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Today was another day of calm before the storm, but on this occasion we knew it was coming! Stage 9 was a relatively flat for first 140km on a nice large highway before turning onto a footpath for a 5km climb and a 20km plunge toward the finish. Oh, I nearly forgot to mention the 27% wall to the finish line!
The first 100km were quite pedestrian. There was a peloton full of tired legs after the mountain top finish yesterday and everybody was happy to have a bit of quiet time. A small break skipped away early which BMC and Katusha controlled ensuring a nice gentle consistent pace. With today’s potentially dangerous finish our entire focus was on Ivan to make sure he was in the perfect position to avoid losing precious seconds to his GC rivals. So as usual, we stayed at the front ready for the hostilities to begin.
The fireworks started when we turned of the highway 20km before the base of the final climb. The road width shrank by a third and everybody had exactly the same idea – get to the front! Unfortunately there’s never room for 200 riders at the front, so there are 190+ riders forced into a position they would prefer not to be in. This is where the peloton becomes extremely stressful and you really need to be on your toes.
In a situation like this, unless you are right on the front with your team lined out, it’s impossible to move up as a group of nine in a tense peloton. To move our way to the front we need to split up and then regroup.
Today the plan was to ensure Sammy [Sarmiento] and I were fresh as possible before the climb so we could be there for Ivan in those final nervous kilometers if he needed us. While we got away with it yesterday, it is time to start thinking about using our energy resources a little more sparingly to ensure we give Ivan as much support as possible.
It was an absolute dogfight to the front in the 10km before the climb. Everyone knew the road would get even narrower for the climb itself and a lot of energy would be saved if you began the climb at the front. I stayed calm and waited for the fight to die down from the peloton before making my move to the front.
If you wait until people are starting to get tired and accelerate quickly past you can bluff them into not challenging you for the wheel ahead. They assume you’re stronger and nobody wants to waste energy fighting for a wheel that they believe they’ll lose. One wheel at a time you move forward like this and today I pulled it off perfectly.
As we began the climb I was about 10 wheels from the front and settled into an armchair ride to the top. Well as armchair as 410 watts for 15 minutes can be! There’s no doubt I would have wasted an extra 50 watts had I been 20 spots further back.
Once in a perfect spot for the climb I had Sammy right beside me – another tick! Now we just had to ensure Ivan was in a good position. Soon after he trundled past and set up camp on the front. Once Ivan was safe and sound I settled into the bunch about 20 wheels back to ensure I was close enough in case he had any problems, but also far enough forward to conserve energy.
The pace was high enough to ensure there wasn’t a crazy fight for the wheels and I did my best to make it look like I was doing it as easily as possible in an attempt to scare off any challengers for my comfortable position in the bunch.
Everything went to script until Movistar turned the screws, so I needed to crest the climb in a front position. This is when fireworks we had not accounted for began!
Once we crested the climb I expected we’d just slot into single file and casually plunge down to the finish line. How wrong could I be! It turned from a bicycle race into a round of MotoGP!
All of a sudden riders from behind were risking life and limb to charge past. I took stock again and Ivan was safely up front so I just decided to stay tight and get him out of trouble if required. Ratto showed his determination that’s won him so many podiums this year and was still in the main field. Using his brilliant bike skills and sprinting power he was slicing through the field and ripped past me so fast that he almost sucked the gloves of my hands!
He knew it was going to be a decisive decent and was putting all fear aside so he could get up to the front and help Ivan. Seeing this made me content to stay back as now Ivan had Ratto and Sammy right with him and I was not far behind.
Soon after Longo came charging by me and sucked the helmet right off my melon! He loves these fast technical descents and was carving his way up right beside Ivan. I had now been made redundant for the final kilometers as Ivan was in the best possible hands for a finish like this and I went into energy-conserving mode.
Thanks to Ratto’s brilliant skills, Basso took the final 1km kick to line in perfect position and conceded only a handful of seconds to a few rivals, and put time into others. In all honesty, today was the day Ivan feared most. Crazy descent finishes are not his cup of tea. He said this morning he would be very happy to lose only 15seconds and that’s exactly what he lost to the leader.
He had a big smile on the team bus today as wide as Bass Strait! Every day his confidence grows and he is looking stronger. As Ivan gets better, the team rallies behind him moew so I am excited to be apart of this and keep it going all the way to Madrid!
— Max speed: 100.1km/h
— Max power: 1120 Watts
— Max heart rate: 191BPM
— Max cadence 151
— Average power: 235 Watts
— Average heart rate: 128BPM
— Kcal burnt: 3,700