The 2014 tour of taiwan wrapped today with a nice little 170km trundle in the southern region of the island. The course was about as straight forward as could be with 14 laps of a 12km pancake flat oval circuit around a lake on a nice wide open road and no corners! The only hope for any excitement was that it would blow a gale but while there was wind it turned out to be the most bizarre wind as was always right in your face or right behind, never across, this was quite baffling to me as we were doing a full 360 degrees each lap! I would have loved a little crosswind just to try something but was not to be. The GC race was pretty well finalised and the teams occupying the podium were determined to keep it that way. With that being said it basically meant anytime formolo and I launched of the front in a bid to break up the race a bit there were 3 teams determined to shut us down. Had there been a climb like previous days perhaps we could have done something but on a flat fast circuit we were pretty snookered. Our only hope was a late attack in the final km's to fend of the sprinters! So after 50km of failing to break free we retreated and waited for plan B, a late attack.
Alberto volpi had left us to our own devices for the final stage. The pre race team meeting was very simple, you are all free to do what you want. While that may be taken as don't ride as team it was quite to the contrary. We had had a great week riding together and worked very well implementing our race plans, just formolo and I had failed to knock out the knockout blow. So we decided we would try and break things up in the beginning, chase the bonus seconds if the opportunity presented itself and make sure we had the race together for late attacks at the finish. With our team being so heavily watched like it had been all week we could not get away in a break. Either we were instantly chased or as soon as we get up the road nobody would work with us. Simply put short of trying to ride a 170km team Time trial with 4 men and holding of the entire peleton we were not going to far in the first part of the race. With us being watched so heavily nearly all the other teams were let send riders up the road and before we know a large group of 10 had around 4minutes with only 40km to race. Normally that's a very manageable chase on difficult terrain and with 8 man teams but with 5 man teams on a fast flat circuit its panic stations. The course is so easy that you don't get as tired as normal and the speed is so high you have to ride a lot faster than the breakaway to close the gap. In this case we were around 45-50kmph so we had to ride 50-60kmph in the final 40km, not impossible but certainly a challenge with such small teams and number of workers to do the chasing. There was no one up there on GC so those teams would not help so it was down to us and the drapac team to pull it all back together is we wanted a bunch sprint. With that being said I licked my chops at the challenge and went to the front to start shutting it down.
It was a great feeling to get up there do this chasing. All week all the boys had committed to riding on the front from day 1. It was our final chance for success so I wanted to ensure Ted, Formolo, and Jean Marc atleast had a shot at the win, if the break survived we had nothing to go for, so It was a no brainer for me. Also in a small way a way for me to show I appreciated all they had done for me and wanted to make sure we maintained our great team environment all the way to finish of the final stage.
So on the front with 40km to go and we really had to commit. Fortunately the united health and drapac boys were equally committed and we got things rolling along. There are few tell tale signs in the peleton when you know your chasing hard. Firstly the chitter chatter amongst riders and teams stops and secondly the swarming toward the front of the bunch subsides. If you go fast enough the peleton simply forms a long line and everybody is content to be getting a free ride, its now a big waste of energy if you try and ride in the wind chatting at 50-60kmph. The breakaway definitely had a sniff of victory a despite us pulling at full noise the gap fell slowly. When I was pulling on the front to reach those speeds its between 450-550 watts so for around 90 seconds at a time that's pretty solid. I guess in that final hour you might do around 15 pulls at that intensity so its enough to remind you of what a lactate acid feels like in the final km's. The gap kept dropping slowly and with 12km to go they still had nearly 2min so this was when the pulls had to be really full gas. Here you bang up the power and speed but pull for a little less time, between 550-650 watts for around 30-45seconds which should have the bunch rolling above 60kmph. Finally at this the gap started tumbling and with 2 km to we had pulled it all back together. It probably one of my more satisfying and enjoyable chases. Such small teams and having to really work very hard, also the thrill of not really knowing until so close to the finish if it would come back together. Was certainly some good TT training and most importantly my 3 cannondale musketeers in the bunch behind had a chance at the late attack and stage victory. Diligently that's immediately what they set about doing!
