Today was harder than the last four stages combined…times seven. On paper the stage didn’t sound too hard: 100 miles, 10,000 ft of climbing at altitude with two cat 3 climbs, two cat 2s and one cat 1. Wait, that does sound hard. Well, it was harder than even that sounds. Having not finished this stage in 2011, then finishing 84th last year, I was hoping for a slight improvement this time round. I set my sights high, hoping to make the early break of the day on the first climb and get enough of a head start on the hard climbs that I could finish somewhere in the top 10 or 15–a very lofty goal.
As we approached the KOM of the first cat 3 climb, I followed a move that I was pretty sure would only stick if the field sat up like last year. The field did not sit up. In fact, the field didn’t sit up once today. Over the top of the climb and on the descent I ‘attacked’ by tucking into a ball and capitalizing on my weight, soon bridging to a group of 10 who’d gotten away at the crest of the climb. I went through them at the base and attacked with Marsh Cooper of Optum as the field caught the tail end of us.
We went hard for a few minutes in the crosswind but didn’t make it, even with the help of others who’d bridged up. After that, since we were now in the flat valley, I decided to save my matches and sit in. This turned out to be a good choice since the break didn’t get away for another half hour, and with a lot of attacking. 15 guys got up the road; all but two were caught at the base of the cat 2 climb, still only half way into the race.
I felt okay for most of the cat 2 climb, but got popped off the back with 1.5K to the KOM. I suffered pretty hard to keep the gap small and caught back on, with others, after the descent–narrowly escaping the back end of a car or two as I picked my way through the caravan on one of the fastest, most technical downhills we ever race on. I did the same thing last year too so I was prepared for it.
At the base of the descent, having just caught what was left of the peloton, I shifted into my little ring as we went up a roller, only to never get out of it again. My front shifter decided to take a nap for the remaining 40 odd miles. Fortunately (or unfortunately actually) most of the rest of the day was uphill and I wouldn’t need the big ring.
The peloton was already down to around 50 riders at the base of the cat 1 climb. In recent years the race hadn’t been this selective or this fast, especially that early on. The finishing time was 20 minutes faster than last year. Anyways, as we headed up the steep base of the cat 1 climb I firmly planted my front wheel onto the back of the small bubble of guys with fight still left in them. For a few minutes I began dreaming about surviving in this group to the top, happy that the pace was only hard and not incredibly hard. Yet.
Just as I thought of this Mancebo or someone fast attacked and split the group into bits. I trailed off slowly, getting shed from a group of strugglers at the feed zone when the guy in front of me got a power feed from his team car. As the altitude increased so too did my breathing. I was panting and wheezing like a dying dog with asthma. Alex gave me a power feed and I finally found a wheel I could sit on. I grew very accustomed with every detail of Kiel Reijnen’s rear hub.
We were caught by five or six others just before the top of the climb. From there it was a relaxing descent, with me all the while hoping that I could tuck and stay on the back of the group without pedaling, due to being stuck in the small ring. It was a long, slow struggle as we worked together on the next cat 2 climb and the final, never-ending series of climbs to the finish. I ended up 29th on the stage and 30th overall. I wish I was happier about today. Goodnight.