We had a novel sort of a day for stage 4 here at the tour of turkey. The stage was short with a few rollers which came in the final 20km so a shoot out with the sprinters that can handle a few speed humps was expected. As with the previous sprint stages 1 and 2, a small easy to control break was let lose and after yesterday's leg snapping day in the mountains everyone seemed happy with the situation. We started in barmey conditions, it was almost 30 degrees when the flag dropped, but grey clouds on the horizon threaten to ruin a tanning day for the peleton!
I have commented on a few occasions about the type of road surface here in turkey. I actually like it as its that gravelly type ash felt but instead of being the aussie dark grey it's a light cream tint. It's not only the colour that resembles a slate of marble but the gravely surface appears to be millions of mini marbles stuck ontop in the hope that it give a car grip. Well when the roads dry it seems fine, not anything out of the ordinary but sprinkle some water ontop and you may aswell be trying to ride on a wet sheet of smooth marble! It's simply put the most unridable surface I have ever encounter in the rain! 2 years ago we had 1 day in the pouring rain and while the team had planned for this and brought me tyres from Paris roubaix, nice and thick and strong, it was still one of the most unique days I have ever witnessed on the bike. It was 220km long and by the end only 30 riders remained in the front. Not so much because the stage terrain was difficult but basically because at one point or another 120 people hit the deck, often a number of times. I remember witnessing 4 riders crash trying to attack on a climb! As soon as they stood up and accelerated, boof! Down they went! So I had this experience and obviously when the rain drops started on a short climb knowing a nasty decent was to follow, I made sure I was right at the front and formolo was right behind me. Sure enough another team with a past winner in astana knew the risk and just as I got to the front they stormed forward and started setting a fiersome tempo. Formula 1 and I slotted into the 4th and 5th positions behind the pace setters so was a case of being in the right place at the right time!
Sure enough the group shattered on the 2km climb, astana were going full tilt to ensure there GC man went down the other side at the front. Formolo and I were sitting pretty although working solidly to do it and as we crested the top of the climb we braced ourselves for what was most likely going to be the most slippery decent we had ever tackled when suddenly my mate adam Hanson saddled up beside me!
Adam has done this race a few times and knew this decent very well. He informed me a mere 200m from the plunge down the other side that this is a really really dangerous decent and he thought we should let some air out of our tires for it. I would never argue with adam and promptly pulled over and let out around 100psi or 6 bars a and re mounted with MTB pressure in my kenda's! This may seem a bit brash in the middle of the race but we were at the front with the peleton scattered all over the mountain behind thanks to astanas pace making and in 15seconds tops we were back on our bikes. People laughed at us as they passed but soon we were the ones content with our decision. First corner, 10 down including the race leader. Second corner another 10, 3rd another bunch and so on. Basically riders were tumbling down like a set of domino's and by the bottom adam and I were back at the front! It was chaos. Riders would spot a crash happening 100m ahead, reaf on there breaks to anticipate going around it and consequently form another pile up. Basically put if the decent was any steeper than the 6% that it was then we would have had to walk down it! One rider who knew the decent aswell as adam was the bull himself Andrei Greiple. He knew the danger and what was going to happen and promptly got of his bike and went down the decent in the team car! Takes some singers to risk getting disqualified but hats off to him for taking a stand. Not surprisingly as soon as we reached some flat ground the race officials make the sensible decision to neutralize the stage until the conditions became safe to race again. So that was the little bit of drama today so back to the race.
After the restart we had around 100km to run. Ironically the man who risked disqualification by protesting earlier in the stage put his team on the front to what seemed like setting himself up for the sprint. Therefore the remaining 100km was extremely controlled and above all the riders felt safe again. The only obstacle between us and the finish was a couple of short fast climbs in the final 20km, not decisive enough to cause to much damage but enough to put the sting in the pins. Not surprisingly all the sprinters got over the climb in the front and results sheet read similar to that to stages 1 and 2. I made sure formolo was safe and sound and up the front and then started drifting to the back to wait for elia to arrive and get him back to the front. Sure enough he tacked onto the back of the mainfield around 4km from the finish and immediately let me know he was there and to go. The group was single file and going full gas so I knew if I didn't move immediately we wouldn't get him back into a sprinting position. So off we went and I was full tilt, 100 riders strung out is a long long line and not easy to pass 1 rider let alone 100 when the peleton is rocketing along at 60kmph. Anyways I spotted krisek way up ahead and knew I just needed to get elia to him and then krizek would do what he could in the final km's. We got back to belly of the bunch and elia left my wheel to find krizek and now was in the lap of the gods a little how his sprint would go. In the end krizek continued to impress by guiding elia forward and in the end elia would be 5th. Considering where he had to come from in the final 5km it was a pretty good result so in the end we were content. Formula 1 formolo moved up a place on the GC so was another positive day for the team. We are certainly improving everyday on looking out for each other so looking forward with anxious anticipation to see what we can do in the next 4 stages.