When a catch is made and the realisation that a bunch sprint will take place there is always a brief moment of hesitation on what will happen next? Who will take control of the sprint? This of course represents the perfect moment to attack as you close to the finish and the peleton is hesitating. The ever diligent Ted King knows this better than most as usually he is on the front when the catch is made and would have had to watch on countless occasions these counter attacks that threaten to un ravel all your hard work for your sprinter. So armed with this it was no surprize for me to see the big bright tall skinny green cannondale clad ted king launch from the pack in search of stage glory. His timing was perfect and inside 1km to its was in the balance weather he would be reeled in. Jean marc and formolo were ever diligent and poised at the front should ted be caught to launch themselves so we were in the best possible position we could be in. Unfortunately big ted's well timed attack was brought to heel inside 500m to go with sprinter now launching at the line in what promised to be another chaotic sprint finish in the tour of taiwan, its basically pick a wheel to follow and hope for the best. Jean marc and formolo did exactly that but sadly today there side of the bunch was the slow side and they got swamped from the other side so the toss of the coin had failed for them in this case. Anyways we were given our free pass today so was interesting to see how we all took to that. I love riding on the front so its never going to take make convincing for me to get up there and start pulling. Ted spends his whole career riding at the services of everybody else so I was so pleased to see him have the chance to bide his time and shoot for some personal glory for himself. Jean marc and formolo were by far our best sprinters so the best card to play was through them in the washing machine and see where they would come out, in the end they just ended up in the wrong spot at the wrong time but still most importantly they atleast had a go at getting involved. All in all the way our depleted 4 man team was a great reflection on how we have worked well together all week, that's been something really nice to be apart of.
The final wrap up saw formolo and I finish 7th and 8th on GC respectively. There is no doubt we put in a lot more effort than any other team to make the race just others won it! We simply seemed to lack the knockout punch on the 2 harder days well atleast I did anyway. Not sure what caused that, perhaps I was a little flat this week, not hungy enough for it, or simply was more fatigued than I anticipated being at those crucial moments. Probably a combination of them all so obviously still a few things for me to work on. Riding alongside formolo has obviously been a big highlight of the week. Also being room mates with his just capped off a great week in taiwan. His enthusiasm and positive nature is just infectious in the team. When he is around the team is always smiling and more often than not laughing with him or at him. His constant little english phrases he wanted to test out during the race were a constant source of entertainment for me. It was simply his way of trying to improve his english race speak. Its funny when you learn another language you obviously get good at it in the areas you have the most interest. I actually think in italian during races, I say all time gaps and points of reference in the race in my head in italian first and then convert back to english. I didn't actually notice I was doing it until english speaker would asked what the gap to the breakaway was and I would say it in italian in my head and then translate back to english when I spoke. Good way of killing time in the bunch I guess, takes double the time to think of something! Still was so great to see formolo working so hard on his english, he so badly wanted to just chat all day in his newly learnt language and I know this seems steep coming from me but that kid could talk the leg of a chair! He is the perfect room mate for me and I have to strategically answer some questions with him in a bid to get some piece and quiet. Fortunately this does not seem to mind him that much as he just chats to himself and laughs at his own jokes until I am ready to talk again and we resume our conversation. He really is a great character and a great team mate so was very pleased to see him do well all week and ensure that smile never left his dial.
Now its back to europe. In 10 days time I will be at the volta catalunya, definately one of my favourite races of the year so I am very excited about that. I have had a great start to the season and most importantly still feel like I have a lot of work to do. Guess that's the bonus of starting pre season so late and having another week off in mid February, was so nice switching off after the suntour on lord howe island, it just broke up this early part of the season nicely. Now I am super motivated to race and train and while at the time I was concerned 8 days of complete rest of the bike was a little extreme I am glad I did it, figure if I am going to race and train hard I need to rest equally as hard. My next rest won't come until after california in mid may which doesn't seem as daunting as it may have had I trained all the way though since december. Anyways time will tell on that I guess but for now its nice starting the season feeling so fresh and motivated. Like every year I am travelling to italy via dubai. Travelling to milan from aus or in this case taiwan is like auto pilot just the same as the aircraft! I have 3hrs in dubai which is the perfect amount of time to hit the gym for 1hour on the spin bike. Kankle combat I call it. Then down a floor to the emirates lounge and a nice freshening up shower. Then I have a quick bite to eat before getting on the short 6hr flight to milan. It really is the best way to travel to europe via the middle east, the trip just flys by. Also by the time I get to dubai I can almost smell the pizza and perfectly brewed coffee in italy so pretty easy to stay happy and excited about your journey!
Let the road show role on!
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