Today was the first mountain top finish and from what I found when I asked around it was a pretty descent climb. When they have to make the road with concrete slabs that usually means its a bit steep. The stage on paper was 140 km and we started climbing at around 110. The game plan for the day was to get a guy into the break and we had two guys that were gonna be going for it, but everyone else needed to be watching as well. More or less latching onto moves to show a presence we were planning on being in the break. The stage started with a headwind and the rolling terrain added for a quick and bit of a difficult start. They also started the stage 10 minutes beforehand with no announcement which was a nice touch to keep it interesting for everyone. It seemed as though everyone wanted to be in the break today as many moves were going but the problem with the headwind was that they wouldn’t get very far and others would jump onto the move as well then counter then come back together and continue. I started latching onto a couple moves then they would come back and trying to stay up front in the process while not being caught in the wind. As the wind turned to cross head it started lining out against the side of the road and with that a couple crashes happened as well. There was also this nice bike path about 3 feet to the right of the road that people would jump over into allowing themselves to move up a bit but then jump in which just made for some more interesting racing.
At around 20 km or so a descent group got some air and I noticed we didn’t have anyone represented up there. I looked to my left and saw my teammate Robin and he was blocked in a bit and told me to go if I had an opening. I saw a nice opening to the bike path off the side of the road and jumped into it and started to bridge. Etixx-Quikstep were trying to shut everything down, so I wouldn’t say they’re my biggest fans as they weren’t too happy with me going across but luckily nobody followed me and I made it across to the group of about 12. Once I got up there I looked back I saw the field sat up so this was it, the break for the day. It seemed to get harder though as nobody wanted to just settle into a nice group and work together. Everybody kept attacking and sitting and attacking, very frustrating as I was trying to signal to lets just work and pull through. I managed to find a break with all South Americans and one Italian, so there was not much english speaking going on here. After another 10 km we finally stated working together. We were getting time checks and the time started going up and at one point up to 8 minutes. I started thinking at that point well maybe if I get to the climb with 8 minutes this could turn into something for me as I was already far down from yesterday and none of the big teams don’t exactly know who I am. Well that idea came crashing down real quick as guys started sitting on once we had so much time. It also didn’t help that we were on a straight road for 95 km into a headwind, so that didn’t help the morale of the group much.
At 50 km into the stage guys were sitting on and starting to get tired and then attacks started happening as guys were getting frustrated. Also the time gap was coming down rapidly as everyone was playing around. Around 70 km we split the group through all of the attacking and 6 of us got away. Once we lost the other guys we now really started riding, finally. Unfortunately at this point the time gap was already down to 2 minutes, but at least we were finally racing. I knew the time gap would just keep coming down as we started approaching the climb from big teams in the back fighting for position to stay up front.
Finally at 95 km we made a right hand turn and had a tailwind, and more head wind. We started going up a drag approaching the climb and with a tailwind we were going pretty good. Not good enough though as a local South American rider attacked us real hard by himself. I responded a bit too late but two other guys came with me and we were now chasing hard to get him back. Funny thing is though he just kept putting time on us, strange. The three of us were full gas and we ended up dropping one of the guys so it was just me and a rider from UnitedHealthcare but we still couldn’t catch this one rider. At this point we were climbing and we looked back and saw the field right there approaching us. With about 20 km to go up this climb the field caught us and I jumped in and stayed with them a bit, but once it really pitched up I didn’t quite have that jump to stay with the front group. I came out the back and just rode my pace up the climb, which was possibly one of the toughest climbs I’ve done to date. No better way to hit it then in the break all day in over 100 degree temps. All in all a good day of experience & training
Jon Hornbeck, rides professionally for the Holowesko | Citadel Racing Team p|b Hincapie Sportswear Team and is also is the owner of Fast Tours Cycling.