What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger…? That could have been my motto today, as I felt close to the light a few times.
After an incredibly boring 37 km of neutral, yes you read that correctly, 37 km, the race was off once again. Today we were to cover 187km, and according to various sources, the stage was much much harder than it appeared on paper.
After yesterday I could’ve used a nice day in bed, but I geared up like everyone else and got ready for the pain.
14km into the stage I was out the back. Again. It’s not that I felt terrible, I just didn’t have the mojo to hold on to the pack as attacks flew up the road left and right. It didn’t help that we were already climbing either. Pathetic really, but what can you do? Hang on for dear life.
This time, however, I was not alone, and this made me…I don’t want to say ‘happy’ because there was no happiness in the last 6 hours…I was, however, relieved in a way that I wouldn’t be alone for the next 173km. Hey, maybe we would make it back as the road leveled off…
Six of us fought through the cars, each taking turns at the front of our mini ‘breakaway-off-the-back’. We had hope that the pack would let a real breakaway go, and sit up, allowing us to return.
No break went. All I kept hearing over the radio was ‘pack is all together’.
We kept plugging away, losing ground fast. It was 6 against 180…those are not great odds. We fought and fought but to no avail. The first climb, that wasn’t even a categorized climb, finally relented and we began to descend down towards the first real climb of the day, which 120km later would also serve as the final climb of the day.
My head was all over the place.
Well, this will be your last stage Taylor, no way you’re making it back now. No, you have 5 other guys with you, if you keep it up, for the next 120km, you might just make it. But can I put myself through that? Yes, why couldn’t you? Man up!
The worst part of riding the last climb in the beginning of the race is that they have km markers starting at 10 and going all the way down to the red flag, which is 1km to go. It was the worst tease; knowing you have somewhere around 3 hours of pain and suffering until you would be passing through here again. And even if you do make it, will you have done enough to be within time cut?
Don’t think about that, just ride.
We were 70 or so km into the stage after passing the finish for the first time, with around 115km to go, and I wasn’t in a good place. SO MUCH CLIMBING. We would descend off of one ridge just to hit the bottom of a valley and then have to ride all the way up to the top of the other side. My sources were very right, this was a hard, hard stage.
And then 6, became 4. A Saxo Bank rider and a Skil Shimano rider began to distance themselves from the rest of us on yet another climb-that-wasn’t-a-climb. They didn’t attack, they simply just rode away, and were gone. So we were left with 4. Christensen from Saxo Bank, Vogondy from Cofidis, Tschopp from our team, and myself.
The next kms were a blur. My mind wandered from counting down the kilometers, to losing hope completely, to reminding myself to eat, to regaining hope, to feeling better on the bike, to feeling worse. I had a song stuck in my head; ‘I Gave You All’ by Mumford and Sons.
I questioned why I did this sport, I remembered what it felt like to win and what I have had to go through in the past to be strong enough for that big result. In reality, I had been in the position I was in today already many times before, in a completely different scenario, in a different country, in a different race. Cycling is about suffering, and you have to push your body further than it is willing to go. In the moment, I hated myself for what I was doing to my body although secretly I knew what I was doing was necessary if I wished to be better. I tried to trick myself into thinking that, hey, if there are 100km to go, then there are really 85km until the final climb which is two hours or so, and then 15km, and by the time you get there you will smell the finish so you’ll feel good… I will say, It did help…a bit.
Worst of all is that we were riding on highways for a fair amount of time in the stage. 4 guys, suffering, on a wide open highway. Traffic jam in front, traffic jam behind, all for us. I felt like apologizing to people as we went past…but I didn’t.
As we approached the feed zone, a small piece of me desperately wanted to get off my bike and quit. When I say a small part, I mean most of my body. I was done, but I couldn’t quit. They can time cut me, they can rip my number off, but unless I’m in real danger of injuring myself, I’m not gonna quit.
The kms clicked down. Slowly.
Hours went by.
Just the dull pain of my legs remained a constant reminder that I was alive and not lost in a dream.
And the heat! I haven’t even mentioned it…must be getting acclimatized or something.
Finally, after what felt like eternity, we passed the 25km to go sign. And then the 20km to go sign.
And then we were on the final climb. John Lelangue was in the car behind and informed us that we were cutting it close on the time cut, and would have to really give it on this last climb if we wanted to make it. I set the tempo, actually beginning to feel relatively OK. The climb was something like 8km and I made sure I didn’t go over my threshold. All of the sudden, about 4km into the climb, we rounded a bend and off in the distance, a couple turns ahead, we could see cars! And then we saw riders! The grupetto!!!
The tiny bit of hope I had kept all day was now amplifying exponentially with every meter we got closer to that lovely grupetto. You see, there are times when the grupetto finishes after time cut, but is allowed to continue due to it’s size. Usually, and I say USUALLY, if you are in a grupetto, you will be safe. As I cruised past the last of the cars, relief set in. I, along with my three dropped comrades, could finally breathe a sigh of relief. We patted each other on the back, and settled in.
We crested the top, and descended down to the finish. The last km of the race was straight up hill, featuring a nice section at around 25%. I was so done and dusted, so over the race, I couldn’t get it over with fast enough. I followed a friend of mine, Martijn Keizer, who I believe had similar thoughts, and we didn’t sprint up it, but we definitely went faster than ‘normal’. Honestly, I had a taste of the finish and I wanted to be done so fast that I disobeyed the cardinal rule of the grupetto.
Never attack the grupetto. Never.
While it wasn’t like I was straight up attacking my fellow grupetto mates, I had inadvertently dropped them in the last km. I attempted to slow in the final 100m, almost coming to a stand-still but, the finish, it was RIGHT THERE. I had been fighting so hard, for so long…all day in fact. I just couldn’t help myself.
For disobeying the cardinal rule, and pissing some of my favorite riders off, I’m deeply sorry.
Ahh, life of a neo-pro!
I made it, and at the end of the day that is all that matters. I’m enjoying a nice ice bath now…hope you have enjoyed the recap of today’s sufferfest.
One day at a time.
Bye for now…