For the past 4 weeks i have been battling my way through the giro and now enjoying some recovery time. The Giro was an amazing experience for me, my main role in the race was to be there to help our team captain Michele Scarponi and with him finishing in 4th place in the General Classification only 10 seconds behind 3rd, it was also a very satisfying experience. Our team did not have the greatest of fortune on the luck front however thats all part of the sport and where you miss out in one way you tend to benefit somewhere else so you like to think that in the end it is fare for everybody with regard to luck.
After the first few days we returned to the home of the race for the remaining 18stages. We did make a breif detour into switzerland on stage 20 but appart from that it was all on the roads of coffee and pizza. The Team time trial was the first stage on italian soil and was not such a great day for our team. We started very well and at the midway point we were in the top half of the field, unfortunately a couple of km further on we hit a freak hail storm which lasted all of 5min and lost all our rythm and along with that a bucket load of time and ultimately a very average performance. It was a pretty crazy experience having to race in a hail storm however quickly realising stopping and waiting for it to pass was not an option, i quickly tapped my head to ensure my helmet was safely secured and figured i was pretty safe from any serious injury! The team TT was followed by a couple of flatish stages with the next big day involving the famous gravel roads in tuscany. On the one day where rain is far from welcome it bucketed cats and dogs turning the usual white gravel roads to brown mud. Again unfortunately the team did not have a great day with me pucturing at a very inconvenient time just as the peleton had split. I was thrown a wheel by the neutral spares cars but with the convoy a minute away behind the second group my day at the front was over. Not long after michele crashed and had a bike fight to return to the front of the race and did a great effort to get within 1min of the days winner Cadel Evans which was a fantastic effort by him. Riding through mud and rain is pretty much like riding with 2 flat tyres and your brake pads tightened up against the rims so whoever can win on a day like that is truly a super strong dude so with michele not in the mix was great to see the aussie get up for the win.
After the day in the mud a few more regular roleing and flat stages followed, most noteably a sprint stage win by tasmanian Matty Goss which was great to see. He sure is a special talent. The next big test came on the longest stage of the race, 265km to the earthquake ravaged l'aquila. I dont think anyone would have imagained how great a impact this day would have on the peleton at the start of the day but by the end of the stage nobody will forget it in a hurre. It was a very nervous start with all well aware that the lucky one to make up the days break away would more than likely arrive at the finish to fight for the win. This occured however instead of the usual group of 10-15, a group of 56 escaped up the road including carlos sastre, bradly wiggins, david arroyo, and the big winner of the day the white jersey wearer and fellow tasmanian Ritchie Porte. Myself and Matt Goss were also present so tassie had its full representation in the great escape. With all the big teams either unwilling or unable to do anything back in the main field, the gap rose to 18min before my team called myself and 2 of my team mates back to start chasing it down. This is pretty normal ask when riding for the GC however on this occassion with rain wind and freezing cold temperature this 30min wait for the superstar group really messed me up! By the the time they arrived i was no longer feeling super strong and with teeth chattering i took my place on the front and started chasing the group i had just been relaxing in for the past 160km. My legs were now turning in squares and after 60km of pulling the gap was down to 12min 50sec and i went flat out out the back of the group when we hit the final major climb of the day. For the final 40km i suffered like never ever before, again teeth chattering in the freezing cold and seemingly incapable or unable to eat i was in big trouble. My saving grace came in the form of Pablo Lastras, Greg Hendy Henderson the Kiwi, and Michel Albasini who realised my suffering and rode me to the finish. In the end Michele along with Cadel Vino and Basso lost 12min 30sec to the breakaway and the guttsy little tasmanian Ritchie Porte had ridden himself into Pink so was a great day to be appart off in that respect. After the finish i reflected and how i had ended up in such a state and realised how much can go on during 7hrs on the bike. It had started perfect and i was in the break, doing no work and hoping for a good performance. Then i find myself waiting on the side of the road to wait and chase the group i just sat up from. I bury myself to try and close the gap then suffer like never before simply to make it to the finish line. Pretty crazy i quickly realised that it certainly wont be the last time i experience such days on a bike and really in the end after realising that i still had 10 fingers and 10 toes and had not lost any to frostbite i realised in a funny way it was a great experience and i was lucky to experience it, the tuff days make the good ones all the more satisfying!
