Stage/Finish: Cistierna › Les raeres. Nava
Distance: 171 kilometers - mountain
Weather: 83F/28C - sunny
Photos: ©Chris Auld & ©TimDeWaele/GettyImages
It’s been a challenging mentally and for team dynamics riding a grand tour without any team GC ambitions. We have been half-joking that the new rule is either off the front or out the back, but there are some truths and practicality to this in how we effectively use our resources. The past week, I’ve been trying every day to get “off the front.” Some teammates made it happen and found fortunate breakaway combinations and race scenarios that allowed them to go to the line.
Despite all my attempts, it wasn’t until Stage 14 that I managed to get away.
It was the usual tense neutral and fast start with a five-kilometer uncategorized climb. Despite being pushed to the back during the neutral, I snaked my way to the front just in time for the drop of the flag and immediately began going with attacks. With each one, my oxygen debt increased but I kept telling myself to commit over the top of the first climb. It was a deep effort but going over the top we noticed we had a small gap and immediately began rotating to speed up. I was happy to see my teammate Nico there but unhappy to see Kwiatkowski as he was only five minutes back on GC.
Despite having some serious horsepower including a former world champion and three Grand Tour top 10 finishers, it would be a long shot to stay away. We could hear our directors lacking optimism over the radio. The first recommendation was to “attack Kwiatkowski on the climb and get rid of him.” Nico and I looked at each other thinking, “no chance of that.” So we began working together.
It’s been mentally tough being in the peloton conserving energy while still suffering. The feeling of going for it was something I relished despite the heavy toll it took on my legs with each gnarly climb. So despite the low odds, it felt good to commit to the effort and enjoy some open road.
Eventually, we got word that the GC group behind was blowing to pieces and going full gas. This was Kwiatkowski’s cue to pour on the pressure over a nasty Cat 1 climb. Nico and I both struggled to hang on but managed to stay in contact over the top. A few kilometers into the downhill and it was just us three. That road was nuts! One lane, decreasing radius corners, moss on the edges and grass growing in the cracks of the busted pavement. This one would claim a few victims between the breakaway and peloton.
By the bottom of the descent, our lead had been slashed to a minute and dropping with Bahrain doing a full steam pull and peel. I came off on the next and penultimate climb, while Nico hung on with Kwiato. I was surprised to see the GC group so small when they caught me, but when I felt their pace I could see why. Part of my mind was saying sit up and save the rest for another day, but another part said to do my best to hang on over one more climb. It wasn’t a free ride, but I was happy to stay in the mix to the base of the final summit.
Again, the motos were a little too close as this group barreled into the climb. Never directly in front but always rolling in and out of the zone where the chasing teams could get just a bit of draft.
As we hit the base of the final climb, my legs exploded as guys sprinted to position their leaders, so Nico and I called it a day. We still had to grind our way up four km of an insanely steep, one lane goat path that required a minimum of threshold Pace in a 36-30 gear just to keep moving.
Astonishingly, the front guys put 5 minutes into us in 5 km. The crowds out there were incredible and inspiring while riding past, but treacherous when going down.
TV should consider including the “ride back to the bus” in their coverage; it’s another worthy viewing component on these stages. Riding down 15-20 percent, dragging the brakes and weaving through hoards of drunk fans was not exactly a relaxing cooldown!
Today is another savage one, but we can see the glimmer of tomorrow’s rest day way, way off in the distance.