Today was a “living the dream” kind of day, 113 kilometers with about 3,400 ft of climbing. We started with a long section of flat riding. I didn’t start at the front today, but neither did Max. We both started about a third of the way back and as soon as we crossed the timing chip sensors, we worked hard to get to the leaders. Today we only had 5k of neutral and, despite the pre-race instructions, the pack did not stop after entering the main roadway to allow everyone to cross the timing chip pads and start the neutral section together.
We both did get to the front of the field and a break soon went off the front. First 4, then a couple of more, including Malcolm Elliot, a former Tour de France racer who came to the US in the early 90’s to help start the LA Sherriff’s pro cycling team when I lived in Southern California. Malcolm is in the 50-54 age group but still a force and was currently in 4th place overall. At this point Max is in second place and we were looking to protect his position on General Classification (GC).
When the break started to get several minutes on the pack, Max called several of us from our team to the front to start riding tempo, a steady pace to hold the break at a safe distance. Emanuele went to the front for a couple of turns and then Alessandro, Daniele (two of Max’s Italian teammates) and I took over and were leading the pack for the better part of 20 minutes! Daniele took short pulls while Alessandro and I took long pulls, doing our best to protect Max and cut into the break’s gap a bit.
At one point while I was pulling the entire field, I followed the course markings and went right around a huge round-a-bout. As I continued to follow the directional arrows, I soon realized that we were going 3/4ths of the way around the round-a-bout and that some of the riders took the shorter route and were now ahead of us! So, I once again worked my way back up to the front to continue my pulls.
After we had gone about 40k (with the team pulling for about 30 minutes of that time) we started the steady grade up the first serious climb of the day. I pulled for as long as I could but then riders started to pass by. I slowly drifted back for a while and then realized that a front group had now formed and I was at the back of it! The climb was only 5k long with an elevation gain of 425 feet. I was able to hang with this lead group until we hit the top. I then saw Max’s hand go up, once again, waiving me back to the front of the pack. I moved back up and lead the 4k descent. I even opened up a small gap on the pack at one point. That was a lot of fun!
The next climb was longer at 9k’s, gaining 600 feet and I fell off of the lead group about half way up. I tried to limit my losses and eventually bridged up to the second group on the road. Suddenly I saw Max at the side of the road and our support vehicle was attending to him. He was getting a wheel change so I left my group and turned around. Alessandro was in the group behind me and approached Max just as he was getting moving again. Soon they caught me and Alessandro and I pulled like crazy to get Max back up to the second group. I then drilled it past my old group and once we were clear of them, we were just 100 meters or so behind the lead group. Max quickly jumped across the gap on his own as Alessandro and I tried to hang onto the splintering second group. The steepest climb of the day was just starting and we were both spent!
A good second group reformed after the 4K, 700 foot climb and we rode a quick pace for most of the rest of the day down and up some beautiful mountains and then back into the flats before the finish. At one point, our group looked to sit up when I could see a small group ahead of us. Having learned an important lesson yesterday, I went to the front on a small climb with Alessandro and we started to close the gap. After going through a long tunnel our pack had chased us down but several of the other riders joined Alessandro and me and finished closing the gap to the small group.
Also learning a lesson from the day before, I didn’t bother attacking on our way back to the finish. At the 5k mark, I followed the front wheels in our group again but this time I had fresher legs. With the tight finish areas (because of the chip timing?) it is still difficult to open up a great spring but I did manage 3rd place in my group. That ended up being good for 52nd overall and 7th in my age group, the exact same placings as the day before! I did climb up 2 spots in GC to 54th and one spot in age-group GC to 8th, which I was happy about. Max was also really happy with my hard work for him this day. Three guys from the early break kept a lead of one minute but Max was still comfortably in 2nd place overall. Other riders have started to notice that I am riding strongly as well.
After the racing we went to some 3,500 year old ruins and took a tour. Very interesting stuff! We then met up with a bunch of the Italian racers and some of their families at the restaurant that we had lunch at on Day 4. This place is owned by a racer who had purchased a Max Lelli bike. The owner is also racing in the Giro and is finishing in the lead pack each day and then running his restaurant at night! That is one tough dude!
The 30K TTT is tomorrow morning and I’m on Max’s team with Alessandro and a bunch of strong guys that Max has recruited. I’m nervous, but I’ll just do my best, that’s all that I can do.