With Ritchie now in pink and with a handy lead the group enjoyed a few easy days with breakaways and the opportunity to regain some strength for the mountains of the final week. The Monte Grappa stage quickly established those who would be prominent in the final week and michele came to the for finishing 3rd in a group of basso and cadel and it was time to start clawing back the lost minutes. By the time michele finished the stage on the zoncolan the podium was insight and with the rest day to follow the team had plenty of optimism about the final run to verona. I meanwhile had developed a good relationship with michele and was enjoying the role of looking after him. Simply i did anything i could to ensure he did as little as possible, water food, tell him a joke, and of course the more serious duties such as moving him up front. On the hard mountain days once he was in the perfect position to start the crucial climbs i would give him one last bottle and a push and sit up and save some juice for the next day. One funny thing about every race is that you always tend to find yourself in the same group at the finish, i was always pretty much bang in the middle, hence the name of this post, and made some good friends in the final km's of stages as we rode to the finish without the stresses of being right up the front.
It was all set for an exciting final week which was kicked off with the mountain time trial. For me this was not such a good day, my ambition was to ride the climb at regular intensity to ensure i firstly made it up the climb but also to try and keeps as much juice in the tank as possible to help michele in the final days. This plan backfired a bit on me and i got a little bogged down and suffered more than i should off so will know for next time to be a little more prudent with my effort on such stages. Michele had a great ride and was 5th and was continuing to claw back the time. 2 easier days followed before we reached the final 2 mountain days, the tuffest of the race no less. Michele again showed great determination and was the only rider to hold the furious pace set by the liquigas duo of Nibali and Basso and was rewarded with the stage victory. Basso was now in Pink and the race was finally turning into an italian affair after the first part dominated by the anglo saxons and the spainyards!
The tone was set for the final road stage and with micheles win the day before and getting ever closer to that podium, our team was ready to rock and role. I personally was really determined to make the breakaway to hopefully be there late in the race to help michele take back some time. The day started perfectly as i was feeling good, quite a luxury after 20 days of racing. I made the breakaway and was again full of excitment as we hit the first of the day 4 climbs, the 34km monster which took us to livigno. Half way up the climb the breakaway group had significantly taking a bit of facelift with the initial group being whittled down with the likes of Sastre, Lloyd, Cunego, Simoni, Vino, Pinnoti and the eventual stage winner tschop from france joining in on the escape. When Vino and sastre arrived the pace went up all over the race and the pace was to much for me, with 4km to climb i was dropped and by the time we reached half way i was back in the peleton. I offered michele some food and that was it on the climb out of livigno i was dropped and spent a very painful day dangling between the front and last group on the road, i position i was getting used to being in. I was pretty dissapointed in myself as i really wanted to hang in the break but on this occassion was just not strong enough and i guess with the calibre of riders i know i am not quite at there level yet, specially on day 20! Anyway after that michele had another great ride and put in a huge late attack and was 4th on the day, more importantly had dropped nibili and was now only 1 second of 3rd overall. The play of the day however was probably by basso as he was able to follow the move of scarponi and pip him for 3rd place. This meant that michele missed out on the 8second time bonus for 3rd and ultimately was pretty much the difference between 3rd and 4th on GC.
Michele therefore needed the time trial of his life to get on the podium and at the middway stage had taken the time from nibili. Unfortunately on the 5km decent run into the finish nibili took 8 second out of michel and the final margin was 8 seconds, how handy that time bonus would have been the day before! Anyway thats sport and michele did a great job and also the team worked to our best capabilities to set him so everybody was pretty satisfied. Michele i know perhaps was not as 4th always leave you wondering, in my final Rowing world campionships in 2006 i was 4th and there is never an easy way to view it. For an italian to finish 4th in the biggest event of his life i am sure will fill him with the required determination to come back next year and hopefully for him move up some spots.
For me the giro was an experience i never thought i would have in my lifetime. It was great to be there to see what you need to do to one day try and succeed in such a race. Sure there are the exceptions such as Ritchie who was the revelation of the race and basically looked born to be in the position he was in thoughout the race. To dominate the young riders comp from day one, spend 3 days leading the tour, there is only one place he is going in the future and that is to the podium whenever he steps on the bike. Its exciting for him and those arround him to see what he is capable of. I am super lucky to have been close to him over the past few years and the work he does is seriously impressive, certainly hrs most would consider insane but for ritchie the proof is in the pudding! Anyway back to getting though your first grand tour and i was reminded of some wise words Matt Lloyd gave me once, "to finish first first you must finish". Sure finishing first my be out of my reach but also pefhaps not, in 21 days of racing you have alot of time to reflect and perhaps i was just halusinateing but there were moments where i thought perhaps one day i can be up the front. For now one step at a time, first is recover and recover well to ensure this glangelor does not coem back to haunt me, and also ensure i enjoy the power bumb you earn by racing a grand tour, then look to my next race which will be the Tour of Austria where i hope to be finally feeling on top of things after the hectic start to the year!
So rest rest rest and plan the final part of the year which i am pretty excited about. One great part about the giro is you leave home with the weather still a little temprimentle at the end of april and when you get home it is summer and time for the beach, and i love the beach!
cameron james wurf