The giro for 2013 wrapped up on Sunday in Brescia and like the rest of the giro the final day still involved plenty of drama and unpredictability like every other stage of the race. It had been anticipated that it would be somewhat of parade stage but the fact of the matter was we still had to ride 207km before crossing the finish line! While all good intentions in the bunch planned it to be as painless as possible, we still we faced with at least 5hrs in the saddle. As expected we started slowly and I enjoyed some time to have a chat with the Aussies on the bunch and reflect on the past few weeks. I probably spent the most time chatting with Adam hansen who as always is extremely interesting to have a chin wag with. On Sunday however he was a little preoccupied as he had a flight to catch from Milan, some 140km from the finish of the stage in Brescia, and only a couple of hrs to get there after the stage. This predicament created the only excitement for the first 130km before we reached the first intermediate sprint.
After about 30km of this relaxed pace Adam started doing his usual calculations and realized another couple of hrs at this pace and he had no chance of making his flight. He was desperate to be home as he had been away for 5weeks and he was not going to concede to another night in a hotel. It was at this point he said to me do I think Astana would mind if he went and rode on the front to get it all done and dusted quicker?? I said go and ask but knowing the respect Adam has garnered over his years in the bunch I was pretty sure it would not be a drama. So off he went to the front of the group, explained his little predicament to Vincenzo, and he was on the front driving the peleton toward Brescia and making his flight ontime. Vincenzo was happy and so was his team, while they were happy and knew they had the responsibility to lead the bunch to Brescia they sure were not going to complain if a couple of lotto boys were happy to drum out 100km on the front for them and get the whole thing over and done with sooner. From there perspective it meant getting there party started even earlier!! The funny was however that everyone had relaxed and got used to the gentle pace that all of a sudden going back to race pace was met with a bit of disapproval in the bunch. It was pretty funny hearing the boo and Hoos but adam did not care, he was setting sale for home. Then things got really interesting as a few riders had stopped off in a town to say hi to there families. No dramas it had been happening all day. A quick cuddle and hello then the riders just jumped back into the line of cars and made there way back to the bunch as if the had had a flat tyre. No big deal. Only problem was now the pace was a little higher and some cross wind had blown up so all off a sudden the bunch was split into a few pieces! Once the riders rejoinder its surfice to say that there were not anymore family stop offs or howdy's along the way, Adam Hanson had a flight to catch and the giro train was not stopping at any stations! So with the tranquillity gone and 125km in the books the race finally started to ramp with the first intermediate sprint fast approaching. This was an important objective for me today as I wanted to protect my position in the sprint competition.
I decided to turn to the man that needed the sprints more than me to ensure he wore the red points jersey on the final podium at days end, mark cavendish. I said "mark I need to get some points to defend my position, I assume your going for them? What's your plan?" his response pretty simple, "do your best to hold my wheel or get as close to it and I am sure you will pick up some points" beauty so all I have to do is try and hold the fastest man in the worlds wheel and I can get some points! Fitting really, no prize should ever be easy to win in any race so I should have to earn my spot like anyone else. I just had to prey cav went about 50% throttle so maby I would be a chance! Fortunately the sprint was largely uncontested and while I was still full block holding the wheel I managed to snivel up a few points and secure 3rd in the competition so I was happy with that. It was the first time I had ever placed so highly in any classification in such a big race so can't complain.
From here my focus switched to the major objective for the team for the day. Getting Elia to the finish as fresh as possible for his head to head clash with cav. My role was simply to keep the boys at the front between the sprint and entering the short finishing circuits. We knew the circuits were short and quite a narrow Rd so it was likely that wherever in the peleton you entered brescia was likely to be where you would stay for final 34km as the pace tamped p to the finish. So I did what I had been doing most days setting up camp out in the wind up the pointy end of the bunch. By this time the Astana boys who had moved back to the front for the parade into Brescia but whilst there train was respected to the utmost, the Rd around them was as stressful as ever with everyone wanting to be up front for the entry into the circuits. The protocol was once we passed the start finish line on our first lap of the circuits it was business as usual and the race would be on for the final 30km.
