Today was a ticking time bomb after our day of leisure yesterday. The peloton was full of beans and the wind was blowing just hard enough that if a team wanted to blow the race to bits, the opportunity was there for the taking. However, there is always hesitation to be the team who turns the screw first. If you crack the whip too early, you risk having your team blown to bits when the fireworks really begin.
Keeping this mind the peloton had a quiet start to the days racing with just two men in the early breakaway (Adam Hansen and Javier Aramendia). Everyone seemed happy to let them go and let the sprinters bring things back for a bunch gallop, but everyone knew that at some point this fairytale of an easy day was going to come to an abrupt end.
I must admit I was one of the most relieved dudes in the bunch for the first 150km today. We rolled along at a nice consistent pace which made it easy to remain sheltered and nobody was fighting tooth and nail for position. For the moment I’m not in the mood to fight anyone for position in the bunch so was good to perch myself up front for the majority of the day and keep out of harms way. Sure enough with around 30km to go the jostling for position began and I immediately moved to the tale end of the bunch to avoid putting myself in any unnecessary danger. After the rest day I feel like my rib is beginning to recover so the easier I can take it while staying in the race, the better. I want to ensure this injury is limited to only a few weeks instead of a few months.
With a bunch sprint expected we were looking to ensure Daniele [Ratto] was in the right spot at the right time. We raced in Burgos only a few weeks ago and Daniele was narrowly beaten so we had plenty of optimism for his chances today. With being restricted to light duties I figured I would stay close to Daniele for as long as I could and then hit the eject button and get out of the way when things got hairy closer the finish. I found Daniele towards the back of the bunch and figured all was going okay and I could bring him up to the front when he was ready. Wrong!
At 30kms remaining we suddenly came flying down a fast decent and arrived at a very narrow bridge. Consequently the pace at the back slowed considerably and I immediately had this sinking feeling that it wasn’t the front of the bunch that was going this slow. You just know that an elastic band is being stretched to its absolute limit as 150+ riders get themselves up to speed and sure enough a few hundred meters later the bunch was lined out single file and riders were dropping left right an centre. Saxo Bank had hit the front and were ripping the field to shreds!
After a kilometer or so of this and the dust settled I spotted Daniele just ahead. I quickly realized we were in the fourth group so realized it was time to get to work! In a situation like this it’s best to act fast and worry about recovering if you get the chance later. So I jumped on the front of our group and quickly shut down the gap to the third bunch. There I found that many of our team mates and also quite a few GC riders that had been caught out by this acceleration at the front. Now we had the task of pulling back the second group which was around 30 seconds up the road. Fortunately there was no shortage of helpers, and with “Locomotive Longo”, “Hair Raising Heado”, and TTT specialists ripping out turns. Even with these motors at maximum revs its never easy shutting down gaps in this situation!
When the bunch splits, it’s full gas – whichever group you’re in. At the front you have the strongest riders forcing the pace and pulling away from the field. Next you have a second group chasing which needs to go faster if they want to close the gap. As a consequence the third group has to go even faster than the second group if it wants to close the gap. On a flat stretch of road, which was the case today, this meant if your pace dips below 60kmph you are getting left behind. That translates to doing between 600-650 watts when you pull through on the front (which generally is for around 10-20 seconds depending on how efficient your echelon is working). Today took us about 12km to close this 30 second gap!
Once we had caught the second group I realised we were now over a minute behind the front group containing the strongest guys in the race. So it was game over. They did not want us catching them and our group was out of horsepower to shut it down. There would be no sprint for Daniele today so I switched of the engine and road as casually as I could to the finish.
It’s important I take any chance I can to avoid digging deep into the energy pit in these final stages so that my body has a chance to heal. If I keep pushing every day then I will just end up run-down for the end of year. Just being in the field is great training and the perfect way to keep improving my condition, and if I can do this without getting tired then my rib will repair and I will be 100% within a couple of weeks. However, it was a nice feeling however ripping out some turns to shut down some gaps.
So the day for us was pretty average. In fact, we missed out completely. We had no representation in the front group and we never came close to catching them. It’s far from the end of the world, but it was another reminder of how quickly you can have your backside absolutely handed to you by the strongest riders in the peloton. The trick is to every now and again ensure you dish some of it out yourself.
We will regroup and start fresh tomorrow with new objectives. Daniele is just 4 points behind in the mountains jersey competition so I am sure this is something that will now become a focus for us.
Time to get some sleep and put this day behinds us.