Today was all about Ivan. Judging by the finish of yesterday’s stage we knew there would be a tired peloton, so there would be the opportunity to strike a blow on the final climb if you had the legs. Much of people assumed the same unfortunately which made the first hour of racing absolutely full gas! Most of the field wanted to get up the road in search of a stage victory and in the end a large group of 13 escaped. The peloton never gave them much rope but once a Netapp rider (Bartosz Huzarski) who was highly placed on GC his dropped backed his team began the chase. For Huzarski to drop back to the peloton was quite a gentlemanly gesture as he knew his presence in the breakaway would mean the group would not get any freedom. Often riders will just stay up in the break and hope to pull something off, but it doesn’t win you any friends. So the top bloke award for the day has to go to Bartosz for coming back to the bunch. From there Team Netapp took control and ended up with the stage victory. It was a very impressive performance by them and they certainly deserved it more than any other team. Hats off to them.
We took up our usual spot at the front of the field from the start and that’s where we positioned ourselves all day. I was feeling very good after yesterday but knew my teammates were feeling a little fatigue so I sat out in the wind all day to ensure they all had some protection – not just Ivan. Its important on days like today – especially early in a grand tour to sense how your teammates are feeling and do whatever you can to help them out. Immediately they realise what you are doing and they subsequently do all the other jobs so that I don’t need to do anything. That’s a sign of a great team. There was a light crosswind all day so just riding the extra out into the road means a few of your team mates can be doing as much as 40% less effort than you.
At 50km from the finish the race sprang to life as we hit the coastline. We now had a 35km drag race to the bottom of the climb and everybody wanted to be up front. We kicked into Ivan’s bodyguard system: Longo and Dall’Antonia
to guide Ivan while I’m safely tucked onto his wheel. While I had been able to give my teammates a comfortable ride in the first 100km, they were now repaying the favor! This fight for the front is never easy but we are certainly improving by staying close together every. Should I lose Ivan’s wheel (which can easily happen )I simply get myself to front knowing Longo will find his way to me with Ivan right behind, then the system then resumes!
The climb was not super difficult, around 14km at 6% gradient so Ivan knew it was perfect for him to wheels and at the front. He said to me this morning that today’s climb is climb where it’s easy to stay at the front if you have good condition. He knew he had good condition so all that was important was he hit the base of the climb in the first 5 positions and the rest would seemingly be easy for him!
Ten kilometers before the base of the climb our Cannondale train hit the front. It was Ratto who let it rip first and showed his versatility by sacrificing himself on days we are not helping him in the sprints. Behind him Heado showed his class with positioning and with his sprinting legs let out a fierce acceleration to string out the field so much that those at the back would of had to wait until they saw us do the U Turn and come down the other side of the road to have any idea where the front of the race was. Next to pull was Paterski who has this amazing 50% power boost when he is lining the field out for his captain. Safely tucked in behind these three was Ivan driving the train and encouraging his men. As I’ve said before he is a true captain his teammates would happily ride through a brick wall for him if required. That’s how much respect he’s earned. Right behind Ivan is his body guard and bouncer – yep me. I tuck myself safely on his wheel and scar off anyone who dares go near him. Even Valverde learnt not to do this after attempting to knock me off his wheel, then quickly apologised and gave me ample space when he heard my voice and took a look at my face. I’m definitely not a bully, but when I want to be a little forceful in a bike race I happy to serve back whatever comes my way.
Our three men at the front set a searing tempo and behind was absolute chaos. First Ratto, then Heado dropped off leaving Paterski to control five kilometers before the climb. Sure enough three kilometers from the base of the climb Ivan called on me to do the final lead out. We hoped that I could be saved for the climb itself but we had committed to this task and to ensure Ivan hit the base of the climb as peacefully as possible we had to finish the job. I came and gave it all I had in my tank for a few minutes. First I kept the pace at around 60kmph then I felt the adrenaline pumping and found another 10kmph and we were doing 70kmph on a flat road! That was a pretty cool feeling, but soon after the adrenaline worn off and I felt full effect of this effort! I knew after this pull I would be spent so there was no point leaving anything in the tank. Cancellara quickly rolled past me to continue the pace making and Ivan was three wheels back and in the exact position he asked to be in. The field was still a long line of no more than 50 riders which meant we had managed to whittle down down the peloton before we even hit the climb. We had done our job to perfection
In the end Ivan would show why he was so confident this morning with a fine fifth place on the stage and climbed from 28th to 12th on GC. Also In the process, he took precious seconds out of all his major rivals for the GC. When your captain asks for your support and delivers, it makes us all excited to lay it on the line for him; which is exactly the feeling on the team bus as we head to tonight’s hotel.
Now we just need to keep the ball rolling!