So push push push and push a little more forward was how I was spending my final afternoon at the giro. Keeping the green train where it needed to be and when we finally passed the finish line and the race lit up we were in a perfect position right up the front. Christiano, Sami and myself I feel had done our jobs pretty well and now we just had to use whatever energy we had left to keep the boys up front and save the green locomotive engines of elia's lead out train for as long as possible. The other little thing on my mind was the intermediate sprint with 4 laps to go. I was already on my absolute rivet from keeping the boys up front so the try and be there for the sprint was just going to out of the question. I knew all I had to do was grab cav's wheel again like before and snivel a couple of points but I decided all my energy had to go into protecting the guys. If I was in the right position so be it but if not we had an objective for the day and that came above any little personal ambition I may have in the sprint competition. As it turned out I was to lose my second place in the classification and slip to 3rd on that final sprint but also at that time we were working very hard fending our position at the front. As always happens on these hard fast technical circuits everybody is fighting when there fresh. As the legs get a little more tired there is a little less fighting until finally you are able to keep fighting longer than other teams are able to and you can enjoy some space at the front. It's is nice feeling when you get close to the arrival and all of a sudden you can concentrate on peddling your bike as appose to blocking or fending for every square inch around you! At 3 laps to my tired coughing fatigued body put up the white flag for the final time in the giro. I handed the reins over to caruso who had been charged with the job of keeping the boys in pole position until 6pm to go when the green train would finally be unleashed. As I slid back through the bunch I realized why the fighting had suddenly stopped up front. The group was a single ling and nearl 300m long, everyone was on there limit so was nice to realize I was not the only one aboard the pain train. Anyways as I gently rolled around the final km's I tuned in harder to my radio to listen to our master in charge of affairs stefano zannata (he is a spitting image of Elvis preastly) guide the boys through the final 4pm lap. At 3km to go I slowed to watch the big screen and see the boys launch to the front, first longo then marunga, inside 2km to go and sitting perfectly was the tgv's of the green locomotive, Dall Antonia and sabatini and sitting perfectly behind them was Elia. I knew at this point it would be a good result. As it turned out the lead out was text book perfect and in the Elia was simply beaten by 2 world class sprinters but he as always gave it all he had and 3rd is still an incredibly awesome result in such a sprint finish. Elia's 3rd along with my 3rd in the sprint classification made it not a bad way to finish of what had been a unpredictably exciting giro.
As I coughed and spluttered my way over the final meter of the 2013 giro I simply felt relief. Since coming to terms with the fact that my health was against me this giro 10days before I had simply had one objective, getting g across that finish line in brescia and along the way helping out the boys in any possible way I could. In the end I feel like I learnt a massive amount and particularly on helping the team. I believe this may be the greatest skill I will take from the giro. Its not important how well you can help the team when you have great condition, under these circumstances you can usually perform all tasks required without too much drama. When you don't have any power or energy you have to be creative and it's on these days you need to know how to be of use to the team. If you can win then yo need to contribute to the attempt to win otherwise your just wasting space in the peleton. Your going to have plenty of days in the bunch when you don't feel great and being able to help out is not only valuable to the team but also for yourself. If you have a bad day you can often feel sorry for yourself and dejected wpfor not achieving what you wanted to. If you can switch quickly to an assisting role and somehow conger up the energy to provide some help to your team mates you on a personal level can finish with some satisfaction in your day and a smile on your face. Particularly in grand tour when your racing for 3 weeks it's pretty important to not finish to many days dragging your bottom lip along the ground as you will be in for a miserable race! Fortunately I was able to accomplish this this giro and find ways to get every last bit of what I had out of my body and assist my team in anyway I could. As a result I can't actually recall any days that I finished with a snarl on my face. Considering how I was feeling physically I have come to the conclusion I must be a pretty optimistic person!!
Whatever I am I survived the giro of 2013, it was the greatest test of my character I have ever faced and I am great full for this test. I have certainly been through it all this season and it's still only may! Plenty of more adventures to come that's for sure! For now though it's time to give the body a little break, rebound and then think about getting back in the ring.