Wholly molly what an absolute cracka of a day. Daniele the rat man rattster has been banging on the door for a jolly long time and today he completely blew the door of its hinges! He has been 2nd and 3rd perhaps more than any other rider this year and to take his first Victory on a day like today is perfectly fitting. Its was and epically hard day and was fittingly won by one of the hardest men in the bunch.
Ratto was on the ball today long before he crossed the line in andora a grand tour stage winner. He spent the entire 10km neutral zone before the start perched right on the front row and when the flag finally dropped he was immediately in the action. After yesterday epic first 70km the break went surprisingly easily within the first 5km. I say easily as we were doing over 60kmph on a gradual downhill when the 5 men including ratto slipped off the front. Astana were obviously keen to let somthing go easily as I am sure yesterday took more sting out them than would of liked before the break formed. The bunch seemed happy for the same thing and I am sure considering the make up of it that I would come back once we hit the mountains. Sure it did not have renowned climbers in it but Luis Leon Sanches, Phillipe Gilbert and of course our man ratto are hardly group sprinters. They are 3 of the best riders in the world and when they need to they can climb very very fast. The peleton soon found that out!! There lead continued to increase as the rain started to pour down on the peleton for the plunge into andora. This was not surprizing as astana were happy to just control the situation as there not any riders inside threatening there GC position. What I am sure nobody expected was that once we began climbing the gap continued to increase. Soon after mario communicated to us via the radio that there 3 now clear, gilbert, sanchez and our man Ratto!! I had seen ratto climb like basso at the training camp in san pelligrino just before we raced the tour of poland. I don't know if before today daniele even comprehended completely the immense talent he possessed on all terrain but I certainly had a sneaking suspicion that not only was he and also the rest of the world were about to discover just what a classy bike rider he truly was. So with the 3 setting sale and gap continuing to increase 5km from the top of the days first climb Katusha had had enough and turned on the accellerator!
I was in my usual position right at the front with Ivan. Infact we were perfectly lined up behind astana so when katusha turned on the gas Ivan was right there to safely jump onto a reliable wheel. It was starting to get very very cold with the rain and increase in altitude and I was in big big difficulty. Not only is it a little annoying racing with a rib fracture but when you get cold it amplifies the pain ten fold. All the muscle around the trouble some are contact and all off a sudden you cannot hid from it. Add to that fact we were now above 2000m elevation where the air gets a little thin and consequently breathing becomes difficult and you increase the degree of difficulty to perform the simple task of respiration. Unfortunately for me I was finding all this out the hard just as katusha cracked the whip! In light of this I had to sit up and leave Ivan with sammy. Sammy is a columbian mountain goat so altitude is what he loves. He was being the perfect pilot for Ivan on the climb. I stayed close enough to the front group on the climb so if Ivan needed somthing I could arrive as quickly as possible but he was all good going uphill, it was the downhill that was about to present so serious difficulties for him.
Once we started going down I went into survival mode. I was shaking with a mixture of being cold and severe pain and was quickly aware that getting to the finish would be the start and end of my days objectives. Fortunately there were plenty of others around me so I never had to stress about being left behind and could simply do as much as was required. So down the decent I plunged and managed to get some food and hot tea into my system and started to feel a little better. When I was almost at the bottom of the major decent a lot of anxiousness came over the radio, I knew Ivan was in difficulty with the cold and had got so bad that he simply pulled over to the side of the road and had to stop. He could not control his bike due to being uncontrollably frozen and had no choice but to either stop or risk a major accident, I am pleased he had enough consciousness at that moment to stop no matter how much his head would have been telling him to persist. Longo and Heado stopped with him. Initially we all hoped he would put on some warm cloaths and be able to recover but in reality once your get that cold it takes hrs for the body to start functioning normally again. I had to keep moving as to be honest I was in huge amount off difficulty myself. I was freezing and could not feel my hands, my teeth were chattering and if I had stopped with longo and heado I probably would have ended up being with Ivan and forced to abandon. Specially seen as though my rib cage was now so painfull due to the cold that I could not feel my legs hardly let alone apply any power to the pedals. I figured it was best I continue onto to the next climb and if Ivan did get rolling again then I would be there when locomotive longo and hair raising heado towed him back into the race. Alas as I feared would be the case Ivan did not get back on his bike and was forced to abandon.
