I didn’t think I’d have time to write a diary entry, last night I got back to the hotel a little later than normal and then had the usual goings on. I also had a few messages to reply to which took up most of my remaining evening. Obviously from the outside looking in stage 6 felt as spectacular as it did from the inside looking out judging by the encouragement and support I’ve received! We have what is the longest mountain stage today (I think…), and I’ve been woken up by doping control at 7:30 who want to take some of my blood! Oh well, so I have to sit here and wait for ten minutes before they can take my blood as that is part of the protocol. Hence I have seized the opportunity to get some words down…
Yesterday was a memorable day. It was essentially our home stage, Girona being the beating heart of our team. My fiancé Nicole was there to see me off, as were many friends and members of the team. The first 50km were on roads I’ve trained on dozens of times. I hadn’t planned on going on the attack as I considered it a bit of a futile effort because I knew there were plenty of times when a stage win would be genuinely possible and this wasn’t one of them. Being one minute off the yellow jersey and on a stage that was one of the last opportunities for the sprinters for a while meant that the race was going to be shut down and I wouldn’t be allowed much time on the road.
Of course, all reason and logic were thrown out the window when we hit the very hard coastal road (one of my favourite training roads ever… Fact!) and everybody started going ballistic. Actually it had been going ballistic for a while before this and leading onto the coast it was Dave Z. who was in a solo TT effort off the front of the bunch. I edged closer and closer to the front and starting dipping my toe in the attacking waters. After about ten minutes on this road it appeared everybody was on their last legs, so I dove in head-first and went on the attack. Unfortunately everybody was REALLY tired and nobody could come with me! Eventually I heard that Chavanel was chasing, so I waited for him, and then we heard Auge was chasing, so we waited for him. Two is better than one, three is better than two…
Now I began to think that this really was a waste of time, granted it was great to be off the front on home roads, but with only three of us, and a re-grouping of the peloton behind, we knew that we were more than ever at their mercy. Knowing that the next day was not only the first mountain stage, but also the longest of the race, made me question my sanity further. The three of us were strong but the peloton was not going to let us get far; the maximum lead we had was 3 nimutes and 45 seconds — not much! So we started to play cat and mouse, we’d slow down and force the peloton to slow as we knew they wouldn’t want to catch us too early and have the attacking start anew. On the next serious of hills a Euskatel rider bridged across from the peloton, making us four. This was welcome as at least turning at four made it a little easier than three (which is better than two, which is better than…)
By this point it was raining and we had 80km to go. The gap came down to one minute at one point and we became resigned to our fate and frustrated at what seemed like a total waste of precious energy. We rode on in the manner of a death march, but then in the space of a kilometre I went from a state of resignation to a state of ‘To hell with this!’ and completely instinctively launched away from the other three. There were 29km to go and the bunch was just over a minute behind, and yet it made perfect sense to me.
The next 28km were amazing! Getting over the hill that would then drop me into Barcelona was a little challenging. On the uphill I had to turn myself inside out, then the descent was just plain scary. But once I got down into Barcelona I realized that my illogical emotional racing might just get me the stage win. What I hadn’t expected was the people and the energy in Barcelona. It reminded me of being off the front on my own in the Canterbury stage when the Tour de France visited England. The noise was deafening and the sheer number of people everywhere was spine tingling.
Leading the Tour de France solo through the streets of Barcelona on my home stage was, what I like to call, a magic day. I’ll remember that forever. Somehow I found the strength to hold off the peloton for 20km, but the massive false flat boulevards started to take their toll and in those last 5km I could feel my strength evaporating. The final climb was just too much.
It was a great day racing and reminded me of why I love this sport so much. I train often with Michael Barry in the winter in Girona, and we spend many hours discussing our sport. We share a love of the panache and suffering that brings such beauty to it. The fact that it’s not just about the winning means something to him and to me. So when I was going through the dozens of messages on my phone after the stage, the one from Michael said, ‘Panache. Congratulations. This is a beautiful race to be watching.’
It kind of meant the most to me.