PEZ: Zak, Stage 14 was . . .
Zak: A war zone! I’ve never seen anything like that before; a day of real epic proportions. Six K from the first KOM and the race’s highest point Katusha began to ride and the race exploded. I found a group of guys of my ability – it tends to be that you end up riding with the same faces, day in and day out. We had to ride at the limit because the there was still a long way to go – 80 or 90 K.
But getting down the descents was very dangerous because we were all shaking uncontrollably with the cold. On the climbs we were riding as hard as we could to try and keep warm but there were guys stopping and having complete changes of clothing beside the road because they were so wet and cold – it was pandemonium!
PEZ: Stage 15, a long one . . .
Stage 13 was hard; then we had Stage 14 where we all went deep followed by Stage 15 which was the longest of the race – so the fatigue was building up. There was a 20 K neutralised section and then six K flat then into a 20 K climb. If the break has gone before the first climb then its calm for a little while – the leaders will take a toilet break – but the break hadn’t gone before the climb and there were attacks all the way up.
In the first week the breaks had been going early and fairly easily but now the rhythm has changed and it’s so hard in the first hours as the break battles to get established. Within five K of the bottom of the climb the peloton was in pieces with 26 guys up the road and the main group down to about 50 guys with Astana chasing all day. In the finale the GC guys did their thing but for riders like me it was eight hours on the bike with 6,000 metres of climbing. That was the hardest day of the race, thus far.
PEZ: Stage 16 . . .
The short stages are hard and that was another tough one with a six K climb after just 20 K. The break was still within reach so Movistar were riding – I had 60 K in the peloton and then 60 K in the gruppetto. It took a long time for the break of the day to go – 70 K.
We had Huzarski in the break and he rode really well, third on the stage.
PEZ: What sort of clothing did you wear on Stage 14?
In the team car you have a wet weather bag with gloves, over shoes, gillet, cape but if the race isn’t relaxed it’s hard to get back to the cars and easy to make the wrong choice so you end up with the wrong combination, too cold or too hot.
You have to be thinking half-an-hour ahead of yourself; I ended up with just my under vest, jersey and rain jacket – but my hands were so cold I couldn’t zip the jacket up and I ended up riding with it flapping in the wind.
Zak rugged up against the cold in Belgium earlier this year.
PEZ: And you have to eat more . . .
In stage 15 I burned 6,500 calories – in a stage of that length you do have to eat more; but it’s not as if you can have a massive English ‘fry-up’ breakfast to fuel up beforehand if there are 30 K climbs in the first hour. I try to eat more during the stage but that’s difficult if it’s ‘a bloc’ – and then you have the problem of cold hands not being able to unwrap the bars and you have to go back to the car to get the wrapper taken off for you.
PEZ: Do you ride by SRM’s or ‘feel’ on days like that?
I have an SRM on the bike – I train with Training Peaks but they give you all sorts of data, including your ‘fatigue level.’ I’d rather not know what that is so I’ll look at it after the race!
PEZ: You have to feel sorry for the mechanics too, after a day like that.
It wasn’t so bad for them, it’s just wet, it’s not like China where there’s mud everywhere. My bike’s clean every day – so that’s fine by me!
PEZ: Casualties on the team?
We lost David de la Cruz to a knee injury and then Daniel Schorn on the 240 K stage, with sickness – it’s pretty sad but the rest of us have to push on.
PEZ: Were you surprised to see Basso drop out?
The cold affects different people in different ways – there were guys stopping all over the place that day, shaking uncontrollably, everyone has different reactions in those situations . . .
PEZ: How’s your team leader, Leo Konig?
Leo’s good, he seems comfortable, confident and strong and not shitty at all. If guys are getting tired then they get narky but Leo’s not like that. The three stages after tomorrow we’re back into the mountains where he excels.
Konig has recovered from his sickness earlier in the race and is currently looking good in 8th on GC.
PEZ: Your team mate Bartosz Huzarski rode well on Stage 16.
He really bombed those last four kilometres, he was nowhere to be seen and ended up third. The team are all going well but anything can happen – all I know is that I’ll give 110% to stay in this race and make it to Madrid.
He seems a pretty cool guy, always polite and enjoys what he’s doing. He’s shown great mental strength to come back from that knee injury at nearly 42 years-old and ride the way he is; I mean there are guys at 35 who would have quit if that had happened to them.
PEZ: How was your rest day?
Pretty good, we went for a little ride, I had a sleep, massage, lunch – preparing for war again! I have two more chances to show, before Madrid and I really want to take advantage of those.
PEZ: The winner?
It depends how Nibali is after the rest day – Horner seems to be full of youthful exuberance. A lot could come down to the Angliru, if someone cracks on there that could decide the race . . .