Wind and walls
Finally I was of some use today and I couldn’t be happier! No flat tyres, no running into traffic islands, and concentration levels were at an all-time high. In fact, Ivan (Basso) asked me after just 15km if I was okay as I looked far too serious! My game face was on and if there was action today, I was determined to be in the thick of it.
Today we started inland and headed back to the coast for change. The wind was blowing its backside off again so we set up camp at the front of the peloton to do our best to avoid any carnage where possible. On a day when it’s windy and hilly things can change in a blink of an eye so if you’re sitting at the back your race can be over before you can even look up to see what has happened. There can be 300m separating the front to back of a 200 rider peloton and when some wind and a few corners are thrown into the mix, you sometimes have no idea that 20 or 50 riders had disappeared of the front of the bunch.
Today’s stage was to be characterised by a fast descent down to the coastline, a steep 2km climb, and a right/left turn onto the final 2km climb to the finish. It was crucial to be on the front of the descent because once it finished, we turned onto the coast and the wind was absolutely howling. I sat behind Ivan and when we started the descent he was right at the front in perfect position. I just floated behind him so I was ready to help if required. I ended up following the race leader Chris Horner down the descent as I knew that should a split occur and he missed it, his team would come back to get him.
The second decisive point came when we finished the descent and travelled along the coast for 15km before hitting the 2km “nose bleedingly” steep climb. With the climb only 30km from the finish it was crucial to be in the front of the bunch. We quickly grouped at the front to ensure Ivan and Ratto (Daniele) took the climb in the top positions. With 5km remaining Ivan gave me the nod to ride on the front to keep us in a good position. This turned out to be a little harder than expected as few other teams had the same idea which meant it was a drag race.
I was on the front beside “Brownie” (Greame Brown), fellow Aussie and an absolute champion of a rider and person. He has all the experience in the world and he made me laugh when I pulled up along side him he said, “Wurfy, let’s not make this any harder than it needs to be!” We both had the same idea and wanted to get our team leaders to the bottom the climb in the front positions and in the process split the peloton to pieces. We called a truce momentarily, but I trusted Brownie to know when to hit the gas, so I sat tight. From behind Longo (Paolo) had other ideas and told me to drill it. I couldn’t disobey my team mate so hit it. Naturally Brownie and I joined forces. It certainly caused some chaos behind us but the effect was exactly what we wanted; Both our men hit the climb in the front and had an armchair ride to the top. When I looked back, our front group was nearly 500m up the climb before half the peloton even started.
Once over the climb we took stock and reassessed our approach for the finish. Ivan was safe and sound and Ratto had ridden wonderfully to maintain position and be in the front of the bunch. So I waited at the back of what was left of the peloton until 20km from the finish where I went to get the boys a nice fresh bidon to liven them up for the finish. Collecting the bottles at this time always hard as the pace is absolutely full gas at the front. Truth be told, simply collecting this bottle and handing them out to all your teammates can often spell the end of your day. You have to commit 100% to get the bottles to the boys as quickly as possible knowing that once that last bottle is delivered you could be throwing up the parachute, putting on the reverse light and rocketing out the back of the peloton.
I got the bottles to the boys but I still felt fantastic. I was back at the front of the bunch and champing at the bit to help set-up Ratto for the sprint. I rolled up beside Cancellara he happily gave me a gap let me into the perfect position. I sat behind a few of his teammates and with only 10km I knew I would hit the front at around 4km to go. At this point I would have enough juice left in the tank to crank out a 2km pull to the base of the climb and then it would be up to Ratto to stretch his legs in the bunch gallop.
This is exactly how it panned out and with about 1800m remaining Astana took on the pace-making and I put the reverse lights on. I quickly checked to ensure Ivan was safe.
Ratto found the kick to the line a little harder than expected but good thing was he had gritted his teeth all day and gave it a go. This determination will be rewarded for sure in the coming weeks in this years vuelta.
For me I was really happy to find my rhythm and be a part of the action. When I was behind Popovich and knew it was almost my turn to pull on the front I was literally bouncing off my seat with excitement. I couldn’t wait to smash it on the front of the bunch and feel all the adrenaline rush that comes with knowing you have the World’s best riders tucked in behind you. For that moment you are leading the race, and for that brief moment you are in control of the race. It really is a great feeling, especially for dish pig domestic such as myself. I don’t win races so my thrills and my enjoyment comes from the success of my teammates. Fortunately the Vuelta is three weeks so there’s going to be plenty of chances to make a contribution.
My legs are starting to get sore; a good sore through. A happy sore. The type you get after an enjoyable day in the saddle. It’s time for an hour on the massage table with Munga our masseur. When it comes to experience, he is the man. Sixty years old and strong as an ox. He’s worked for the great Cipollini and now has the honour of looking after my pins! Will do an post on how awesome he is during the next few days.
Now time to relax