The almost perfect day for the cannondale pro boys! Daniele the Rat Man Ratto finally crossed the finish line in first place and finally got to celebrate a victory that seemed inevitable to arrive sooner rather than later. So after all the fan fare and excitement and pats on the back all round from a perfectly executed team plan we all retreated to the bus for a de brief while ratto awaited his victory ceremony. That's when the disappointing news arrived that FDJ had protested and ratto had been disqualified for an irregular move during the sprint finish, BUGGER! Anyways from my perspective not a lot changed. We still did the work we were prescribed to do and Ratto crossed the line 1st so from a team perspective its still a win in my eyes and of all those that watched on TV, its just the record books that will show a different winner.
So as it had been for every stage so far this week we started the race with a simple objective, set Ratto up for the sprint. The idea was to stay calm until 4km to go when we would hit the front and ensure the pace stayed high and ratto had the perfect positioning for the sprint. Longo and I were to do the pulling in the final km's and heado would do the final leadout for Ratto.
Up until this point the stage was pretty cruisey until the final 25km. A small break was up the rd and there was no shortage of teams wanting to pull it back so the catch was inevitable. The final 60km comprised 2 laps of a 30km circuit which I love as when you hit circuits I call them free km's! Not that the race is easy, to the contrary, usally when you hit circuits the speed and stress rises considerably which for me make the time pass much quicker than normal. For this reason I call them free km's. Upon seeing the 1st lap I realised that a 10km section of very narrow rough road between 20-10km to go was going to dictate the outcome of the stage. For this reason I knew it was crucial that out green train took the left hand turn on the front, not to actually ride tempo from then on but once on this rd the path forward would certainly be blocked and there be impossible to be in bad position for the all important final 10km of racing.
So although we did not discuss this in the meeting I decided that I would ensure all 8 cannondale boys were lined up on the front when we made the left hand turn onto what seemed to be a poorly managed footpath. To achieve this I spent way to much time in the wind anticipating the corner but I was going to make certain I was there first. I did not have to look behind me in the final 500m from the corner as I took the front as I knew the boys would know what I was thinking and be right behind me. Sure enough as I rounded the corner and straightened up I looked back and there they all were with big grins on there face. Tick! So from there we were never more than 10 wheels from the front all the way to the finish as people jostled for position from behind. It turned out to be crucial as astana set a fearsome tempo on the rolling narrow winding goat track which really had the whole field including themselves on the limit. Fortunately we were right on there wheels so when we turned on the final 10km wider rd we were as fresh as possible and ready to pounce at 4km to go.
So I waited and waited and as soon as I saw the 5km banner charged forward and got in the line ready to pull as hard as possible. Finally just shy of 4km I hit the the front and peddled as fast as my long legs would go at this point in the race on a fast downhillish section of rd. At 3km to go longo the motor bike borgini ripped past and put in a huge turn for 1.5km or so where I think people were scared to pass him. Once he pulled past me I looked for ratto and ensured he was in the perfect posi. I waited behind stage winner simone ponzi and sure enough ratto found my wheel and I duly moved aside to give him ponzi's wheel. Perfect, inside 1km to and he had the wheel he wanted and heado was doing his final leadout to keep the pace high. From there I sat up and stayed away from the chaos and listened to the finish, RATTO VINCITORE!!! Awesome! All had finally worked out! Just as planned and as usual everybody had done the jobs asked of them. Another great indication that this is a team ready for the big show starting on the 24th of august!
Some longer mountains tomorrow so with a peleton of what seems to be packed full of columbians its sure to go off like and absolute fire cracker tomorrow so looking forward to that. Also gives a great opportunity to put the finishing touches on what's been 2 excellent weeks of race preparations.
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