Stage/Finish: Vasto › L’Aquila
Distance: 185 kilometers (hilly)
Today’s stage to L’Aquila had me thinking back to one of my hardest days ever on a bike at the 2010 Giro that finished in the same city. Thankfully today’s stage was not 265 kilometers and we didn’t see any snow/hail/sleet as we did nine years ago. Still, I knew the roads would be similar—relentless, undulating, and twisting. A profile perfectly set for an aggressive and intense day as more breakaway guys would be dreaming of pink and a stage win.
It was extremely fast from the start and big groups were constantly going and reshuffling. We had one of our super climbers—Mikel--sneak into a very dangerous group that caused UAE and Bahrain to invest some big energy to bring them back. A series of 3, 4-5 uncategorized climbs and a relentless chase aided by those menacing camera motorbikes put the bunch in pieces. I felt like I was exploding as I sprinted over the top and then glanced back on the downhill to see a big gap to the group behind. Fortunately, Simon was up front and out of trouble through all of this.
The next reshuffling came about 100 km in when Lucas powered into a good one that looked like it could finally go. After a demanding two hours, I was hoping for a little respite, but we went straight back into full gas chasing with Conti’s pink jersey in danger if the group ahead got too far out.
The last climb of the day brought back some PTSD from 2010 as I remember being totally alone between groups on this section of road, unsure if I was even still on course as the hail and rain pounded me. Today was much different with a big group and a very fast pace. Up ahead, Lucas was riding smart and looking for a stage win. Behind, we knew we had to deliver Simon in good position into the final technical kilometers. I linked up with Simon, so I could drop him off just under two km to go while up ahead grand tour debutant Lucas did an impressive ride to fourth place. Twenty-three years young, this won’t be the last time you see him contesting a win at a Grand Tour.
Tomorrow, we have the longest stage (in distance at least). Conveniently positioned at the end of an already very long week, we will rack up nearly 40 hours on the bike.