Well today was a touch on the more interesting side for me! There was a very clear script for today stage, almost a blue print infact. 2 sprints with bonus seconds on offer, one close enough to the start to control the field for and one close enough to finish to control the field for a bunch sprint afterwood. Through in the fact that it was the only real sprinter friendly looking stage meaning half the field was interested in ensuring it was a bunch sprint. Well I decided to not accept the blue print and see if I could do somthing a little crazy for the day and go on the attack!!!
The stage started with an 8km climb just to soften the legs a little. I was certainly suffering so was not surprized to here the group was split in 2. It would regroup over the top as greenedge took control for the first sprint but I knew it was a tired peleton. There was no point attacking before the sprint but I knew as soon as we passed through and the dust settled it was time to open the throttle. Jensie was the 1st to launch and this only confirmed my desire to get up the road and when his move was brought back I set of in search of some time in the sun. Finally I was again in a breakaway again. Much like in the giro it seemed like a suicide but I felt with the wind blowing and a tired peleton anything and everything could happen over the next 120km.
5 of us skipped out to a 5minute lead and I immediately thought this is a good situation. The coolest thing was the composition of our escape group which included the obligatory frenchmen from ag2r, arishiro the japanese national champ from europcar, a saxo dude from I have no idea and last but not least my great mate in the red outfit of drapac from tasmania Wez sulzberger. We worked well together and everyone was committed, particularly when we hit a 5minute advantage, the motivation swelled amongst us escapees! Well all was good until the team cars arrived and the saxo director told his rider not to work with me as I was to high on GC. Fair enough, each team is entitled to there tactics but I doubt he was expecting what happened next.
I simply attacked almost full gas in the cross winds and drew away wez with me. We went almost full gas but the saxo dude, as expected burried himself to pull us back. Perfect, he fell for that one so just as he got back on I hit it full full gas again this time and I was away. I have to thank the other guys who said to him again if you want to play games you have to chase again and this time he surrendered. The ag2r guy then jumped away and I knew I could not let up to much to ensure I kept going away but I just rolled over a pace that the frenchey could slowly catch me but in the meantime maintain our lead. Once he got across he was a little annoyed I had not immediately waited for him so I told him to sit on my wheel for a while and catch a breather. If my plan of riding away with the bike race was to succeed he was a crucial cog in the chain!
So we were away and consolidated our 4'30" lead. At this point I started to do some calculations and set some targets. First was getting to the 100km mark with as bigger gap as possible. There was a chance we would have a tail wind for the final 35km but unfortunately I would quickly realise it was the total opposite! Oops. Still 100km was the first target the reassess. I figured I needed to set a tempo that I knew was uncomfortable for a team to close which was between 350-380 watts or my medium zone. I can hold this for a long period of time and know that behind they need to ride close to threshold to close the gap. Sure enough the gap started closing slowly as I knew greenedge would be working to close us down before the final sprint at 25km from the finish. I knew now with a head wind instead of tail wind staying away was almost impossible but I was going to make it as hard as possible for those chasing to catch me. We worked well together, I certainly did a majority of the work but that's fine, I felt great and wanted to work today. I was annoyed with myself yesterday and wanted to suffer out there. I wanted to get my fight and hunger back into my system so while I was basically on the limit for 3hrs I was relishing the challenge. I need to make special mention to matty junior morhic who showed me his decending technique he used to great effect when he won the U23 worlds last year. It involves sitting on your top tube and pedalling and its amazing how much free speed you get. This was definitely a saviour for me today.
