(photo credit: Bart Hazen)
It was the Trophée d’Or double day today featuring the stage two team time trial in the morning followed by a road stage in the afternoon. We expected to be extremely competitive in the morning and were eyeing the stage win.
The course was a fast 9.6 kilometer effort that included a short hill with a 7% gradient at four kilometers. An open highway type road followed the hill, and it was a good place to get the speed back up again before dropping down into a really fast, flying descent. From the descent, it was only two kilometers to the finish, and teams came flying across the line. There was one last hill with 500 meters to go, but nothing that interrupted speeds too much. In addition to changes in gradient, there were tons of sharp corners with enough stretches between them to get into a good rhythm. It was a pretty fun course, and it was one we had recon’d on both Thursday and Friday – so we felt comfortable on it.
Yesterday, I said something would need to go terribly wrong for us to finish off the stage podium. Nothing went terribly wrong. In fact, everything mostly went right, and we’re fairly satisfied with the result. There was one thing that did go wrong, though – and this one thing potentially cost us the win.
Four kilometers into the stage, as we went up that steep little kicker I described above, I dropped my chain. It fell off on the inside on this really bumpy section that leads to the climb. I’m not sure if a bump in road bounced it off or if something else caused it to drop. Regardless, my chain was off as we powered into a fast section and charged towards the hill.
Amanda came from behind me and gave me a little push, so I didn’t lose contact with my teammates at first. I managed to put my chain into the big chain ring but couldn’t drop it down into the small chain ring for some reason. The girls were starting to ride away from me as I fought with my chain, so I finally decided I just had to go. I would need to climb that hill in my big chain ring.
The hesitation and big ring climbing were enough to gap me from my team. From that point on, they just had three riders – Amanda, Lauren and Megan. Sam was on her road bike, and she got dropped pretty early. In some time trials, it’s the fourth rider across the line that determines the time. Here, it was the third wheel that counted. If we had needed four, the girls would have waited for me. They crossed the line in third, seven seconds behind Sengers. MCipollini finished second.
So, it wasn’t a disaster by any means, but it was disappointing to have a mechanical issue and not be able to contribute all the way to the finish. Given that we were just three riders for half of the race, I think the result was pretty exceptional.
We headed into the afternoon stage with Megan in eighth overall and Amanda in ninth. Our objective was to stay safe, ensure neither Megan nor Amanda lost any time and go for a good stage result if we could.
It was another brutally hot afternoon with temperatures hovering around 40°C. Amanda started the stage in the climber’s jersey although she wasn’t leading the competition. She was tied on points with race leader Elena Checchini (Mcipollini) ahead of the stage.
Stage three included three GPMs – places to pick up points in the climber’s competition – with the first GPM coming nine kilometers into the stage. It was full gas racing up until the first climb. Amanda took top points. After that, the peloton pretty much sat up.
In addition to miserable heat, we also faced a stiff headwind. The combination of those two factors seemed to deter people from doing much. That’s not say no one tried anything. There were a few attacks, but nothing significant – and the field seemed content to creep along towards the finish. When we’d hit wide open sections of road, we’d get guttered for a bit, but once we left those sections behind we’d be back to our slow speeds.
We hit the other two GPMs along the way. Lauren was in a break of seven or eight riders when the second GPM came along. It was the only significant move of the day, and we were happy with it. Other teams weren’t as thrilled by the composition of the group, and they brought Lauren’s breakaway back before the third GPM.
Once Lauren was back in the bunch, the field stayed together until we hit the finish. At just under two kilometers left to race, there was a short, steep climb. We wanted to lead Megan and Amanda over the climb in a good position to set them up for the finish. If they managed a good result, great. Mostly, we wanted to ensure they didn’t lose any time in the scary, sketchy finish. Megan sprinted for seventh. Neither of them lost time. Amanda remains second, tied on points with first, in the climbing competition. We all stayed safe, and nothing much changed on the overall.
Tomorrow is a huge day that includes six GPMs. Five of those six GPMs are category one climbs. I suspect the stage is going to be a game-changer.
According to the forecast, it’s going to start to cool off tomorrow. We’re hoping this proves true as we could really use some relief from the heat. It’s been a challenge finding ice here to keep our bottles cold. Today was better than yesterday. On the first stage, our drinks were warm. Only one of cars has air conditioning, and we don’t all fit in one car, which means someone always has to ride to the stage start in a car without A/C. Today that someone was me. My shirt was soaking wet by the time we arrived. The hotel lacks air conditioning, and even though we bought a fan, it’s still hard to sleep. My pictures might make European bike racing look glamorous, but it’s not. While I’m certainly happy to be here, racing in Europe poses unique challenges. For us, this is one of them at the moment.