(photo credit: Bart Hazen)
I’ll get the complaints about the heat out of the way first. It wasn’t nearly as hot today as it was for the first three stages, but it was humid – so it still felt really hot. Ice remains a hard to come by commodity and air conditioning is non-existent. I’m melting.
As you might remember from my report yesterday, today was a day for the climbers. The hilliest stage of the race included six categorized climbs – five rated as category one. We hit the first GPM 16 kilometers into the 101 kilometer stage. The next four all came within 18km of the first. We had a short 20km reprieve and then hit the last GPM at kilometer 59. From the final climb, we headed towards the finish town for four laps around the 5.5 kilometer circuit. I spent most of those last 40 kilometers alone wondering where in the hell the big group behind me was so that I didn’t have to ride by myself.
We started stage four with the intent of protecting Amanda and Megan as much as possible. For me, this stage was a challenge, and I needed a solid strategy to stay in the bunch. Basically, I would move as far to the front as possible before the base of each climb. This gave me room to slide back without having to make up an insurmountable gap. I would use the other riders around me to get back to the group again. So, it was go to the front, climb, slide, close the gap, repeat.
Somewhere between the fifth GPM (38.2 kilometers) and the sixth GPM (59.2 kilometers), Megan crashed. She touched wheels with someone and went down hard. I stopped to wait for her. She had broken her front wheel, and it took awhile to get going again. By the time we were back on our bikes, the peloton was long gone.
Initially, our director Angela paced us back to the bunch on her bumper. Eventually, officials made her rejoin the caravan, and we were on our own. It was an unfortunate call since Megan had crashed, not gotten dropped. At that point, it was me, Megan, Nicole Cooke (Faren Honda) and a Spanish rider from Lointek. We were rolling along as four for awhile. We had no idea how far ahead the peloton was since we weren’t getting any time checks. At one point, Angela told us they were long gone so we were sort of scratching our heads about what to do. Eventually, we could see what looked like our team car and Lauren pulled over to the side of the road. Angela had driven up to the peloton and asked Lauren to drop out of the front group to come back and help us, too. Lauren gave us the information that the peloton had slowed, so we reloaded with fresh bottles she’d brought to us and picked up the chase again.
I eventually fell off the pace of that little group. They kept going without me. A few kilometers later, I looked up and I saw the caravan in front of me, so I knew they had gotten back to the bunch. I used the caravan to make my way back, and I finally caught on about 200 meters before we hit the final GPM. The timing couldn’t have been any worse. I wasn’t able to use my whole go to the front, climb, slide strategy since I was starting the climb from the back of the group, which at this point was probably only 30-35 riders.
When I lost contact here, I lost contact for good. I rode the rest of way by myself. I hit the finish circuits solo, and I looped around alone. The group behind me finally caught me during the last lap. I had been waiting to get caught, and it was a huge relief to finally have company. Kilometer after kilometer alone took a toll on me.
I got lapped on the circuits by the front group, and when they come by me, Lauren was in a small break. I could see people chasing, and I knew it would be a long shot for her to stay away, but I kept my fingers crossed for her.
After the race, I learned that after the break was caught, Lauren attacked again – with three kilometers left to race. She was caught with one kilometer to go, and Giorgia Bronzini (Forno d’Asolo / Diadora-Pasta Zara) took the stage win. Megan put in an impressive effort to finish second. Lauren rounded out the top-ten on the stage. With two days left to race, we have Megan fourth overall and Amanda in eighth. It’s shaping up to be a battle to the last kilometer on the last day of racing.
Check out my Trophée d’Or Stage 4 Strava file here.