The Mountain Day is today! This was our only day that had a remote start. We drove 60k’s to a mountain town and then started out on a single road that, after 5k’s of slight up-hill, had a 10k descent to the bottom of the first climb, a 12k monster that started a loop to the coast with three more significant climbs, including the same 10k back to the start/finish line. We climbed 5,800 feet in only 97 kilometers today, all up and down, hardly any flat at all.
My job today was simple, stay with Max as long as I could and help control the attacks that we knew would come. Max hoped that I could stay with him until 60k’s into the race when the steepest climb (two 18% sections) would surely split a small group off the front.
Many riders complained that it would be too dangerous to actually race down the first 10k descent. The roads were smooth but there were many twisting turns and for 240 riders to negotiate them while trying to all be at the front, I kind of agreed. So did the organizer, as a result we had a neutral descent and started the race in earnest at the foot of the first climb.
This is Italy, mind you, so just because the first big descent was “neutral” doesn’t mean that we didn’t blaze down it and have to fight furiously for position. By the time we hit the bottom, my break pads had surely worn a few more millimeters from their surface but I had held position very close to the front of the pack and was ready to do my work.
The climb was on good roads and had a steady grade. The pace was fast but constant, for a while. Soon small attacks started and the group started to splinter. The course profile made it look as though the top of the climb was at 26k into the race. I had that set in my head as if I could make it over the top of this climb with the leaders, I would be able to stay with Max until the targeted 60k.
Attack after attack whittled the pack but I was still with the leaders. I was far enough up to the front that I didn’t have to cover too many gaps as people fell off the pace. 18k and I’m still there, 20k and I’m suffering but still there, 22k and I’m still with the lead group. 24k and I’m telling myself “just 2 more kilometers and I’ve made it”! 25k and I’m at my limit, but still there. At 25.5k another attack goes and I pop. I think that there is only a half a kilometer to go so I really push hard, hoping that I can catch back onto the leaders on the descent. 26k comes and goes and the climb continues on. 26.5k and still more climbing and I can’t see the lead group anymore. 27.6k comes and I top the climb with a small group but the leaders are already streaking their way down the decent far off in the distance.
I’m with 8 or 10 guys and we start the long drop to the valley bellow. I’m going faster than the other guys that I am with so I pass all but two guys and we soon have a gap on the rest of our little group. After 6k’s the grade levels off a bit and with one of the guys with me being from the Assos team, he has a support car quickly pull in front of us and he starts drafting off of the car. The other guy and I aren’t stupid so we jump behind him and we are jetting through the valley. We hit a small climb and the Assos guy shifts to his small chainring. I figure that he must know how steep the approaching grade is so I also go to my small ring and, for the first time all trip, drop my chain into my bottom bracket! I can’t believe my bad luck.
The other two ride away behind the Assos support car and I can’t, for the life of me, get the chain back on using all the tricks that I have learned, over my many years of racing, without getting off of the bike. I quickly dismount, grab the chain with my hand and put it back on the big chainring. Remounting I start my chase to my two former companions. A mile or two later, I am lamenting my bad luck as I come around a corner and see the Assos car stopped. A couple of riders are picking themselves off of the ground, including one of the guys that I was just with and the Assos rider is just a head riding slowly. One guy is still on the ground and not looking good. I don’t know what happened, but there must have been a crash, perhaps involving the Assos car and some riders that they must have caught.
Maybe my dropped chain at just that moment kept me from being involved in that crash! I don’t know but, once again on this trip, I felt that God was with me, perhaps protecting me from peril. You never know why things happen, so it is best to just learn from them and put them behind you because you never know what might be around that next corner.
I soldiered on by myself down a long, gradual descent. Eventually a group of three caught me (including the two guys who were behind the Assos car) and we motored to the Seashore.
We caught a small group and climbed above the coastal villages before dropping back to the sea. We were then at the base of the 18% grade of the steepest climb of the day (which was actually at 57k, not the 60k we had thought). 3k’s later I was at the top but my group had blown apart on the steep grades. For the rest of the race, I wouldn’t get a draft again. I rode by myself for a long time and then caught occasional riders who were just destroyed and couldn’t even get into my draft.
I took a water bottle at the second-to-last feed zone but then passed one at the last opportunity as I still had one full bottle and thought that would last me the final 20 kilometers to the finish, even with the 10k climb still to come. 7k’s of just a small grade with a strong tailwind preceded the 10k climb and I was flying, averaging around 40kph (almost 25mph)!
I had eaten and drank a lot today. On one of the previous days (the day that I had helped Max control the front of the field and pulled him up to the leaders after he flatted) I had felt the start of cramps coming on, so I didn’t want a repeat of that today. Still, with 10k of climbing ahead of me, I had to measure my effort. I started off the climb and could see people suffering ahead of me right away. It was a hot and hard day. The race doing the shorter Giro d’Sardinia had started 15 minutes ahead of us today but covered the same course. Many of those I would pass on the climb would be from that race and not my competitors. Still, some might be from my race and I was determined to get into the top 50 today after just missing it the two previous days. Every time that I saw a rider or group of riders ahead I told myself that there might be a guy from my race ahead. I didn’t want to give up any spots. I wanted to finish as high as I possibly could.
I passed dozens of riders on the climb and saw some numbers from my race as well. Not one of the riders could join my pace which just gave me more fuel and determination. As I was just about to crest the ascent and start on the 5k of mostly, slightly, downhill to the finish, I passed one last group and saw that several of those riders were from my race! I thought surely they would see my number and jump on my wheel but they were cooked and I quickly opened a gap!
I went as hard as I could, putting about 2 minutes onto the last group that I passed and finished strongly! I quickly found Max and found that he had successfully defended his lead and had won the overall Giro! Although we had a race the following day, this day was the last for the overall General Classification and we had won the jersey!
I later found that I had placed 39th on the day and 4th in my age group. That jumped me up to 42nd overall and 6th in my age group. 5th, 6th and 7th in my age group were now each separated by about one minute between each racer. I was actually 58 seconds behind 5th place.
My goal going into the Giro was to place in the top 5 in my age group. After the first day’s 3rd place I was optimistic. After my poor race the following day, dropping me to 10th place in my age group, it was a tall chore to get back into the top 5. Still, I had slowly clawed my way back up to 6th place. With only a 40k Kermesse left, it seemed unlikely that I could make up the time gap to overtake 5th place and meet my goal. I had a great week and generally raced really well, but I wasn’t willing to yet concede not meeting my top 5 goal. Tomorrow: attack and attack often. I’d try to do everything I could to get into the top five.