I would have to say it was a pretty unmotivated bunch this morning at the start of stage 12. With most people using the TT as a rest day like I did it seemed most of the peletons engine had shut down and nobody was too keen to make the stage harder than it needed to be. On paper it looked perfect for a sprint finish so for that to happen its was important a small breakaway skipped away from the bunch. Everything went to script and after just 1km of racing 3 men where up the road and everybody was happy as a pig in mud to gently role along in the peleton for an hour so before the teams of the sprinters started reeling the escapees back in.
I must admit while I had hoped for an easy day before the stage began, I quickly changed my tune 30minutes into the race. The problem with cruising along is there is no adrenaline pumping and I quickly learnt without this it does not matter how many pain killers I take, my rib is really really annoying. I got so fed up and uncomfortable that after 50km I went back to the car and asked mario if I could ride on the front for a bit of a rush and something to take my mind of the pain! Of course mario said no as he knows the importance of saving energy when possible and told me just to stay in the bunch and follow the wheels. I was a bit bummed but once I got back to the bunch the stress rose as we approached the feed zone and small climb at the half way point of the stage so I set up camp right at the front to keep Ivan protected and out of danger up and over the climb. As always happens when a narrow decent is approaching the tension and pace lifts so finally I had the adrenaline flowing as I fought of challengers for our front position. We crested the climb in the front 5 positions and as a result had an armchair ride down the 12km twisty fast technical decent.
Descending is something I have worked very hard on this year and I am finally feeling like I can handle a push bike. The idea is to be surrounded by good bike riders that you can trust and also be as far forward as possible. When riders don't trust you they simply barge you out of the way so that's when you know you look out of control. You may feel in control but to others it looks different and good riders identify this and rip past like your standing still. I have certainly been a rider in this category for my initial years in the sport! Today though I knew I was finally fitting in. I let all my team mates past follwed by valverde and lastras of movistar. After valverde vincenso nibali called me into the line which is a real honour for me. Vincenso is regarded as one of the best decenders in the bunch so to be given the wheel by him put a big smile on my dial. With my team mates a few wheels ahead I used them as reference points for the corners. If I saw them on the break and slowly exiting the corners I knew it was a tight one. If I saw them begin pedalling mid corner then I knew it was a free flowing corner where you could maintain your speed. With valverde infront of me I did not even need to look at him as I knew he knew what he was doing so I just naturally stayed on his wheel. Also with vincenso behind me and with him leading the race I knew nobody would be challenging him for my wheel so I nothing to worry about back there. So I was calm and relaxed and when your calm and relaxed you can just seem to glide on the bike. It was single file, twisty and fast and for that 10minutes or so was just such a rush flying down the side of the mountain while also feeling in total control. You have to savour moments like this as they never last long and the decent was to finish next to the ocean where the fireworks were sure to begin!
Today with the sprint on the cards we had the objective of position ratto to turn on his after burners in the bunch gallop. Off course looking after Ivan was the other major priority so we had plenty to keep us occupied in the final 50km. We set up camp the front as as I have said before you never know when trouble can strike. Sure enough around 45km from the finish as we passed a town on a narrow street a crash blocked the road. We were all safely in the front so all good! Next up the wind picked up a bit and with it the pace. The gap to the breakaway was plummeting and with them reeled in around 20km from the finish it meant there was an intermediate sprint and bonus seconds on offer around 17km from the finish!! This is when Ivan decided to pounce!
I spotted Ivan and longo in the first 4 positions in the bunch so quickly charged forward to see what was going on. Ivan just said keep the pace high before the sprint. Sure enough about 500m before the sprint Ivan jumped and I was the only one near him with the peleton strung out behind us. I promptly eased up and created a nice little gap which roche quickly tried to close. When I saw roche pass I got on the radio and told ivan to jump again to ensure he got to the sprint 1st and took the maximum bonus seconds on offer. He duly crossed the sprint line 1st and with it clawed back some 3 precious seconds. I made sure I crossed in 3rd to mop up the remaining seconds on offer as there no point winning them if you don't make the most of it so keeping them from his other rivals was off course the other objective. From there I kept the pace on on the front of the bunch. We were all up front so was best to make it hard for those caught out at the back to move up. After a couple of km's BMC took up the pace making and I drifted back to make sure ratto was in a good position with us now well inside 15km to go. I found him close to the front and dragged him further forward before re assuming my position at the head of the field for a couple of km's to keep the pace high, give us a position at the head of the field, and also while I was on the front I felt safe and minimised the chance of crashing. At 5km remaining was a crucial right hand corner so before this I drifted back again through the bunch to ensure ratto and Ivan were were they needed to be. As expected ratto was still in the first 10 positions with his pilot extraordinary heado protecting and guiding him, and Ivan was safely ticked in behind longo a little further back but in the perfect position to jump forward at the right moment. Paterski was acting as Ivan's bodyguard today and guarding his back wheel so all was good. I turned of the engine and just ensured I stayed close enough to Ivan until the 3km to go sign so should he need me I was there. From there I sat up and got right out of the way, any opportunity I can take in the next day to limit danger to myself I will certainly capitalise on. Today that meant getting way out of the way for bunch sprints!
Ratto was positioned perfectly for the bunch gallop but unfortunately his turbo would not fire today. The good sign however was he was in the perfect position so we know when he has his normal kick that big result is just around the corner. I am sure tomorrow could even present another opportunity. Longo had Ivan safely positioned up the front ensuring our team leader ended the day closer to the podium then when he started to the day. Its a great sign for the race that the GC men are chasing sprint bonus seconds, it tells you that they know how evenly matched they all are, and secondly that the race is most probably going to be decided by seconds. All bodes well for an exciting 9 stages ahead. Also if Ivan face following the stage is anything to go by then the party is just beginning. He was like a kid in a candy store when he swaggered up to my back seat on the team bus to go back though the 3 seconds he stole from his rivals at today final intermediate sprint. It just makes all the boys feel so much better about there days work to see him so focused and excited about how the race is panning, I really makes for an enjoyable ride back to the hotel each afternoon!
Its funny when you get this far into a grand tour and how you perceive distance in your mind. Today 160km seemed so so short. In the first week I always feel like the last 50km are freebies, around 1hr of racing to go which just zips by. Once I enter the 2nd week I start to feel like I am basically finished when we reach 75km to go. From there I know pretty much its only 1hr 30min - 1hr 45min of racing. Enter the 3rd week and its when I get to 100km to go I feel like I am home, 2hrs - 2hrs 30min of racing remaining. Your mind works in funny ways in a grand tour, I guess anything to simply keep it pushing on at the levels and intensity your asking it to. I guess in reality what we are putting ourselves through is not exactly normal!
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