So past the 100km mark and onto the climb. The gap was falling so I knew we were getting caught but being up the road had been usefull in a few ways for the team. The wind which we knew would be decisive was blowing and I was able to warn my team mates what direction to expect the wind to come from and to position accordingly. I would radio the info and biagio would relay it to the guys from the team car. Back to the race and onto the climb and here I set a pace I knew was one that the peleton would have to stay below to keep the sprinters happy, it was around 450-470 watts and sure enough at the top our gap had gone out a bit. To me though now it was inevitable we would be caught before the final intermediate sprint line 25km from the finish so I started backing it off and charging the batteries for the next phase of the race. I knew how hard we had been riding and how quickly the group was coming and as a result knew very well and good that the entire peleton would not be catching us. Sure enough 5km before the sprint the greenedge led bunch of no more than 60 riders gobbled us up and the escape was finished. I didn't really care about that I was just happy that they had had to work hard to catch us and that elia was safely in the front of the field. Next job was to do a little head count which didn't take long, it was just elia and I in this selection so then I looked for what sprinters were not there. The kittel group, one of the big favourites for the day was merely 50 seconds behind and chasing hard. I didn't bother worrying about this for the moment as greenedge were going full blast for the sprint. Once the sprint was done it was time to get back to work.
I now had a chat with the lotto boys and said I will ride if you do to stretch out the gap to kittel and the other sprinters with him. We rode hard for 5km or so and all of a sudden we had 3minutes. At this point I finally logged off and went back to the car to get some water and food for Elia and my attention turned to looking after him. We simply rolled along in the bunch and despite my 100+km on the attack, my legs actually felt pretty snappy. The pace was good so no need to panic, just stay in the wheels and look out for elia. At 5km to I made the stupidest decision I have made for a long time!!
As we rolled past the 5km to go banner I had elia positioned perfectly on greipels wheel. Would have been perfect had he still been the 4.5km later! Oh how much can wrong in that time. At 4km to go the pace slackened again and again like yesterday I had a brain melt, a touch of redline fever and made a big mistake. I attacked again! I went of the front in a desperate bid to unsettle the sprint trains. I did not back myself to help elia in the sprint so figured the best assistance I could be to him was to tire out the sprinters teams by having to chase me. Off course with this theory I assumed elia would still be glued to Greipel's wheel so my plan was perfect. Well 2 things went wrong. Firstly there was a small rise a little longer than I anticipated that really slowed me down and I was caught way quicker than I wanted to be! And secondly In the scurry to chase after me riders were all over the place and wheels in different spot and Elia was no longer glued to the lotto train. By the time I realised all this the group was engulfing me and we were now rocketing into the final kms and I was nowhere near elia and with no chance of getting back to him. I really messed up there, I should never have left his side as now when he really needed me I wasn't within cooeee of bailing him out. Good slap in the face to remind me not to come up with my on brilliant ideas in sprint finishes.
So we all saw what happened next. Elia started the sprint way out of position and charged at the line so fast he sucked the helmets clean of the head of the 20 guys he past en route to an incredible 3rd place on the stage. He came so fast that there was simply a green flash on the screen and as often is the case we were only left to ponder what if the line had been 100m further down the road. The reality is had I have been there to even just help him with 5 of those spots he had to come past I would have probably made the difference. We will never know now but what is certain was I made a big mistake and it potentially cost elia the win. I am very very sorry and like yesterday I can't change my misdemeanour from today but will definitely remember and be champing at the bit to ensure next time I get the chance to help elia I execute whatever role he wants to play as close to perfection as I can.
So today was definitely 2 very distinctive parts. The first I felt like I could somehow blow the race apart with a seemingly fruitless attack. Unrealistically ambitious I know when racing against a peleton of this level but hey, what not give it a crack. Upon assessment I think I did succeed to some extent. I think green edge had to chase very hard and that blew the field apart. It blew off a lot of sprinters and there teams and gave elia an even greater chance of victory. Sadly in the end I probably had an equal hand in ruining elia's chances at that victory with my stupid assessment of the situation and subsequent attack in the final km's. The day was almost perfect and for the large part I felt awesome. I made my first trip to the podium for a very long time and had an amazing reception from the crowd, it capped of a memorable day on the bike. As great as that self celebrating felt it cannot mask the pain I am feeling for letting down my team leader and good friend Elia in those final km's. That is a feeling that will stay with me from today and that's good. It will drive me to keep pushing to really turn into a bike rider. Just like Jensie said to me yesterday "your never too old to learn" well I had a good old fashioned slap in the face reminder of that today!! Anyways onwards and upwards, todays today and tomorrow presents a new opportunity.
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