We woke up to very strong winds and cloudy skies. The rain was supposed to hold off until later in the day. This was the shortest mass-start race of the week at only 40k. Since the overall General Classification was over (42nd place for me out of 241), we raced in age groups today. Both the Medio and Longo racers started together starting at 10 minute intervals. A few riders apparently decided against braving the 30-40 mph winds and our group was probably 50 or so. Bill reminded me that I was one of the strongest riders in my group and I’d be the one putting the hurt on the group today. That gave me a bit of confidence as I knew that he was right.
From the gun, I was never more than 5 guys back of the front. I went with every attack into the strong head-cross wind from our left on our 16k journey to the turnaround point. The course was basically held on service roads on either side of a state highway and then a 7k shot back to the finish near our hotel. Eric, a Dutch guy who posted the fastest overall time trial the first day of the race was in my group and we tried in earnest to get a small echelon going against the wind. We figured we’d tire out anyone who didn’t make our formation and a break would form. Even after 2-3 miles of Eric and I pulling the pack, we couldn’t get other riders to join us. It was a hard journey against the head-cross winds and surely the pack was getting tired between the many attacks and Eric and my hard work, but we couldn’t get separation from the pack.
As we turned to go over the highway and head back north with a strong tail-cross wind, I mentioned to Eric that now that it would be easier, we’d see even more attacks. I was right as attacks came in quick succession. Again, I was determined not to miss out on a chance to gain any time at all back and possibly get back into the top 5 of my age group.
Soon, we had a group of 8-10 riders off the front of the field with a small but significant gap. The group was disorganized, however, and 3 riders slipped of the front of our group. Eric jumped hard to cross the gap. I knew that Eric was the guy to follow as any break with him in it had a good chance to succeed, so I put everything I had into following him up to the leaders and we had a group of 5.
I looked back and our gap was at least 50 meters. We all put our heads down and drove the pace. The gap grew and soon, I stopped looking back. I was getting time on 5th place. I didn’t know how much but I was getting time.
It soon became apparent that Eric, myself and one other, taller guy were the three strongest and the other two, shorter guys were pulling through but seemed to not be quite as strong. We completed the loop portion of the course and started the last 7k’s to the finish with a big gap on the field.
With about 2k to go, the other tall guy threw in a strong attack. I closed the gap with the other 4 on my wheel. My companions were starting to set up for the finish but I wanted the time on the field, so I kept up the pace and was able to convince the others to keep pulling through. We had a big tailwind through this part of the course so I knew it would be long sprint.
As we hit the 1k to go mark, I had done more than my share of the work but I was willing to do whatever it took to get my 58 seconds back and get into the top 5. The tall guy goes again and I chase him down again. I catch him at 800 meters to go and we slow again. Almost immediately someone else jumps and everyone goes around me. This is it, we are full gas and both of the small guys, who have apparently been resting more than we thought, have a gap. I claw my way pas Eric, then the other tall guy and finally start gaining on 2nd place. I only have a 52×12 so I stay seated, track sprinting style but I run out of room and we cross the line with me in 3rd! Podium again!!!
I’m really happy to get on the podium again. I bookended the race with 3rd place finishes. I figure that even if I didn’t get the time I needed today, being on the podium is a great consolation.
I spin down the road for a moment, stop my computer, restart it and then head back to the finish to see what our gap was. I get back to the finish line and have to wait a bit but then the pack comes roaring in. How much time has passed? I think that it isn’t enough, maybe 40 seconds? It is hard to tell. I’m thinking that I didn’t get the time that I needed but I certainly gave it my best shot.
At the day’s awards ceremony, they have the stage results posted and it turns out that our break had more time than I thought and I gained 1:13 on 5th place and I only needed 58 seconds. I moved into 5th place! Wow, that really makes me happy. After starting so strongly in the ITT and then making a positioning mistake in stage 2 that cost me so much time, all the work that I did to claw my way back through the standings paid off with meeting my goal of a top 5 age-group GC finish!
What a great race and a great week. I helped Max take the overall victory and I met my goal of a top 5 age-group GC finish. Max was really grateful. He thanked me for making him work so hard all week. I had him sign a replica yellow jersey from the race and he wrote something like “With humility and friendship, thank you for your hard work towards the victory”. That’s pretty cool.