Today’s race was a shorter than yesterday’s marathon. Only 109 Kilometers were on the docket with about 2500 feet of climbing with the main climb of the day starting at kilometer 25. Not wanting to push my way to the front row today in staging, I lined up almost an hour before our scheduled start time and was still 50 meters behind the line. Fortunately we had 15k’s of neutral roll out before the actual racing began because by the time I crossed the chip timing pad, HUGE gaps had formed and I had to chase with a few others for about 9 kilometers just to catch the pack and then start the hard work of getting to the front of the field.
One of my biggest goals for today was to be at the front of the field at the base of the climb. I was really disappointed that I wasn’t able to do this yesterday and regret that big mistake. Today, I was able to hold position (no easy task) and even thought about going with an attack from a rider who jumped right in front of me. I thought better of it, however, as big climb of the day was just in front of us and I didn’t want to go off the front only to be passed by everyone a few kilometers later.
The group started the 6.4 kilometer climb, gaining 873 feet, at a steady pace and I was able to stay at the front for a while. Slowly, however, the pace picked up and I found myself drifting back. The grade averaged about 6% with the steepest sections only being 8% but we averaged 25kph up the entire climb! At one point I realized that the field had split and I was at the back of the lead group. I worked really hard to stay with the leaders and Max, who had flatted earlier and had to wait at the side of the road for 5 minutes, soon caught back up and offered a word or encouragement before riding up to the front of the group. The group split at some point ahead of me and I was now hanging onto about 15 guys. Eventually we crested the main climb but the road continued up and down for another 30k’s before we headed back down to near sea level. In those 30k’s we caught another group of about 10 riders who had been split off from the front group and, after some intense chasing, actually came within about 15 seconds of the lead group. We were so close; I thought that we certainly would catch them. Two guys tried to jump across on their own but I thought that was folly since we’d all be with the lead pack soon. Well, for some reason, that I just don’t understand, my group sat up and let the gap open up again. One of the two guys who were attempting to bridge made it across while the other came back to us and we never saw the leaders again.
My only regret from today’s race is that I didn’t try to go with those two guys as that was my one chance to finish the race with the lead group as almost all of the day’s climbing was behind us.
Once we hit the long flat section to the finish (about 27k) the group wasn’t going particularly fast and we were losing more and more time to the leaders. A few of us tried to organize our group to chase, but the rest of the pack was content to ride tempo to the finish. So, a flurry of attacks was unleashed. Many times I’ve seen these late-race attacks succeed and I was intent on being a part of any small group that gained some time on our group and minimized the time gap to the leaders. I must have gone 15 times in those 27k’s with not one break going without me and not one succeeding! When we were just a couple of K’s to the finish, I settled in behind the lead riders, jumping wheels as needed to try to be in the perfect position for the sprint finish. Unfortunately, all of those attacks tired my legs out to the point that when I stood up to sprint, I think that I actually slowed down! So, I sprinted seated for most of the way then tried standing up again at the very end but my legs still wouldn’t go. I was probably only 6th or 7th in my group. For today’s stage I ended up in 52nd place overall and 7th in my age group, moving me up to 9th in my age group for the General Classification (GC) and 56th in overall GC. I still have my work cut out for me if I hope to move back up into the top 5 for age group GC!
I felt really good about my race today, even though I missed out on being in the lead group by just a little bit. I worked hard and except for the missed opportunity to bridge to the leaders when we were so close at that one point, I feel that I did my best, which is always my goal.
The courses the past two days have been really pretty. Even with the rain yesterday, that was a picturesque course, especially one section that was high above the Mediterranean coast where we could see a small village spilling onto the seashore.
Today’s route went inland and through many small villages. It is always fun to race through Italian villages (like we did a lot last year in the two Granfondos). With the buildings right next to the streets, there are many blind corners and lots of people out cheering you along when they stop for a moment from their daily chores as the riders shoot by.
We had just a few sprinkles today, but it was a generally nice day with overcast skies and mild temperatures near 20C.