Its a harsh reality of cycling as only 20minutes before he spun his gear effortlessly on the climb and looked set to make a real impression on todays stage. He made an impression alright but sadly for him and the team it was not the pre planned one. Ivan certainly was reminded how cruel cycling can be in such a short space of time. He will bounce back, champions always do and I just hope he races again very very soon. He is certain to continue to be one of the strongest riders in the last part of the season and the team need him back on deck asap. So with that the ever selfless longo and heado returned to group without our captain. Was a pretty somber next 20km or so when the reality of what just occurred sunk in but the mood in the camp quickly changed when Dario's ever enthusiastic voice boomed over the radio, Ratto was now alone the head of the race and headed for Victory!!
Of couse I was not able to witness any of Ratto's heroic victory today, oh apart from the moment he attacked with 4 others and I screamed in the radio for him to push on as the group was stopping. Once out of sight the breaks gone and the quicker this happens the faster it deters any other opportunists from trying to get a piece of the action. So really that's as much as I had to do with ratto's win, this one was all him and Dario in the car off course. I have had a good chat with him though and it sounds like he really proved to particularly Gilbert (the current world champion) and luis leon sanches (regarded as one of the best classics and breakaway riders in the peleton) who the boss of that group really was!
The fireworks started on the first climb with sanchez forcing the pace. Only gilber, he and ratto remained. Daniele said he really had to grit his teeth for 5minutes pushing almost 500 watts but once sanchez realised he could not drop the others they resumed there steady pace. Well as steady as 400 watts can be for a 1hr climb! Once over this climb and down the other side Gilbert flexed his muscles and attacked over the top of the next climb and onto the decent. This proved to be like a red rag to a bull for daniele as he quickly despatched of sanchez who would ultimately crash out of the race, and chase down Gilbert.
Once on the world champ he ripped past like he was standing still and on the 3rd short climb of the day had 30seconds at the bottom and 1minute at the top as he gritted his teeth again around 500watts for a couple of km's in an attempt to break gilberts spirit. It worked and after a hair raising decent to the base of the final climb of the day the race was all but other. Even by daniele's standards he admitted he risked a lot on this decent with his moto GP type skills but in the end it paved the way for his fearless victory. Much was apparently said of his foot out skills on tight corners so it would come as no surprize that he does indeed own a road motorbike and in his OFF SEASON loves to get a bit of an adrenaline rush. After todays hair raising feet I am sure his motorbike will become an even greater part of his off season training.
So onto the final climb with almost 3minutes on Gilbert and only 6km of climbing remained. He said he did not panic and just maintained a good tempo as the group was some 8minutes behind and no chance of catching him so as he did not blow up. He was to smart for that and with the experience of Dario, the daddy of the team in the car behind there would be no mistakes. Ratto would take the biggest victory of his professional career, one which I am sure will open the flood gates to many many more. Infact if you break down the way he won todays stage he out climbed and out descended 2 of the strongest and best riders in the world. There was no luck involved just pure horsepower and complete all round class. What a way to win.
As expected Dario was over the moon with excitment and to be honest was hard to distinguish who was happier, daniele or dario! I guess it just backs up the observations I made of Dario the other day where he genuinely cares a huge amount for everyone, not just his riders, and as a result has a huge display of excitement when one of his boys does well. Was certainly great to see him so happy along side daniele after such an epic day.
So was definitely a tale of two extremes for the cannondale pro cycling team. Ivan misfortune compensated by ratto's absolute heroics. While of course we having come here with Ivan as the objective everyone is also a little somber. The great thing and strength of this team is regardless of the daily objective we commit to it 100% and if all goes well fantastic, if not we try somthing else tomorrow. Well Ivan's situation is no different, he won't be on the start line tomorrow so will have a new objective's, so as usual I am looking forward to getting some shut eye and waking up and getting stuck right back into it tomorrow.
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