What a shit day for a bike race. Today was the longest stage of the tour which was 205 km of mainly flat roads with dirt sections at the end. We had about an hour drive to the start of the stage and once we arrived at the start the rain started coming down. It wasn’t too bad, but none the less it wasn’t dry. Once we got done with our 2 neutral laps around the host town the racing began. We had a dirt road about 4 km into the stage which was only a few km long and we were expecting the break to go there or possibly after through some corners before we got onto the highway. We knew if the move didn’t go before the highway it would take much longer as everyone wants to be in the move as it dangles right in front of the field. Well, thats what ended up happening, the break never went in the beginning kilometers and everyone wanted to be in it. I was very motivated to get in it, but at certain times it comes down to a bit of luck on which move to follow. Drapac seemed to be chasing everything down that had more then 5 riders and also Trek was doing there part to control something not too large getting off. After 55 km of racing a group of five finally got off the front and we had already been racing for full gas over an hour, in the rain.
It seemed as though everyone had the same mentality of once the move went it was time to go back to the cars to get more clothing. I must’ve been back at my car for 15 minutes or so taking off wet clothes, putting more clothes on, then even more after that. The first hour of racing was full gas and hard at times but at least we were warm, now we weren’t pedaling with too much enthusiasm and the cold started to set in. There were a couple times where Katusha would go to the front in the crosswind sections and put some pressure on the field lining it out, but fortunately we had our team slotted up front out of danger.
We had two more dirt sectors coming up and the race was on once again for positioning. At this point my hands were damn near frozen and I was just trying my best to stay up front before the dirt came. We seemed to hit a bit of open road and Katusha went full gas and it lined out single file in front of me as I was just trying to stay on the wheels and then out of no where the dirt road appeared. We hit the first dirt sector full gas and the race already being blown into pieces. I was a bit farther back as I would’ve liked but made up some good ground on the dirt as I was going past riders, old moto skills came in handy here. With the wet sloppy roads you simply had to try to keep the weight on the back wheel and just keep pedaling hard. I noticed riders who would get nervous and start to slow down on there brakes and that was causing them to have to unclip and lose all there speed. We came out of the first sector and I was just slightly off the back of the small lead group within another group. We went full gas real quick to catch back on and it seemed as soon as we did we took a left turn and yep right back onto another dirt sector. This dirt road wasn’t exactly flat though as we had some rollers and as we hit this first roller going down there was a good crash to the left of me which I narrowly avoided. This crash actually took down a top 10 GC rider and it looked like his good placing for the week was probably over, but he pulled a Nibali sticky bottle/hold onto the car and passed many groups on the road later on to reach the front of the field. That last dirt sector blew up the field, leaving it to pieces. I regrouped with the front a few km after and we were about 25 km to the finish, thankfully. The group started to swell a bit as riders were putting some digs in off the front trying to catch the now solo leader who was in the break earlier.
As we were coming into the finishing circuits there was one rider solo from Cannondale-Garmin and a chaser who was just off the front of the field from Katusha. This is where the race took a turn, the corner was very poorly marked with one volunteer waiving his hand for the turn, the leader took the right corner but the chaser, motos, and field went straight. At this point we were off the course and had 10 km left to race as the leader was completing the circuits on his own. The race was stopped right there and neutralized and told us we were done racing. They gave the rider who was solo the win and a 1:30 minute gap on the field since that was his time at 10 km. That last part right there screwed us a bit because going into this stage we were leading the Team Classification over Cannondale – Garmin and because of that mishap they took over Team Cclassification.
All in all it turned out to be a 200 km Sunday group ride. One of my least favorite group rides I’d like to say.
Jon Hornbeck, rides professionally for the Hincapie Racing Team and is also is the owner of Fast Tours Cycling.
Photo Copyright Brian Hodes / VeloImages.com