With Southland signed and sealed, I think I'm done racing for the year. What a way to go out! 5 stage wins out of 9, 2nd in KOM, and 4 dudes in the top 20. I can say now that I loved the racing down there though those first 3 days I was absolutely hating life at times. In particular, the times that I thought the sideways hail was ripping my flesh off 3 different times in Stage 2.
I could go on and on about the particulars of each stage and how dynamic of a race it was but it would take too long and be closer to a short novel than a blog post, so I'll just focus on the last stage - which reiterated a huge tenet of cycle racing for me.
I had been slightly sick the week prior to the tour and it was getting slightly worse with time. By the start of tour, I was coughing and spitting all kinds of colorful nasties. It wasn't affecting my legs though so I didn't make much of it. However, as the race progressed, so did my little cough. I'm sure racing all out in freezing rain and 40mph wind wasn't doing any favors. So, by Fri. Stage 7 I was feeling like complete poo. Every real effort I made on the bike was followed by a disgusting coughing fit and I did my best to sit in and survive the stage. That night after the stage was rough as well and I started to find it unlikely that I would finish the tour even though only 2 short stages remained on Sat.
If this hadn't been the last race of the year, I may have pulled the plug that night but I decided that there was no harm in trying in the morning with nothing left on the calendar. So I saddled up in the morning, warmed up slowly and made sure I had plenty of hot coffee in my belly at the start of the first stage. Surprisingly, my legs felt pretty good that morning and I was able to sit in all day thanks to Omer slaving away in the break.
For the afternoon stage, I decided to take a shot at a late breakaway if the situation was fitting. However, 5k into the stage I flatted, just as we turned into a crosswind and 4 guys were gapped off the back. So because the commissaire wouldn't let the caravan pass if there were riders gapped off, I had to do a 5 min. ITT bridge effort to regain contact with the pack. "There goes the energy for that late race attack" I thought to myself. I was a little irked. I had about 5 min. to get to the front so we could try to help Omer get the KOM points by setting a hard tempo up to the top. We set a really hard tempo but Omer was cracked from being in just about every breakaway during the week. However, the hard tempo split the field to about 10 riders with all the heavy hitters present. So then we rolled through pretty hard for a bit but then people started losing interest and the main pack caught us.
Then, director Glen thought it would be a good idea (ie. payback to other teams and fun to watch) for us to throw it in the gutter and smash the field. (Sorry for all the cycling terms but I don't feel like explaining so ask your nearest bike nerd to interpret if you want). Only problem was that poor Zwiza's radio wasn't working so he ended up being part of the field that was "smashed". It's funny now but damn he was steaming at the time! Rightfully so, I admit. So after we had our fun, the rest of the field (including Scotty) rejoined us a bit later and by that time it was about 15k to go in the race.
As soon as it was gruppo compacto, 3 dudes attacked and got a gap on the field. We had 3 4k loops left in the race so I decided to bridge up so we wouldn't have to chase. I really didn't think that it was the race winning move. When I caught them, I saw that it was #1 and #2 in the sprint points competition along with this strong (but little) dude who we raced at K2. The sprinters were going for sprint points that were every 2k so they were completely worthless in the break and were only concerned with each other. I suggested to Strong that we go right by them after the next time they sprint it out. They went all out for the next sprint and sure enough they just had to watch as we went by them on the other side of the road after they had thrashed themselves.
So now it was down to he and I with 2 laps (8k) remaining in the race. We still had a decent gap on the field and I started to believe that we could take it to the line. With less than 5k to go, Strong gapped me off as he went by me after my pull. I couldn't believe how strong he seemed because it didn't seem like an actual attack, he just seemed to be pulling away without trying. As we rounded the last corner with 300m to go before the start of the last lap, he just kept pulling away until 10m from the line he posted it like he had just won. I looked around wildly trying to figure out if it were I who had screwed up the number of laps or if it was him. But Glen was in my ear confirming that we had 1 to go. Whoops.
Well, the momentum has just shifted and despite just putting in a max effort, he continues to pull through with me due to what must have been embarrassment and guilt. I made my move to go solo with 2k to go. It was a weak attack, but he was so smoked that he couldn't accelerate at all. The last 1.2k into a headwind was probably the longest 1.2k of my life. That stretch would not end! But as I rounded the final corner, I knew I had it so I put in a few hard pedal strokes and then rolled over the line with a big grin (not before I poked a little fun at Vennel for his awkward attempt at a victory salute during st. 5's heavy cross winds). "What a crazy sport" was the thought that kept running through my head. I wasn't the strongest person out there that day. And I didn't have the easiest ride either. In fact, I probably had to work harder in that stage than any other racer. So how did I win? A little strength, a little craftiness, and a whoooooole lot of luck. I didn't even want to start the stage, and now I've ended my season with a victory. It reminds me of Nydam's lesson during that decisive stage at Georgia this year. He was dropped 5 or so times but just never gave up and ended up top 5 on GC. This sport is so unpredictable that you have to just keep plugging away even when things are going to crap, because that next victory could be just around the corner.
sorry, having trouble posting pics. another time...
thanks for reading. take care.