So to stage five.
The night before Magnus and I had been joking to everybody that we were going to attack the peloton from kilometre zero and wreak havoc. The next morning I was no longer sure if this was feasible or even a good idea as I’m supposed to be here training and setting myself up for the Tour de France. Whitey tells me to take it easy. I, without hesitation, acknowledge his wisdom and head off to the village to drink coffee and schmooze.
Before I know it, I’ve missed the start (again), and am on the back of the peloton asking the team car for my rain jacket as there are hints of clouds on the horizon (very soft). In this very short space of time, I had forgotten that Magnus was going to attack kilometre zero. Magnus was not adhering to my logic. Before I know it, the peloton is in one very long line and going very, very fast. To the point that myself and Bettini turned at each other with a look that said, this is going very, very fast.
It then started to get a little hilly and I realized that I was not really finding it very hard while everybody else was clearly hurting. I rode up to the front of the peloton with an ease even I was aware of, and checked in with the ever vigilant Christian. I could see Magnus sitting in fourth wheel behind the chasing Liquigas (almost surveying his handy work). I rolled up next to Christian and asked him what was going on. He informed me there was a group of ten or so in front and we had ‘The Pate’ amongst them. I could see them and could see that Liquigas were bogging down and that the break was splitting up ahead and the next wave of attacks were about to commence.
I was willing them to start hitting out. They did. And I just kept following the strongest until they weakened and then kept jumping onto the next until there were none left and I had an empty road ahead of me. That’s when I hit out. That was the break made. I took two with me and we were then joined by two more. We hurt ourselves really bad for about 5 km and the move was made. At this point, I remembered what Whitey had said to me and thought,
‘Oh shit, what the hell am I doing here?’
I was now committed. I started shoving food in my mouth and preparing myself for what was going to be a big hard day. It’s rare for a break to go to the finish this early in a stage race, but because of the finish being uphill I knew I could write off any of the sprinters’ teams chasing. This left it down to one of the GC teams, and it would be foolish for them to waste valuable energy this early in the race. I was only two minutes off GC as was Fran Perez, so all they had to do was limit that damage. I could tell that the other four guys in our break were strong and fully committed. Basically I was assessing the whole situation and ticking off boxes in my head. It was becoming rapidly clear to me that I was in a race winning situation. I switched into race winning mode.
This meant doing as little as possible and being efficient as I could and closely analyzing my breakaway brothers. It’s strange cycling like that. The five of us were now effectively a team. We had to look after each other and help each other for as long as possible in order for any of us to stand a chance of winning. I’d never even spoken to any of them before. But for the next four plus hours, they were very important to me, as I was to them. Our gap went up, as did the terrain.
It was actually a pretty damn hard stage. I’m happy I had the Garmin on my bars and the Powertap in my pocket because I’m sure I’d have been freaked out by the constant high powers. Allen Lim analyzed it afterwards and saw that I only stopped pedaling for 15 minutes of the 5 hours (my team mates in the peloton had an hour of non-pedalling!), and I averaged 340w. That’s a lot. What’s even freakier is I averaged 154 bpm heart rate for the five hours. In December, an hour and a half at that intensity would have had me on my hands and knees! That means I was at 82% of my max for five hours. This is a crazy sport.
So anyway, back to the race. I had Allen Lim in the car behind me with our Kiwi mechanic Kris. I basically had them making me bottles of Coke and water constantly and handing me up Clif Bloks nonstop. I found out later that I went through 18 cans of Coke. Small cans, but still, that’s a lot of Coke. And as for the Bloks, I think I went through a packet every 25 minutes. I was determined not to blow. This meant I was still feeling good in the final.
I could visibly see and feel the difference compared to my four mates. With about 20 km to go, we became less like team mates and more like untrusting travel companions. At this point I decided that the sprint was where I was going to win the race. I could attack before but I knew the four would not hesitate to form an alliance to chase me down as I was the strongest. And the false flat, head-windy descent was not to my advantage.
Plus I knew I could kill them in the sprint.
So we get to 3 km to go. This is where the final hill starts. The other guys know I will beat them in the sprint. So it is up to them to attack me, and it is up to me cover all four of them because I KNOW what they are going to do. This is where I switch into rage mode. Although I am the strongest, even I am very tired, and the next few minutes are going to require super vigilance and explosive actions. I cannot not hesitate or wait for any help. This is all down to me now. I wait and wait and the first guy goes and I go after him… Then there’s a pause, and we slow to a crawl.
This is when my chain starts to skip a little. I think nothing of it. It’s been raining and it must have some dirt in it, but I’m now having trouble holding it in one gear. I’m so focused I don’t let it stress me. I know what I have to do and jumping gears aren’t going to stop me. And then the next guy goes…I go after him… Then we slow again, the chain is still jumping. I change it into the middle of the block so it’s straight and in a big gear so I won’t have to change it again until the final sprint.
It’s not going to stop me…
We’re spitting distance from the kilometre to go banner, and the big final attack I was waiting for comes. Bruit goes and I look at the others and see this is it, the last 202 km and five hours have been prologue to this moment. I’m going to win. I’ve got this…
My body folds as my bike disappears under me. I look down and see the chain broken. It’s over. I watch them go as I roll to a standstill. It’s gone, all that work, and not just that day but weeks and months and years. I’ve had two years of racing taken away from me already. That was my punishment. But this I have done nothing wrong for. That’s why there wasn’t even a moment of hesitation to throw my bike. Because at that moment, I didn’t think I deserved that to happen to me. Which is pathetic, but for those few seconds it didn’t seem fair.
I got over it quickly. By the time I had gotten my spare bike and ridden to the finish, I was okay again. Then in the 3 km roll down the hill to the team bus, I was able to come to terms with it. That’s one good thing about having had so much happen to me. A stage loss isn’t the end of the world. I have a wonderful team and get to experience days like that. Not many people get that. Not even my peers get to have days like I have on a bike. I’m lucky to have that. And I’ve got two more weeks to do it again…I love Grand Tours.
P.S. Listen to Oasis “Going Nowhere”. It’s what was going through my head as I stood watching the race go. You’ll probably find it on YouTube. It’s a song I’ve always held close to my heart.