I got the feeling that it was a pretty unmotivated bunch this morning at the start of stage 12. With most people using the time trial as a rest day, it seemed like most of the peloton’s engine had shut down and nobody wanted to make the stage harder than it needed to be.
On paper the stage looked perfect for a sprint finish. For that to play out it was important that a small breakaway form early on. Everything went to script and after only one kilometre three men were already up the road. After that, everybody was happier than a pig in mud.
I must admit while I had hoped for an easy day before the stage began, I quickly changed my tune 30 minutes into the race. The problem with cruising along is there is no adrenaline pumping and I quickly learned that without this, it does not matter how many painkillers I take, my rib issues are really annoying.
After 50km I was so uncomfortable that I went back to the car and asked Mario if I could ride on the front for a bit of a rush and to take my mind off the pain! Of course Mario said no and told me to stay in the bunch and follow wheels. I was a bit bummed but once I got back to the bunch the stress rose as we approached the climb to the feed zone and then a narrow descent.
As always happens when a narrow descent is approaching the tension and pace lifts so finally I had the adrenaline flowing as I fought off challengers for the front position. We crested the climb on the front and as a result I had an armchair ride down the 12km twisty fast technical descent.
Descending is something I’ve worked very hard on this year and I’m finally feeling like I can handle the bike properly. The idea is to be surrounded by good bike riders that you can trust and also be as far forward as possible. When riders don’t trust you they simply barge you out of their way. You may feel in control, but if you don’t look in control then good riders see this and rip past like you’re standing still. I was one of those riders in my initial years but today I was finally fitting in.
Nibali let me on the wheel he was following (Valverde’s), which is a real honour. Nibali is regarded as one of the best descenders in the bunch, so to be given the wheel by him put a big smile on my dial. I was calm and relaxed which puts you in a state where you can just glide on the bike. You have to savour moments like this as they never last long and we were about to come out next to the ocean where the fireworks were sure to begin!
Today with the sprint on the cards we had the objective of positioning Ratto in the bunch gallop. Of course looking after Ivan was the main priority so we had plenty to keep us occupied in the final 50km. As always we set up camp near the front to keep out of trouble and sure enough at 45km from the finish, as we passed through a town on narrow roads, a crash blocked the street behind us.
Shortly after the wind started to pick up, and so did the pace. The gap to the breakaway was plummeting and if we were able to catch them at ~20km from the finish, it meant there was an intermediate sprint and bonus seconds on offer at 17km from the finish. This is when Ivan decided to pounce!
I spotted Ivan and Longo in the front four positions so I quickly charged forward to see what was going on. Ivan told me to keep the pace high before the sprint. Sure enough at 500m before the intermediate sprint Ivan jumped and I was the only one near him with the peloton strung out behind. I eased up and created a nice little gap which Roche quickly tried to close.
When Roche overtook me I radioed Ivan to jump again to ensure he got to the sprint first and took all the bonus seconds on offer. He crossed the intermediate sprint first and with it clawed back 3 precious seconds. I made sure I crossed the line in third to neutralise the remaining seconds from Ivan’s rivals.
From there I kept the pace high at the front to make it hard for those caught out at the back to move up. Now inside the remaining 15km BMC took charge on the front and I drifted back to make sure Ratto was in a good position.
Ratto maintained perfect position for the bunch gallop but unfortunately his turbo would not fire today. The silver lining however was he was in the perfect position, so we know that when he has his normal kick a big result is just around the corner. It’s looking like tomorrow might present another opportunity.
It’s a great sign for the race that the GC men are chasing sprint bonus seconds. This tells you that they realise how evenly matched they all are, and also that the race is likely going to be decided by seconds. All bodes well for an exciting nine stages ahead!
If the smile on Ivan’s face is anything to go then the party has only just started. He was like a kid in a candy store when he swaggered over to my back seat on the team bus to chat about the three seconds he stole from his rivals at the intermediate sprint. It makes all the boys feel so much better seeing him so focused and excited about how the race is panning out.
It’s funny how you perceive distance when you get this far into a grand tour. Today, 160km seemed so incredibly short. In the first week I always feel like the final 50km are freebies; about 1 hour of racing to go which just flies by. Once I enter the 2nd week I start to feel like I am basically finished when we reach 75km to go. From there I know that it’s only an hour and a half of racing. Enter week three, when I get to 100km remaining it feels like we’re almost home. I guess what we are putting ourselves through is not exactly normal!