The course for stage 3 I am certain was designed to make the peleton sea sick! Not only were we next to water all day long, but also the road seemed never to be straight nor flat. In fact the only flat sections were a couple of bridges which were buffeted by wind so hardly made a friendly respite, quite on the contrary!
I started today super fired up after yesterdays pussing footing around on the positioning front. I was determined to be at the front and I have always loved windy days so was champing at the bit when the flag was dropped for the 3rd stage. When its windy, twisty and rolling its always a hard day in the bunch, good thing is its hard for everyone. Everyone wants to be at the front due to the constant threat of turning a corner and the consequent change in wind direction can have the group in pieces. To be at the front takes energy and a fair bit off it. You basically have to keep fighting for position until people stop fighting you for it basically as a result of them no longer feeling they have the energy to keep on fighting. At this point riders just concede and move back in the peleton and hope they will be far enough forward to avoid being left behind the a team decides to turn the screw and split the race to pieces.
So with my enthusiasm at an all time high was anxiously awaiting the first skirmish. Sure enough as we approached a wind swept bridge I sensed some nervous moves from moviestar and astana. Determined to be apart of the action I looked for my team mates and saw them safely positioned not far behind me but not close enough to orchestrate an all out assault in the cross winds. So with the right hand corner now fast approaching I drilled it to ensure I was first around it and in the process slowed the moviestar and astana teams getting to the front. As expected they both sprinted to pass me and attempt to split the bunch. By the time they had got to this point my boys were with me and safely set up camp behind ready to join in if necessary. As it turned out with still over 80km to race neither team wanted to commit fully and a truce was called but as always this first fright put the nervs in the bunch and everyone started fighting for the front! Perfect, now we were really racing. For the next 40km or so it went like this, fight fight fight and then sure enough we hit another nervous section and the first crash of the day happened close to the front.
Ivan and I have a very simple system for race situations such as this. That being windy days, the final 30km of fast technical stages and anytime basically that should he be in difficulty I am right there to get him out of it. His safety as he calls it, the emergency button. It might be taking him to the front or if he has a flat tyre or problem with the bike he simply takes my bike. Its quite fortunate we both have exactly the same measurements on our race bikes. So with the stress now high he immediately said its time to implement this system.
So when the first crash happened I immediately saw ivan scoot around an unfortunate Simon Gerrans laying on the road. The group was not split in half be we were safely in the front one. Then 5km later we hit another small town and down went a heap more riders. Straight away I saw Ivan just ahead of the chaos but I was blocked and had to retreat to foot path. A pretty impressive bunny hop by my standards due to the high curb and a duck and dive between a couple of lovely old ladies in the mid sixties that had the witt to ask for a quick photo!! And I was back on the road and still in the front group and still only a few spots behind Ivan. Only about 40-50 riders remained up front and we had 7 guys there so all was well. Well almost.
No quicker had I accelerated back up to warp speed, we were not mucking around now, 30km to go and GC contenders teams up front wanted to nail home an advantage over those unfortunately being left behind, I had the horrible feeling of my rear wheel rolling around! CRAP, I had a flat tyre!! Straight on the radio to get a spare and mario or DS say put up your hand so they call us, I said it was up and he said put it up higher as the judge was not calling them forward!! I looked around and realised why, the cars were no where to be seen, the crashes had split the field into 3 groups and the cars were about 1minute behind! So back I went through the groups I had been so diligent and motivated not to be in today until finally I reached the car and changed the wheel. I got going again knowing my time up front in the sun was over and gradually starting picking my way through the cars to the now chasing 2nd group. I started to gain some hope of regaining contact atleast with this group when we turned onto a bridge that was barely wide enough for a car. Sure enough the was another crash and all the cars were stopped again. Not even my skinny little pigeon chest could squeeze past the parked cars and I had to twiddle my thumbs and wait for them to move on for another minute or so. Now I was miles behind and the adrenaline was all gone. Like yesterday where I was reminded how quickly you can go from the front of the peleton to the back, today I got the reality check of how exilerating and also demoralising it can be racing in crosswinds. One minute you are dishing out the suffering, the next you are pleading for forgiveness and just wanting to be in the middle of a peacefull peleton.
Anyways there's always someone worse off and while I lost the chance to again be of any assistance to ivan on the final climb I did not hit the deck. I was in a group now with simon gerrans who looked like he had gone 12 rounds with mike tyson so I realized things were not so bad. Ivan had plenty of team mates with him to take the climb in the front position and in the end he put in another fine display to be 10th on the day and continue his climb up the GC standings. His smile is getting wider and wider everyday and with it the moral of the team. Its a great atmosphere at the dinner table so looking forward to getting some sleep as I can't wait to wake up in the morning and go race my bike. Really really champing at the bit for tomorrow!!
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