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What an absolute cracker of a day. Daniele the ‘Rat Man Rattster’ has been banging on the door for a jolly long time and today he completely blew the door off its hinges! He has come in second or third place more than any other rider this year and to take his first victory on a day like today is perfectly fitting. Let me tell you, he’s one of hardest men in the bunch and today he proved it.
Long before Ratto crossed the line in Andorra he was on the ball. He spent the entire 10km neutral zone perched right in the front row and when the flag finally dropped he immediately got stuck into the action. After yesterday’s roaring fast initial 70km, today’s break went surprisingly easily within the first 5km. I say easily as we were doing over 60km/h on a gradual downhill when the five men, including Ratto, slipped off the front. Astana and the rest of the bunch were obviously keen to let a break go as I am sure yesterday took the sting out them.
The break of the day did not contain renowned climbers, but Sanchez, Gilbert, and of course our man Ratto are hardly group sprinters. They are three of the best riders in the world and when they need to, they can climb extremely fast.
Their lead continued to increase as the rain started to pour down as we plunged into Andorra. This was not surprising as Astana were happy to just control the situation as there weren’t any riders inside threatening their GC position. What nobody expected was that once we began climbing the breakaway’s gap continued to increase.
Soon after, our DS Mario communicated to us via the radio that there were three riders now clear – Gilbert, Sanchez and our man Ratto! I had seen Ratto climb as well as Basso at the training camp in San Pelligrino just before we raced the Tour of Poland. I don’t know if Ratto even comprehends the immense talent he possesses on all terrain but the world was about to discover what a classy bike rider he truly is. So with the thee of them setting sail and the gap continuing to increase, 5km from the top of the day’s first climb Katusha had had enough and turned on the accelerator!
At this point I was in my usual position right at the front with Ivan. We were perfectly lined up behind Astana so when Katusha turned on the gas we were in position to safely jump onto a reliable wheel. It was starting to get very, very cold with the rain and increasing altitude and I was in massive difficulty. Not only is it slightly annoying racing with a rib fracture, but when you get cold it amplifies the pain ten-fold. Adding to it we were now above 2,000m elevation where you can feel the air getting thin and consequently breathing becomes difficult. I was finding all this out the hard way just as Katusha cracked the whip!
In light of this I had to sit up and leave Ivan with Sammy [Cayetano Sarmiento]. Sammy is our Columbian mountain goat so high altitude is what he loves. He was the perfect pilot for Ivan on the climb. I stayed close enough to Ivan in case he needed something, but it wasn’t the climbing that was difficult for him – it was the descending that presented serious difficulties.
Once we started descending I went into survival mode. I was shaking with a mixture of being cold and severe pain and was quickly aware that just making it to the finish would be my only objective. Fortunately there were plenty of others around me so I never had to stress about being left behind and could simply do as much as was required.
When I was almost at the bottom of the major descent a lot of anxiousness came over the radio. I knew Ivan was in difficulty with the cold and it got so bad that he had to pull over to the side of the road and stop. He couldn’t control his bike due to being uncontrollably frozen and had no choice but to either stop or risk a major accident.
I’m pleased he had enough sense at that moment to stop no matter how much his head would have been telling him to persist. Longo and Heado stopped with him. Initially we all hoped he would put on some warm clothes and be able to recover but in reality once your get that cold it takes hours for the body to start functioning normally again.
I had to keep moving as to be honest I was in huge amount of difficulty myself. I was freezing and could not feel my hands, my teeth were chattering and if I had stopped with Longo and Heado I probably would have ended up being with Ivan and forced to abandon. My rib cage was now in so much pain due to the cold that I could not feel my legs, let alone apply any power to the pedals. I figured it was best I continue on to the next climb and if Ivan did get rolling again then I would be there when Longo and Heado towed him back into the race. As I feared would be the case, Ivan did not get back on his bike and was forced to abandon.
It’s a harsh reality of cycling. Only 20 minutes before he spun his gear effortlessly on the climb and looked set to make a real impression on today’s stage. Ivan was certainly reminded how cruel cycling can be in such a short space of time.
So with that, the ever-selfless Longo and Heado returned to the group without our captain. It was a pretty sombre next 20km when the reality of what just occurred sunk in, but the mood in the camp quickly changed when Dario’s ever enthusiastic voice boomed over the radio; Ratto was now alone the head of the race and headed for victory!!
Of course I was not able to witness Ratto’s heroic victory today (apart from the moment he attacked and I screamed in the radio for him to push on as the group was stopping). So basically that’s my contribution to Ratto’s win!
The fireworks started on the first climb with Sanchez forcing the pace. Only Gilbert, Sanchez and Ratto remained. Daniele [Ratto] said he had to grit his teeth for 5 minutes pushing almost 500 watts, but once Sanchez realised he could not drop the others they resumed their steady pace. Well as steady as 400 watts can be for a 1-hour climb!
Once over the climb and down the other side, Gilbert flexed his muscles and attacked over the top of the next climb and on to the decent. This proved to be like a red rag to a bull for Daniele as he quickly got rid of Sanchez who would ultimately crash out of the race while chasing down Gilbert.
On the third short climb of the day Ratto broke Gilbert’s spirit as he gritted his teeth and pushed ~500 watts for a couple kilometers. After a hair raising decent to the base of the final climb the race was all but over. Even by Daniele’s standards he admitted he risked a lot on this descent with his moto GP-type skills. He loves to ride his motorbike in the offseason and I’m sure the these skills came in handy today.
On the final climb Ratto had almost three minutes on Gilbert and only 6km of climbing remained. He told me that he did not panic and just maintained a good tempo as the group was eight minutes behind and no chance of catching him. Ratto would take the biggest victory of his professional career which I’m sure is the first of many.
If you break down the way he won today’s stage, he out-climbed and out-descended two of the best riders in the world. There was no luck involved just pure horsepower and class. What a way to win.
As expected our director, Dario, was over the moon with excitement and it was hard to distinguish who was happier, Daniele or Dario! It just backs up the observations I made of Dario the other day — he genuinely cares a huge amount for everyone, and as a result has a huge display of excitement when one of his boys does well.
It was definitely a tale of two extremes for the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team today. Ivan’s misfortune was compensated by Ratto’s absolute heroics. However, as we came here with Ivan’s GC as the main objective, everyone here is also a little sombre tonight. But the strength of this team is that regardless of the daily objective, we commit to it 100% and if all goes well fantastic; if not we try something else tomorrow.
Ivan’s situation is no different — he won’t be on the startline tomorrow so will have a new objectives. As usual I am looking forward to getting some shut-eye and getting stuck right back into it tomorrow.