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I am certain that the course for stage three was designed to make the peloton seasick! Not only were we racing next to water all day, but the road was never straight or flat. The only flat sections were a couple of bridges, which were buffeted by wind which hardly made for a friendly respite.
I started today all fired up after my pussyfooting around with positioning yesterday. I was determined to be at the front and I have always loved windy days, so I was champing at the bit when the flag dropped.
When it’s windy it’s always a hard day in the bunch — for everyone. Every single person wants to be at the front due to the constant threat of turning a corner and the consequential change in wind direction which can split the group into pieces.
Staying up front takes a fair bit of energy as you have to keep fighting for position until the others stop fighting due to fatigue. At that point, riders just concede to the back and hope they don’t get left behind when a team decides to turn the screw and split the race to pieces.
With my enthusiasm at an all-time high I anxiously awaited the first skirmish. Sure enough, as we approached a windswept bridge I sensed some nervous tension from Movistar and Astana. Determined to be a part of the action I looked for my teammates and saw them safely positioned close behind me, but not close enough to orchestrate an all-out assault in the crosswinds.
With a right-hand corner now quickly approaching I drilled it to ensure I was first around. As expected Movistar and Astana swarmed me in an attempt to split the bunch. I looked back and saw my teammates were safely sitting behind ready to join in if necessary. However, with over 80km still to race nobody wanted to fully commit to the task and a truce was called.
But as always, this first fright kicked the hornet’s nest and everyone started fighting for the front! Perfect … now the race was on! For the next 40km it was an all-out war and then sure enough the first crash of the day happened at the front of the bunch.
Ivan and I have a very simple system for race situations like this. On windy or technical days, I make sure that I’m by his side to get him out of any trouble — especially in the final 30km. As he calls it, “his safety” or “emergency button”. This might involve taking him to the front, or helping him if he has a puncture or mechanical problems. Its quite fortunate we both have exactly the same bike measurements.
With our system in place and the stress at its peak after the crash, Ivan hit the “emergency button”.
When the first crash happened I immediately saw Ivan dodge Simon Gerrans who had hit the deck and was lying on the road. The group wasn’t split exactly in half, but it was safe to say that we were in the front bunch. Five kilometers later we passed through another small village and another bunch of riders hit the floor. I saw Ivan slightly ahead of the chaos and I had to bunny-hop my way over a massive curb, onto the footpath, and duck between two lovely old ladies in their mid-sixties who had the wit to ask for a quick photo!
I accelerated back up to warp-speed and made my way to Ivan. There was no mucking around now. With 30km remaining the GC teams were driving the pace to take advantage of those who were left behind. To my dismay, I had that horrible feeling of my rear wheel rolling around like a pile of mush. CRAP! I had a puncture!
I went straight on the radio to call for a spare and Mario our DS told me to put my hand up so the commissaires would call our team car up. The judge was not calling our car forward and I looked around and realised why: the cars were nowhere to be seen! The crashes had split the field into three groups and the cars were over a minute behind!
So back I went through the groups I had been so motivated and diligent not to be in today until I finally reached the car and got a wheel change. I got moving again and gradually starting to pick my way through the cars up to the second group who were chasing. I started to gain some hope of regaining contact with the first group, but sure enough there was another crash on a bridge that was hardly wide enough for a car.
It was a traffic jam. Even my skinny little pigeon chest couldn’t squeeze past the parked cars and I had to twiddle my thumbs and wait for them to get moving again. By this time I was miles behind the front bunch and the adrenaline was gone.
Just like yesterday I was reminded how quickly you can go from the front to the back of the peloton. Today was another reality check of how exhilarating and how demoralising it can be racing in crosswinds. One minute you are dishing out the suffering, the next you are pleading for forgiveness and just wanting to be in the middle of a peaceful peloton.
There’s always someone worse off and while I lost the chance to again be of any assistance to Ivan on the final climb, at least I did not crash. I had later joined the group containing Simon Gerrans who looked like he had gone 12 rounds with Mike Tyson, so things were not that bad.
Fortunately Ivan had plenty of teammates who delivered him to the climb in the front position and he put in another fine display to come in 10th on the stage. His smile is getting wider every day and so is the moral of the team.
It’s a great atmosphere at the dinner table, but now I’m looking forward to getting some sleep as I can’t wait to wake up in the morning and race again. I’m really champing at the bit for tomorrow!