Well its never a dull moment down here at this race, I don’t know why we would expect it to be somewhat straight forward because it never is. Today started out with a nice two hour transfer to the start of the stage. I haven’t been sleeping much the last couple nights so I opted to jump in the car and sprawl out in the backseat for a bit of a nap during the drive. Normally we get to the start and have an hour or more to kill time, but today was different with only having 20 minutes or so, so we had to rush it. Today felt like it was the hottest day this week, I don’t have a temperature gauge on my Garmin, but I was being told it was over 110 at the start. Hot.
We started our 168 km stage; well it ended up being 170 km, but who’s counting. Back to the start, we started and hit km 0 pretty quickly and someone thought it would be a good idea to start a brush fire a few km’s down the road so just to add to our heat we now had a fire we were riding towards, and once we reached it a nice cloud of ash for us to ride through. We had a tailwind for most of the stage and it was ripping on the first part as we just headed straight down a highway. It took about 25 km for the break to establish and we covered those first 25 km in less then 30 minutes, including our neutral roll out. Normally this week once the break has been established there has been a good amount of downtime after where we basically ride slow, take a pee break, go back to the cars, etc etc. We didn’t get much of that today as we had a bit of a lull; I went back to grab bottles, and when I came back to hand them out we were already picking up the pace. That was kind of the story of the day as we had a tailwind mostly the whole stage it was just quick. Basically a motor pace session for 4 hours or how ever long it took us. We ended up averaging 47 kmh for 170 km today, but now I’m getting ahead of myself.
There wasn’t much happening during the stage though. We had constant tail wind which made it feel even hotter since we didn’t have any breeze. Not sure if thats worse though, no wind or like yesterday constant headwind, but it feels as though there is a hair dryer in your face. There were some nerves still out there as the wind would change and it would line out against the road but nothing too extreme to where it was breaking up the field. A few times everyone was expecting a crosswind as we would approach a turn, but it just never really happened. The heat was starting to get to people though and with the consistent pace riders were starting to open gaps and even some getting dropped on the rollers. The problem with the tailwind most of the race is that nobody gets too much of a draft and everybody is basically putting out similar efforts, and if you are out in the wind moving around your putting out a good descent effort. That combined with the heat and riders were starting to feel it.
The break had built up a good little gap and with 30 km to go they still had 3 minutes. The field was getting twitchy as we were going through a village. I was towards the middle of the field and on the left side and all of a sudden, massive crash. There’s actually good video of the crash online but from what it looks like the team on the front was pulling and the rider second wheel either crossed wheels in front of him or hit something on the road. The result was having 160 riders behind him negotiate that. It took out about half the field and we were moving. Luckily the crash happened in the front and then more to the right but then to the left, so I got caught up in it but didn’t go down. Miguel crashed but he was alright, just needing a new bike. I saw Squire was held up as well, so since him being up there on GC I waited for him and paced him back up to the field. The crash though was a damn near massacre. Miguel had blood on his bike from another rider. There were some riders who were just knocked out laying there, many riders cut & bleeding. Apparently there were a decent amount of fans along the side of the road since it was through a village, many girls were crying from what I was told. It was ugly. Thoughts and prayers to the riders who ended up in the hospital from there.
After the crash the field basically shut down since so many guys crashed and we caught up and for about 10 minutes we just rode easy waiting for everyone who could to make it back up. At around 15 km to go we started racing again for the stage, but it seemed the damage had been done with the breakaway getting a lot more time through this mishap. At about 7 km to go everyone realized we weren’t going to be sprinting for the win so we just rode in at a descent pace with some guys sprinting for the remaining places. Luckily everyone on the team came home safe with no injuries. On a bummer note though our new teammate Travis (McCabe) came down with a bit of the flu last night and wasn’t able to start today. That was a real blow after he was riding like a champ and out sprinting the World Champ just a couple days ago. Just a small hiccup. Two stages to go.
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.