the village departe. “I spent the first 10 days chatting with Blythe but now he‘s gone home, I have to find others to chill with. It’s pretty special at the Giro, very colourful. I really like to go in there in the morning and chill out and have a coffee. I chatted with David Millar (Garmin) and Philip Deignan (Radioshack) and enjoyed the coffee which is pretty good.”

If the pre-stage ritual is about chilling (relaxing), then the post stage process today was chilling but in a very different way. Post stage after having got wet through, the riders on top of a gigantic mountain which was chilly to say the least, saw them having to don new clothes and then descend down the mountain to the team bus simply because the mountain was too steep and narrow for the buses and trucks.

It had been a long old day for Fonzy and the road book doesn’t make for happy reading with two more mountain top finishes over the next two days before he can put his tired legs up for a day. And this is what young riders around the world aspire to, to test themselves against the best in a Grand Tour.

One day, Russell will look back at this race and smile but perhaps right now, its more a grimace every time he flexes one of those tired muscles… thanks Rus… and good luck for the next two stages!

Stage result…
1     Jose Rujano Guillen (Ven) Androni Giocattoli     4:45:54
2     Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard
3     John Gadret (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale     0:01:27

76     Peter Kennaugh (GBr) Sky Procycling     0:14:01
81     David Millar (GBr) Team Garmin-Cervelo     0:14:21

164     Alex Rasmussen (Den) HTC-Highroad     0:23:25
165     Michael Morkov (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard
166     Javier Francisco Aramendia Lorente (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
167     Matthew Wilson (Aus) Team Garmin-Cervelo
173     Francesco Chicchi (Ita) Quickstep Cycling Team
174     Russell Downing (GBr) Sky Procycling

Related Links:

Giro: Job done on stage 10

Giro: Speed Uncomfortable in Grand Tour

Giro: Russell Downing’s Tour of Italy 3 Days In

Giro News: Russell Downing Ready to Rock!

Giro: Downing’s First Grand Tour

Mark Cavendish Wins Stage

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