Today had the potential to go one of two ways; full gas or nice and easy. Stage 13 looked ideal for a breakaway to take the spoils and the only questions were how long it would take the break to form, and which riders would make it.
Sure enough the full gas scenario panned out. Everybody wanted to be in the break which meant there was always somebody not in it that wanted to be in it. Consequently there was always someone on the front going hell for leather which kept the peloton in single file for the first 65km!
When the break formed it contained 15+ riders. This was due to the fact there were only about 60 riders left in the peloton when it formed. It was bound to have some GC men inside it. A break like this only contains the strongest of riders. You always have the utmost respect for the riders in an escape on days like today as basically the whole peloton wanted to be in it!
While there wasn’t anyone in the break who threatened Nibali’s red jersey, there were a couple that threatened Ivan’s position so we were immediately placed on standby to work if necessary. So with a dangerous break up the road the pace never relented and before we knew it we were at the base of the day’s potentially decisive climb 50km before the finish.
The climb was 4km long and averaged 10% which on paper doesn’t seem so daunting. But you start to learn that there’s “10%” and then there’s a “Spanish 10% average” climb. While in most other places on Earth this type of climb would be constant and manageable, a Spanish version is anything but! The Spanish version prefers to have ramps of 20% followed by a little bit of flat, even a small descent, the BOOF – another few hundred meters at 20%.
With my broken rib and getting out of the saddle being extremely painful, you can imagine how much I enjoyed this 4km of suffering! I simply had to take it steady and stay as close to the front as possible, suck it up, stay in the saddle, and save my energy to come to the front group on the descent and flat section before the finish. As it turned out I was not too far off the back of the main field over the top of the climb and was back with Ivan sooner than I expected to be. Once there it was time to swing into action!
As expected, the breakaway had splintered on the climb in the same way that the peloton had. The front group containing a couple of GC contenders was now three minutes up the road with those riders threatening to pass Ivan on GC. Ivan gave me the nod and I was finally where I loved being: on the front of the peloton! But it was important not panic and blow myself to bits. The most important thing was to send a message the strong riders up the road that they were not going to be able to ride peacefully into the sunset.
So first I simply stabilised the gap at three minutes so I could sense how hard the break was riding. Pretty quickly I realised that they were going pretty damn hard as my SRM was spending a lot of time north of 500 watts for 5km or so! Fortunately FDJ were in the same situation and they sent a few riders up to help me. This gave me some time to recover and turn up the ratchet when I did my pulls.
Soon the gap was down to 2:30 and when I finished my next pull it was back to 2 minutes. Ivan told me to take a breather and FDJ could take care of things for the final 15km.
Unfortunately one by one the boys in blue started to fade and the pace went out of the peloton. I immediately got the nod from Ivan to not chase hard again but merely keep the pace steady just to be certain our hard work was not wasted. It’s always best to shut this stuff down immediately otherwise you have to ride even harder! Best to pull for longer at a more tranquil tempo than go all-out and blow yourself to bits.
At 10km remaining OPQS sensed they could pull things back for a sprint finish and Tony Martin pulled past me at a pace that there was no way I could follow. I tried briefly but I was doing over 600 watts and we had gapped the field. So I said ‘bugger this’ and waited for the bunch which Martin also realised was the better option. So now I was officially off duty. Ivan had Longo and Paterski to pilot him into the final kilometers safely and I dropped to the back of the group.
When I got to the back of the bunch Fabian Cancellara pulled up beside me. He told me that he was impressed with my persistence with the broken rib and suggested that the restricted breathing is a bit like altitude training! Great … I get to do another 8 days feeling like I am breathing through a straw.
Anyway, it made my day to get a compliment like that from Fabian. He is a huge role model for me and to be honest the fact he even speaks to me has been one of the most enjoyable parts of the second half of this season for me. I am absolutely in awe of guys like him and it’s awesome to be getting the chance to not only race alongside him but also be able to have a good chin-wag from time to time.
I want to make it clear that I if I am going to continue in the race, I need to contribute to the team. The moment I start putting my pain at the forefront of things will be the moment I am no use to anyone, so I don’t want be in that space.
Ivan showed his diligence again by finishing at the head of the main field. Another day and again he stayed in the GC fight so that was the objective. Tomorrow marks the first stage in the high mountains so I’m looking forward to getting stuck into that.
Time to get some sleep and get ready for tomorrow!
– 170km in 4hrs 5min
– Average power: 283 watts
– Average heart rate: 147bpm
– Kcal burnt: 4200
– Max power: 1040 watts
– Max heart rate: 182 (my ribs won’t let my lungs and heart push any harder than this point! Its a bit like having a rev limiter on!! Hopefully it’s enough to keep me in the action)