Ahh, it has been a while for me on the old blog front…but, alas…I am back! The Giro d’Italia is around the corner and I’m planning on blogging the crepe out of that race. Hopefully this excites you in a PG sort of way.
But first, today was the one day race Giro della Toscana and I feel that it was epic enough to deserve a blog post.
Last night I got to drive MY car a mere 20 minutes to arrive at our race hotel, something I am not at all used to. Usually I pack up my bags, drive to the airport and catch a RyanAir flight. NOT THIS TIME. I heart racing in Italy… I received a massage, did an interview, ate my weight in pasta, and hit the hay. The course of today’s race passed along many of my training roads which made the breakdown of the race much easier beforehand. The race is not exactly made for me as it features a fair amount of up and down but I was excited just to race at home and help out our team.
Ten minutes before the start, it began to drizzle. The day before it had been 30 degrees C (hot) and sunny, so the rain came a bit unexpected. I am a big man however, so cold/rain don’t bother me too much.
We started straight up a 3km climb which I was not at all looking forward to. Apparently the entire pack wasn’t looking forward to it either because as soon as we hit km 0, shouts of ‘PIANO!’ erupted and nobody attacked. When two guys finally did, no one followed and that was that. Boy oh boy was I relieved! Climbing from the gun is PAINFUL…non mi piace.
So our game plan was to protect Santambrogio, Frank, and Ballan. Adam Blythe and me, being the least adept at climbing were to ride the front and keep the break in check. We began to pull 20km into the race and didn’t stop until km 130. We had the help of one Liquigas rider for maybe 15km but besides that it was just us. Blythie and I had some fun in the wet descents having to wait after almost every turn for the cautious peloton. What can we say, we have to get our kicks somewhere! Riding the front is quite difficult, especially in two. I felt good, and I could tell Adam did too. The climbs I had been scared of on the profile ticked by, as did the kms. The 30km leading into the day’s major climb ‘Crocina’ were quite twisty and Adam and I were able to string the peloton out even more in the wet corners, our BMC boys tucked in safely behind us.
I knew that with all the work I had done, staying in the main pack over the 8km ‘Crocina’ would be a hard task, especially if a team really decided to light it up. And light it up they did! Adam and I, after 3 hours and 110km on the front went backwards like rocks as tiny Italians sprinted off the front from the bottom of the climb. I found my rhythm and surprisingly still had some mojo left, holding around 450-480 watts. At this point I was behind the front group, but felt that I was clawing back. For me, my own rhythm is essential to surviving a climb and I just made sure to keep my cadence high and mentality positive. With a couple of kms to the top I could see a group of around 10 in front of me and slowly made my way up and past them. The climb was all of the sudden over with and I was back into my element–descending and cornering. I had no idea how far from the front I was but I had team cars around me so I knew I was close. A group of 5 had clung to my back wheel over the top but were no longer there after about a minute as I blasted in and out of the corners. I was a man on a mission and caught another group of 8 just to screech past them. As I got towards the bottom I could see a large group of 20 and made a massive effort to catch up to them. They seemed to be rotating well together and I pitched in, the main pack getting closer and closer. It was only a matter of time before we caught them. In a way I was rather surprised at my ability to survive the climb and make it back especially after burning so many matches riding the front, but at the same time I thought of the amount of work and dedication I’ve put into this year and was happy that my legs were responding properly. Our group rejoined the main pack with around 50km to go and at this point a breakaway of 12-15 was off the front with 4 of us BMC so luckily I got to sit in and refuel. I relaxed and started thinking about where I was and how the race had changed for me. This morning I had not at all planned on making it to the finishing circuits in Arezzo with the main pack, but here I was, and I felt alright.
Farnese-Vini and Liquigas chased the big breakaway down just after we entered the circuits and there were just 3 left in front, including our own Ivan Santaromita. I made sure to hit the 1km circuit climb in the front and knew it was short enough that I could hang on. I gave a big push over the top and suddenly there were 20km to go and only one more time over the climb I had just survived. I could smell the finish line and again thought about everything I had done in the day. Before patting myself on the back I committed to helping my teammates and surviving the last lap.
The kms clicked down, the pack getting more and more nervous. I held positions with the rest of the team in the front on the narrow approach to the last time up the climb. Farnese was pulling all out for Oscar Gatto and I knew that this time up the climb I would really have to dig. We hit the base and immediately attacks went flying off the front. I just plugged away giving everything I had. The last 200 meters of the climb are the worst as they are the steepest. As the road tilted further upward I got out of the saddle holding a solid 650 watts but was still going backwards. I gave everything I had but it wasn’t enough, the group had formed in front and I was off the back. I wasn’t done yet though, I still had the descent. I found myself in a small group and with the help of an amazing Timmy Roe we started to bridge the gap. Just as we hit the bottom of the descent I knew we were going to make it. The last push is always the hardest but we were back in, 2km to go. I could feel the whole day’s work in each pedal stroke but I wanted to finish off the day in the front. I learned that Ballan was off the front with a small group and I just tried to breathe in as much air as I could before the sprint. I knew it’d be a big ask to place well but I figured I’d give it a go. I managed to get a bit swarmed with 500m to go but as the road opened up I was able to pass a few riders and finish top 10 in the bunch sprint, top 20 in the finishing results. After crossing the line I learned Ballan had won and was overjoyed. Ale is one of my favorite people on the planet. Always smiling, laughing and genuinely just a very good guy. He hasn’t won a race in 3 years so I knew today was special for him. I rode slowly back to the bus, sat down for a moment, showered and had some Muesli. Now I’m en route home.
Just another day at the office.
I can’t wait for the Giro d’Italia, especially the opening TT. Until then!