The 2nd stage of the 2014 tour of slovenia is one I won't forget in hurry! It's absolutely on the go all day and for one reason or another you never seemed to be able to relax for a second. In the end Damiano Caruso showed he is ready to also fight for the GC along with koren with a fine 4th place from a very selective group. Koren defended his 2nd place on GC and of course most importantly his leading slovenian jersey so it was all smiles yet again on the Cannondale team bus after the stage.
Back to the race and It started with nice little leg softening 6km climb. As the designated cover the breakaway dude that meant that I could forget about the first race in a while collywobbles as my heart rate was through the roof and had lactate up to my eyeballs covering dangerous moves. While I was feeling the burn so to speak so early in the day with the whole stage ahead it was an enjoyable burn as I knew the lungs and legs where definitely on there way back. Eventually a couple of km's from the top I was able to bully my way to the front and with the help of the greenedge boys discourage anymore attacks and let 4 dudes skip away. The plan for the day was to protect our super athlete koren and damiano for the GC and should the opportunity arise set the sprint up for elia. First objective for this was to let a nice small easily controllable break jump up the road.
The best part about having a rider in the team 2nd on GC is you have the right to be at the front but not the obligation to do anywork! With this fortunate card up our sleeve I set up camp behind the Greenedge boys and the Cannondale boys slotted in behind me, a perfect spot to be in the bunch!! Well usually! On a fast decent section just 40km into the stage big Jens mouris misjudged a left hand turn and hit the deck hard, really hard at 60kmph. Surfice to say we didn't see him again in the bunch so I hope he is ok. Still I was jolly lucky not to join him and had some nervy double wheel drifting and rear wheel skipping to navigate my way around the 2m tall 90km dutchman! Fillipo pozzato was particularly impressed with my evasive action reminiscent of a motor cross bike! Pozzato is also a motor bike enthusiast like me so I shared with him the secret that I had been to watch the italian motorcross GP with my mate bryan staring on the weekend and must have picked up a few pointers from the experts! We had a good chuckle at this and I filled him in on what went on and we discussed the difference between supercross and motor cross. I had watched the anaheim supercross in california in January and was super impressed but have to admit enjoyed the atmosphere of the outdoor version a lot more. Pozzato agreed as we both thought you get to see more rider battles for all places on the bigger track than the tight supercross version where bikes seem to be all over the place. Also and perhaps a little biased pozzato thought the maggiore circuit is a traditional one and perhaps one of the more beautiful on the world circuit, I would have to confess that I can't argue with him on that one, bryan and I were super duper impressed! Anyways that was actually the first time I had had a decent conversation with pozzato so was nice to get to know him through the mutual interest of motorcross racing! Funilly enough it wouldn't be the first time we would be side by side in today's stage was fortunate to have made aquaitance with him early in the stage thanks to my crash avasive techniques!
Again back to the race and having avoided the crash things settled down a little. Still the pace was pretty full on all day and after so many weeks of long not so fast endurance training in tenerife I must admit I was feeling some fatigue from the lack of race rhythm. Still we had the perfect spot in the bunch and we're all together and I knew one way or another by days end the team would execute our objectives.
The stage was pretty straight forward and would be characterized by a hard 9km 9% climb topping out 40km from the finish. Naturally as we approached the base it seemed the organizer's had conveniently found the narrowest twisty narrow road in slovenia for the run in and the stress in the bunch and fight for positions began. We were right at the front and koren and damiano are two of the best at holding position so was no need to worry about them. My month or so had me a little tentative and I slipped back behind the boys to be there should anyone get in strife and need a wheel or a quick drag to the front. Fortunately I could do this from a relatively forward position thanks to the green machine boys as usual riding excellent position and as the climb began all was in order. Let's the pain train begin!
Sure enough it didn't take a second for teams to start forcing the pace and blowing in the race apart. As was planned I sat patiently behind Elia but it became evident the pace was a little higher than we anticipated and he started slipping back I had to jump forward and do my best to hang in there should koren or damiano need somthing. A special mention must go to one of our young guns Davide villella who seemingly pedals without fatigue and was present and accounted for in 4 position in the bunch. He has the fluid pedaling motion that simply looks effortless and while he has already made his name with podiums in the pro ranks he is destined for a successful career. It came as no surprise to arrive at the finish and hear that he had gobbled up all the mountains points at the top of the climb and will now leads the KOM competition, it will take a very good rider to take it off him that's for sure.
About 4km in and I was really battling and starting to root the pig as they call it! The easiest way to describe this is think of the complete opposite pedaling motion to how I just explained vilella! A couple more km's like this and I was unhitched from the front group of no more than 40guys and had to resort to my ungracefull pedaling motion in on my own! I had had one eye on my SRM and knew the numbers were high so was not surprised to find the going a bit tuff, after all I had been on the back foot from the first km's covering the attacks but this is to be expected having not raced hard in a long time. Fortunately while I suffered during the race by the final 10km the racing spark started to come back and gave me some more optimism for the stages ahead.
Like I said I had expected that the SRM might tell the story pretty well and it did. On the lower slopes of the final climb I did 5minutes at 500watts, 10min at 450watts and 20min at 420watts and 30min at 400watts. While these are not amazing numbers and a few percent of my best they are certainly the highest I have recorded since the tour of turkey so was nice to know that although I was on the back foot today my feeling that things were on the improve were correct so I am happy about that. So with a few km's to go I was dropped. I didn't give up getting back to the front group on the decent or run into the finish so gritted the teeth and spent the next few km's around 400watts. At the top we were a minute or 2 behind the front group and it was here that my new buddy in the bunch pozzato rolled up beside me. Obviously with his classics pedigree he is a classy bike hangler so I happily followed his smooth lines down the wet twisty decent. Our group was also pretty big, around 30-40 guys but with 3 men in the front group I could just sit in and have a free ride should be get back on which was nice and gave me a chance to get a good 40km of motor pacing in as teams chased.
The rain started coming down very hard in the final 30km or so and with this I was confident the boys up front would be all good. Kristian after all is an expert kite surfer so the water doesn't worry him and damiano's first professional victory came in atrocious conditions in coppi bartoli last season. Vilella is so classy on the bike I am sure he doesn't even notice the elements as he effortlessly roles along in the bunch and at the finish all 3 riders would find themselves in the top 20. Behind we chased hard but in reality made no inroads but still considering the class of the group up the front this was no surprise to me. As I said before I finally started to feel that racing kick out of the corners in the final km's so had me excited about what lays ahead for the final 2 days of the tour. I would be lying if I didn't say I expected to be doing it a little easier here but I guess in hindsight that wouldn't have been reality. The last race I did in california I finished dead last so for whatever reason I was at the bottom of my powers. Here in slovenia I am mid field so that's a significant improvement, would be nice if the trend continued as good things should be waiting for me at the next tour or race I line up in. Tomorrow is the queens stage and with 3 guys showing they are with the best on the climbs today I am sure Mr biagio conte will have something exciting planned for the 192km to the summit finish in tomorrow's stage!
Time for some tucker