Today was an absolute cracka! Katusha took the race by the scruff of the neck and by days end duly had the stage winner from there ranks. The first few km's went pretty much to the script of a regular day. Ratto was first to open the throttle and in a blink of an eye 17men had joined him and astana were immediately doing there best the block the narrow twisty road and let the break ride off into the sunset. Well katusha had other ideas. They knew after yesterdays tuff stage a lot of the big names and teams would be happy for a casual first couple of hrs to get the legs moving again. Instead once the break had 20seconds they went straight to the front and did not shut it down but set a searing pace that not only had the peleton in single file for 2hrs but also letting the break know I would not be getting any easy seconds.
There pace setting was seriously impressive. Our cannondale boys are magicians in this situation and after some initial jostling we had ourselves comfortably lined up in the first 30 positions of the bunch. Sit any further back and the rubber band effect completely trashes your legs and sit any further forward and you take on to much wind at that kind of pace. Longo, Heado and Dalla are the captains of the ship when it comes to this type of positioning. All sammy, paterski and I had to do was follow them and we knew we would be using as little energy as possible.
Once things settled a little and I got used to the fact that it was probably going to be full gas all day I actually started feeling very good for the first time in 10 days. I have the most difficulty when I have to accelerate and decelerate over and over again so in all honesty when its constantly hard and I am in a good position in the bunch with stresses of fighting for the wheel I am happy as a pig in mud. In a blink of an eye we were past 50km and next time I looked it was 60km. It must have been at this point I realised I was just about to finish my first drink bottle and it was time to reload. I realised all my team mates were in the same boat but also realised that they were not keen on trying to return to the front of the bunch travelling at 60kmph with a back full of biddons. I was probably feeling the freshest I though and also knew I would be taking it easy in the final stages of the race while the others would try and press on so realised if there was a time my team mates needed me to be the bottle boy it was right at that moment. So up went the hand I made my way back to the car. The line of riders I saw is somthing I had not seen before. I was absolutely single file and everybody was on the limit. It was nice that while I assumed most would be feeling the pace as I was, its always nice to see evidence of it aswell! Finally I got the back of the bunch and the ever experienced mario was already right there waiting for me. He knew we were on the rivit and was going to make life as easy as possible for us. Soon I had a jersey full of bottles, its actually quite therapeutic like and ice pack for my ribs!
It must have been my lucky day as no sooner had I grabbed the final bottle and began my dreaded journey back up to the boys but the pace slowed momentarily and the bunch grouped up!! Now all of a sudden a 400m obstacle was no more than 50m and one all out 20 second effort would have me next to the boys so quickly that they could not even believe how fast I had returned and not only that but with a smile on my face!! No sooner had I dispatched the bottles and the pace was wound up again.
Now don't get me wrong, its not the first time I have been in a peleton when the pace has been so hard and fast. What made this so hard was the way they were generating this pace. In a unique way that you felt every kmph of the 45-60kmph being set. The katusha boys would ride hard enough up the rises and short climbs so that you knew you were climbing and then as they crested the top would open the jets full gas!! The effect this has is that at the front they are now going downhill at 60+kmph and a few hundred m's behind people are still doing 30kmph up the rise. Therefore by the time they get to the downhill the front is now going 80kmph and you are doing an all out sprint everytime you hit such a bump in the road simply to stay in the bunch! Surfice to say the break never got more than 2min and after 100km they had caught half the escapees who surrendered and now well and truly had the race under control. At this point the pace relented for the first time all day.
By this point to put it in perspective we had averaged almost 50kmph for the first 2hrs. Sure nothing super but when you add in the fact we had done 1500m of elevation gain that amounts to an incredibly impressive performance of riding on the front of the peleton. At this point I felt great and was always at the front. Riders were not challenging for position and I figured so long as the pace stays on I will have a good day. Alas katusha let right of the gas and the bunch swarmed. I was all of a sudden fighting for position and with 50km to go just floated to back and kept out of trouble. On the first climb I felt great and just sat at the back maintaining contact with the main field. As I guys dropped out I just rode around them and continued on my merry way. I was such a great feeling to finally have that light snappy effortless feeling back on the climbs. On the decent dropped riders came tearing back to the group and instantly I dropped back again and stayed out of harms way. I stayed there until the next little climb with 30km to go and where a big group formed to ride easy to the finish. We had plenty of time to arrive inside the time limit.
This morning when I woke was the 2nd day in a row I was experiencing less pain. So I knew the less energy I expended on the road the more my body had to repair my rib. Today I was not going to do anymore than necessary and continue this process. No matter how good I felt I knew that the easier I got to the finish the faster my recovery was going to be. You can't burn the matches at both ends so today worked out perfectly for me. Also with tomorrows hard summit finish I will certainly have to expend more energy than I would like so I am very happy to have finished todays stage in the way I did. I am really looking forward to tomorrow.
Katusha really made it a bike race today. Often we become a little bit precious in the bunch and get used to stages being so heavily controlled in the first parts of a race. Then when a team like katusha decides to put the pedal to the metal so early on we get a little upset. This is only a momentary annoyance though as we quickly remember it is a bike race after all and we are here to race. Between the start and the finish the peleton will only go as fast or slow as we dictate. When broken down like that its a pretty simple sport really!! Also today showed just what an exciting race this years vuelta is. Every stage has had some excitement and unpredictability about it. The organisers certainly have put together and absolute bonza of a course which most importantly I am sure has provided excellent viewing on the tele!!
With that said make sure you tune in tomorrow, its going to be a doozy
Time for a few more pages of kelly's book for some final mountain stage inspiration and some rip repairing sleep!
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device