I had better finish this report off before I forget what happened! The Tour finished over a week ago now but I have been so smashed this week and catching up with a lot of things......no excuses.....now, where was I....oh the crash.
STAGE 4 - 233.something km
Hmmm...adrenalin. I was so annoyed the day before after crashing. It's all part and parcel unfortunately and I was happy to wake up no feeling too many after-effects. It certainly didn't help that crack in the bone though. So. 233km. Last time I raced this far.....my memory is too short term for that. I noticed what they managed to forget to mention on the cyclingnews.com reports was that it rained for 200 of those kilometres. Just great. Makes you wonder why really. Rain does something to an Aussie I reckon. At least it does to me. Especially when the temperature maxed out at 14^C. Legs just feel dead and heavy. I felt crappy up until the 160km mark when we hit some burgs. Finally gave me a chance to go hard and warm up and then I felt great. I boosted my confidence a little by jumping across to a strong break on one of the climbs and was content that no-one was able to follow. It all came back together. There was a race long break which was brought back towards the finish. But meanwhile two riders had sneaked off the front and stayed away for the win. We all lined up for the sprint and we did well having three riders in the top 16.
Normally this tour is won by minutes as a break goes with the major teams represented and they get 20 or so minutes as the small 6-man teams in this tour just don't hae the firepower.
STAGE 5 - 155km
Rain, rain go away, come again another day....preferably when we aren't racing. Doesn't it realise it is making my shoes all wet and clothes all dirty?! So yes, we managed the entire stage in rain for 400 rain-soaked kilometres in the last two days. Why? Today showed the tour winner, which you may say, of course because you have the advantage of hindsight. But it was an impressive ride. It went from the gun. With the climbs starting in the first few kilometres of the stage. Temps? - average 11^C, max 13^C. An early break went and we were represented by Danail Petrov, a young rider with plenty of talent in the mountains. The Sweedes, with the yellow jersey worked all day to bring the break back and I don't remember the stage being easy at any stage but the break was still hovering around 5 minutes with 40km to go. As Danail had lost some time in a crash the previous day, we were ordered to send the boys to the front to work to bring it back. Simon Gerrans, my Aussie team-mate for this tour, made him self known by going straight to the front and bringing out the piranas (little joke between us deprived cyclists...the lactic acid biting the muscles). We stormed over the last few climbs and the break had come back to 4 minutes but it was taking a lot of work. Rabobank then joined us on the front and brought out the flat-land motors......this is the bit that is impressive. In the break at the front, two riders had broken clear and one time check we would win time, then the next time check they would pull some back. Incredible ride. The guy who won managed a third on the Tour de France stage this year when Tyler Hamilton one...for anyone who was watching it. The guy who was with him, Martinez from Euskatel, was awarded with the yellow jersey.
STAGE 6 - 137km
Today was to be the big mountain stage with two cat 4 climbs, four cat 3's, and a cat 1 climb towards the finish. I was feeling one of the strongest climbers in the race and I was keen today to be able to show this. Euskatel were put under lots of pressure early and I was on the yellow jersey's wheel as I watched him doing a lot of the chasing himself. The guy was riding strong. A few breaks had gone up the road and had grouped to form a breakaway of 6 at the front. On the third from last climb the yellow jersey was on the attack. I screwed up a little by not being on his wheel. After a short descent we started the penultimate climb and I attacked and was able to bridge across to the yellow jersey in a small group of 3 or 4 riders. I took 2 with me. Another descent was followed by the last cat 1 climb. This climb was only 3km or so but it was quite steep and everyone was looking for smaller gears to struggle over the top. I found a good rhythm by staying in the seat and working my way up it and the group I was in splintered and at the top of the climb we had passed everyone in the front break of 6 except for 3 riders. With 20km to go, we were 6 and it was here that the stage victory would be. But the steep climb was followed by a steep, technical descent and I got caught unawares by being caught up behind a guy who dropped the wheel of the guy in front of him, letting 3 guys get a small gap on us. We then had to chase our butts off for 15km and the gap always hovered at the 10 second mark. It wasn't to be. The head wind and only having 2 guys working as opposed to the 3 guys working in the front we couldn't catch them. But anyway, I was still in it for a 4th place, or at worst a 6th.......but. Grrrrr. I lead into the roundabout with 500 metres to go, absolutely smashed, saw arrows on every corner and with the traffic marshall not indicating the direction to go I managed to go the wrong way and ended up doing a lap of the roundabout. The two guys behind me didn't however and finished 4th and 5th on the stage. To make matters worse, I was passed by one other guy just before the line, to not only lose at least 10-15 seconds from the incident but at least one finishing spot. I was not impressed. I managed to move up to 19th overall on GC and our team also became leaders for the teams classification, which is the time taken from the three best placed riders on GC.
