Beauty! I was finally of some use today! No flat tyres, no running into traffic islands, and concentration was at an all time high. Infact Ivan asked me after just 15km if I was ok as I looked so serious!! I said absolutely, was just concentrating and had my game face on, of there was action today I was determined to be apart of it.
Today we started inland and headed back to the coast for change. It was still blowing its backside off so as always in Cannondale Pro Squadra we set up camp at the front of the peleton to do our best to avoid any carnage where possible. When its windy and up and down things can change in a blink of an eye so if your at the back you can be over quicker than you can even look up and see what has happened. Infact it can be 300m from the front to the back of a grand tour peleton so through in some wind and a few corners and you would have now idea if 20 or 50 people had disappeared of the front of the bunch.
So todays stage was to be characterised by a fast decent down to the coastline, a steep 2km climb, and a right then left hand turn onto the final 2km climb to the finish. The decent was crucial to take on the front as once it finished we turned right onto the coast and the wind would be howling. Again I set behind Ivan and once the decent started he was right at the front, perfect. I just floated about in the first part of the bunch behind him so I was ready to help if required. I ended up following the race leader chris horner down the decent as I knew that should a split occur and he miss it then his team would be back in the blink of an eye to get him so safe spot to be.
Second decisive point came once we finished the decent and travelled along the coast for 15km before hitting the 2km nose bleedingly steep climb. With the climb coming only 30km from the finish its was crucial to be in the front of the bunch over this climb. We quickly grouped at the front of the bunch to ensure Ivan and ratto took the climb in the first positions. With 5km to go Ivan gave me the nod to ride the front and keep us in a perfect position. This turned out to be a little harder than expected as few other teams had the same idea and meant a drag race ensured. I was on the front beside greame browny brown, fellow aussie and an absolute champion of a rider and person. Surfice to say he has all the experience in the world. He made me laugh today as when I pulled up along side him he simply said wurfy let's not make this any harder than it needs to be!! We both had the same idea. We both wanted to get our team leaders to the bottom the climb in the first positions and in the process split the peleton to pieces if we had the opportunity. Sure we called a truce momentarily waiting for the moment, I trusted brownie know when to hit the gas so sat tight. Then form behind Longo had other ideas and told me to drill, I can't disobey my team mate so hit the gas. Naturally brownie joined in and soon after we joined forces. It certainly caused some chaos from behind but the effect was perfect, both our men hit the climb in the front and had an armchair ride to the top. Infact the front of the group was already almost 500m up the climb before half the peleton started the climb so that was good. I started the climb with lactic acid up to my eyeballs again but fortunately the pace was nice and slow so I was able to recover on the climb and ensure ratto stayed close enough to the front to come back to the front group over the top.
Once over the climb we took stock and re assessed our approach for the finish. Ivan was safe and sound and Ratto had ridden a great climb to still be in the front of the bunch. So I waited at the back of what was left of the peleton till 20km from the finish where I wanted to get the boys a nice fresh water bottle to liven them up for the finish. Collecting this bottle is always the hardest one to get as the pace is now absolutely full gas at the front. Infact simply collecting this bottle and handing them out to all your team mates can often spell the end of your day. You basically have to commit 100% to get the bottles to the boys as quickly as possible knowing that once that last bottle is delivered you could be throwing up the parachute, putting on the reverse light and rocketing out the back of the peleton.
Anyways I got the bottles to the boys and it actually gave me a new set of legs. All of a sudden I was back at the front of the bunch and champing at the bit to get on the front of it and help set ratto up for the sprint. I rolled up beside Cancellara and as I had had met him in poland and had some nice conversations with him he happily let me into the perfect spot. Behind a few of his boys and only 10km to go so knew I would not hit the front until around 4km to go. At this point I would have enough juice left in the tank to crank out a 2km pull to the base of the climb and then it would be up to ratto to stretch his legs in the bunch gallop. This is exactly how it panned out and with about 1800m remaining astana took up the pace making and I put the reverse lights on. Quickly checked to ensure Ivan was safe and sound up front and ratto aswell and was optimistic of a good result for the boys. Alas ratto found the kick to the line a little harder than expected but good thing was he had gritted his teeth all day to give it a go. This determination will be rewarded for sure in the coming weeks in this years vuelta.
For me I was really happy to finally be back apart of the action. When I was behind popovich and knew it was almost my turn to pull on the front I was literally bouncing on my seat with excitement. I couldn't wait to unleash on the front of the bunch and feel all the adrenaline rush that comes with knowing you have a peleton full of the worlds best riders tucked in behind you. For that moment you are leading the race, in fact for that brief moment you are in control of the race, it really is a great feeling, specially for dish pig domestic such as myself. I don't win races so my thrills and enjoyment come from the success of my team mates and moments like this, contributing to big race. That's what has me motivated every morning when I am on the start line of the race. Fortunately the vuelta will last 3 weeks so there's going to be plenty of chances to make a contribution. Got some sore legs finally, a good sore through, a happy sore, the type you get after an enjoyable day in the saddle. Time for an hour on the massage table with munga, when it comes to experience he is the man, about 60 years old and strong as an ox, has worked for the great cippolini and now has the honour of looking after my pins! Will do an in depth blog on how awesome he is during the the next days.
Now time to relax
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