When I stopped to pee in the neutral section (anticipating a big fight for the break and no chance to pee for a while), I failed to consider that I might not be able to get back to the front before the start. Every other neutral section has been fairly easy to start at the front if you wanted, but lots of guys wanted to be in the break today, and the road wasn’t very wide. It was a complete logjam, and a crash and many close-calls in the neutral evinced the excitement in the field.
Immediately a big group got away, but Movistar was chasing it full gas, as it contained a number of big names. It took me 7km to get to the front on the twisting road, but by the time I got there, I was warmed up. We were on a long uphill drag, so I just kept my momentum going and jumped across to a group that was halfway across the gap. I was halfway across when it struck me just how quickly I was getting there, while lots of other guys were going backwards. I actually thought, “whoa.”
If I’m honest, I was worried that I was too under-trained coming to a race like this. I had heard (and been told) that it’s the best way to arrive at a Grand Tour, but I was still nervous. I didn’t think that I could really race into shape, but doggoneit, that’s exactly what’s happening. My “whoa” feeling corresponded with matching my 3-min power record. Tinkoff chased our group back, and the break built their gap to a minute. I wished I was in it, but I was encouraged by how good my legs felt.
First Europcar chased full-gas, but the gap only went out further. They gave up and half the field stopped to pee, at which point Orica took up the chase.
Orica held the gap at 3 minutes for most of the stage, slowly chipping away on the climbs. On the second and third climbs, we caught some riders that had been dropped from the break. As the race wore on, I didn’t feel quite as good (that’s usually how it works, anyways), but I was never in danger of getting dropped on the climbs, while the field gradually got a bit smaller.
At the bottom of the final descent, we had me, Warren, Nikias, Tobias, and Koen together. The final 2k would be tough, so we worked together to keep Warren fresh and deliver him to the key turn at the front. He had good legs in the finale, but was a bit too timid when the attacks started (his own opinion), finishing with all the other GC riders.
We’re excited that he’s feeling so good, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him off the front on the crazy-steep finish climb tomorrow. The race book says sustained grades of 19%, but guys who’ve ridden it say it’s more. I’ll have a 34-28 gearing, hopefully that’s enough!
According to the power analysis, today was the hardest stage of the race so far (highest TSS). For all I know, my form could be headed toward a blind cliff, but I’ll just keep taking it day-by-day and enjoy the good legs while they last!
Oh, and today's finish was in a zoo. We saw zebras and hippos. It's easy to forget to look around once in a while.
13 down, 8 to go!