STAGE 7 - 173km
I admit I can't even remember this stage at the moment...let me just look in my book. Oh, actually, better is looking at the results. The wind had arrived and was causing havoc. We were going through a notoriously windy part of France and the bunch shattered once over a cat 2 climb but was then....what's worse than shattered?....demolished by the cross winds in the race to the finish. At one stage, after we had lost lots of riders from the wind, I found myself 20 metres off the back of the bunch and I couldn't close it. I put my head down and luckily the road turned to the right and the side wind turned changed to a tail wind and I did 68kph on the flat for a couple of kms to catch the front group again....I know because I was biting my stem (another cycling term for suffering like a dog). It worked out well for us in the end and I suddenly found myself in 13th spot on GC.
STAGE 8 - 165km
I was having a few stomach problems by this time and found it harder to recover day to day. With one cat 4, two cat 3's and three cat 2's there would be no hiding today though. Not to help were the 100kmh winds blowing. The Spanish guys in the team were even getting exciting mentioning that one year in the Tour of Spain they cancelled a stage because it was too windy.....wishful thinking I believe. The bunch went a strong pace all day and then on the last climb things went crazy for a minute and the three of us left in the group from Boavista had to chase to get back to the leading group of 10. Another close one. Came together though and fortunately we were still leading the teams classification.
STAGE 9 - 199km annulled to 125km (thank you god!)
Ok, my reports are getting shorter here as bedtime gets closer. The tour organisation decided to annull 75km of the stage today because of bad roads (why didn't they do that in the first stage!) so I think everyone breathed a sigh of relief. For the first time in the tour, this stage was actually easy up until the end. Everyone was a little calmer, there weren't attacks left, right and centre. It all came down to the last part of the race with the finish line at the top of a two kilometre climb. Being in good position at the bottom was half the key here and I got there in fairly good shape. I ended up 12th on the stage, 11 seconds down on the winner but all the leading contenders came in around the same time. The climb wasn't steep enough to cause big upsets, which could have been a good opportunity for me to move up into the top 10 on GC. Still, we increased our lead in the teams classification (ok, ok, it was 1 second, but a phsychological win).
STAGE 10 - 128km WOOHOO, going home today! Or as Simon put it, last pasta-eating day
I had to be quite active in today's stage (*yawn....will this report ever finish!) as there were two teams trying to work us over to win the teams classification. I went in a break which had both of these teams in it and it was fun to play the pr**k by not working and then suffering as I had to chase them down when they kept attacking me over and over. Luckily it worked out well and it all came back together for a finish on what can be described as a very dodgy finishing straight. I drunk man would have been able to go down it without hitting the barriers but a bunch of cyclists with nothing to lose were never going to make it as there were a few crashes within the last few kilometres and one at 200 metres to go which ended up with a few broken collarbones. My teammate was quite impressed by the fact that he actually rode over the top of one of them without crashing! So yah!!!! it was all over and we had won the teams prize. Last trip to the podium (for 5th day in a row) for the presentation of a podium girl....woops I mean presentation of medals and stuff.
....And then in the car for an 1800km trip home.
So the tour went fairly well for me. I missed some opportunities so that is what annoys me. That day when I was sent the wrong way and the time I lost when I crashed turned to be crucial as it would have moved me from 13th on GC to 7th, which sounds a lot nicer. It excites me to think about next year though. I have changed my training and I am a new type of rider, one who can climb! And that was only after doing it for 2 months, so it has been quite a successful block of racing.
Since then, another race has been won and lost. But now the dishes, laundry and bed are calling.