Well the tour of beijing continues to through up surprize's for its final edition. Today we were greeted with the news at the start that the stage would be shortened by 50km and finish atop the final mountain of the days route after just 111km. The reason was simply due to the fact that pollution in the finish town was above healthy levels to hold a bike race. After yesterday racing in such conditions for the final 50km or so when descended of the plateau the organizer's didn't want to risk an all out backlash from the riders and teams. The course changed the dynamic of the race quite a lot with now finishing atop a 1km 8% ramp as oppose to a 40km flat run into the finish line which was ideal again for the sprinters. Now the finish was destined to be a mix of the 2, a sprinter that could climb pretty and a climber with a good kick and that's exactly the type of riders that occupies the top 10 at the end of the day.
One man licking his lips with the course change at the start line was Phillipe gilbert. He has been banging on the door of a big win over the past few weeks and the finish like this had his name written all over it. Sure enough as soon as the flag dropped his BMC boys where on the front and ensuring there man had a shot at glory. Sure enough when we reached the revised finish line atop this little kicker it would indeed be gilbert who finished before anybody else so hats off to him. As a fellow competitor I am always immensely impressed by the way an unbackable favorite like phil was today is still able to go out and walk the walk. He had a massive target on his back and everybody tried to follow him but at the end of the day nobody could do anything to stop him, pretty impressive indeed! So enough on phil and he's a little recap of how the race went for cannondale clan and myself.
The objective again today was for GB in the sprint. With the course change we didn't really change our focus as we thought perhaps it could still end up being a bunch sprint as nobody really knew what the final km would look like. With the stage now measuring only 111km it's was going to be over pretty quickly. Firstly it was freezing cold and threatening to rain so nobody really wanted to be out there longer than was necessary. With this common feeling in the group a few teams planted guys on the front and kept the rev limiter pretty close to 50kmph. I felt quite good once we got underway, yesterday the world tour pace was a shock to the system after not racing at this level for so long but today I felt like I had a bit more of spark in my pedal stroke. With the pace so high before we knew it we were inside the final 15km and the fun was about to begin!
The final 15km was a slight drag uphill of around 2-3% average with the 1km kick up to the finish. To spice things up a little we had turned off a 4 lane super highway onto a small farm road so all of a sudden the fight for position became 4 times as hard as the pace ramped up! When it's like this it's pretty simple, holding position isn't easy and you have to fight for every wheel. Often at this level the fight is to survive the original shirmish and once you have done that and in a good position in the bunch it almost seems easier than the fight to get to when the race really begins! Anyways inside the final 5km and I had held my own pretty well. I am pretty curtious and prefer to take a spot in the bunch and risk knocking someone out of the way and make an enemy. I am like this as when I guiding one of my team leaders to the front you want the respect of the other guys up there and if you haven't pissed to many people of then your path forward when you need one seems to be a little easier. Maby this is a fault and I should be more aggressive but I am not at the moment and specially after my most recent trip to the ashfelt I don't want to take any additional risks and hit the deck particularly on Chinese roads!! Anyways with 5km to go had held a pretty good position, saved as much energy as possible, and most importantly hadn't made any enemies, atleast that I know off!
At around 3km to go the pace slackened a little and I was able to jump up around 10 positions or so get myself close to the top 20 wheels. Don't get me wrong this had by no means been an easy run in. We had been doing 40+kmph up the slope for the previous 15km and a check of the power meter would show I had averaged 400watts simply sitting in the wheels for the final 20min. Feel sorry for the poor buggers drilling out the tempo on the front!! So with 3km to go it was time to grit the teeth and see if my pins where up to the challenge. The beauty of a finish like this and slight incline like this is that you are expecting it to be like climbing pace, noticeably slower than on the flat right?? Wrong!! On a 2-3% grade like that these world tour dudes can comfortably crank out 40-45kmph so the km signs continue to fly by! It's a great feeling actually and very similar to rowing in a fast 8's race at a regatta. When you race the single scull in a tail breeze a fast time is around 7min, that's pretty quick. In an 8 man crew with a tail breeze I have been in boat that 5:28 once. I still remember to this day the 250m markers just flying by at lake barrington on a hot january afternoon in north eastern tasmania. Although the pain was insane as we were absolutely hauling arse it almost was negated by the fact that the finish line was getting closer so rapidly. I remember that masking the pain and wanting to push harder and harder on that day as you knew sooner than usual you would cross the line and pain would be done with! Well today had a similar feeling in that final few km's, the pain of going so fast uphill even in the wheels you could almost embrace as you knew soon it was over and done with! Only catch was we were about to hit the 1km ramp to the line and while it had felt like a tail wind rowing race for the previous few km's it was about to have a radical wind shift and feel like a block head wind!
These type of finishes are by far the worst for me. 1km 1.5-2min all out explosive power is about as opposite to my physiology as you can get. Still today I knew I hit to grit my teeth and simply try and follow the wheels. So as the head wind sensation hit I began to feel the proverbial grand piano fall down and playing on my back! No matter how determined my mind was my legs were beginning to turn in squares and in retrospect it was just a matter of when the knockout blow would be dealt to me! Still with 500m to go I was right there and 300m to go sitting in that front 20 or so riders. At this point I actually believed I might survive the pace, I could see all the favorites ahead of me and I was finally back in one of those exciting positions when your apart of the bike race with some of the best riders in the world. I feeling I haven't felt for a long long time sadly. Then just as we swung left for the final 200m and the red flash of Phillipe gilbert blasted out of the peleton I went to go with the group and completely blew my pooper valve and was on my knees groveling to the finish line! I just didn't have that extra % at the moment, the percent you miss when you miss the world tour level racing. Still I am where I am and again was nice to be at least closer forward than back and if my feeling are correct and am on the improve then the next couple of days will offer opportunities to enjoy some hard racing, time will tell on that one!
Of course following an explosion like that your curious as to what caused your explosion. Where you simply not good enough?? Well of course on this occasion but more importantly did you perform to your ability?? A quick check of the SRM would indicate with my current condition being a little light on race days I performed to more or less my capacity. The final 10min of the race I averaged 445 watts, not super high but when it's made up of accelerations of 700watts and idles of 200watts it's pretty high. For the final 5' I averaged 502watts which is kind of a bench mark for me during a race. I have done 525 in training but of course that's when your fresh and chances are if I did that today I would have stayed up front but that's the difference, being able to handle the race rhythm and still bang out your best numbers. On the flip side the higher the numbers you can produce in training when fresh the higher the number you will produce when your tired in a race?? Higher you are higher you can fall?? Anyways for the final 1min I averaged 600watts which is again a bit of a bench mark but minus that explosion in the final 200m it would have been quite a bit higher and needed to be to keep up with these front guys. Anyways was what it was and in reality I performed to where my current condition is at and I would have expected. Had I produced bigger numbers would have been a bit of a miracle or lucky break or super freaky day so have to be content with just having a solid day.
Time for some rest, tomorrow's going to be a GREAT day we traverse the GREAT WALL for the first time in this year's race!
Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone.