Yesterday's stage started out at full gas as the climbing began within the first 5km of the stage. The pace was full-on and unrelenting as guys were trying to get into the break. Many guys were dropped from the viscous pace and the field was strung out. Our team was strong and active in watching for breaks and covering important moves. Everyone made it over the first climb no problem and the break was finally gone, so it was descent and then on to the first category 1 climb of the day.
The weather was not so nice for the start: rainy and cold. As we rolled out, I felt a bit cold actually. Thankfully after/on the descent of the first category 1, the weather cleared, the sun came out and the rest of the day was beautiful. We ripped through the valley between the two big climbs of the day and the team was well established at the front of the field to stay out of trouble. As we approached the final climb of the day, things got a bit more heated at the front of the field as guys were fighting for good position to start the climb. With the help of my teammates I was able to stay near the front and start the climb in much better position as opposed to the beginning of the Kitzbuhler Horn.
We took the corner and the climb began immediately. Guys were dropping right away with the steep gradient of the road. The breakaway was dangling in front of the main group and eventually it was absorbed one by one. As the pitch became a little less constant and varied, allowing some opportunities for recovery, the attacks started going. Tiago was among the aggressors trying to put some pressure on his rivals. For me, I knew trying to follow these attacks was certain explosion, so I instead allowed myself to be gapped and kept riding my own tempo. This allowed me to stay close to the lead group. Near/over the summit of the climb a group of us formed and I just followed wheels as we clawed our way back to the leaders.
Following a short descent there was another violent little pitch of about 1km, where more attacks were going. Nothing stuck though and I was in the lead group! Stoked. I was given the green light from the team car to attack if I had the legs. Rather than sit and think about whether I had the legs or not, I went straight away as the group was sitting up after the attacks. It was a good time to go as the gap ballooned to 60+ seconds almost immediately. I had one guy with me (eventual stage winner) and two chasers who caught after the final descent to make the final group of four.
When I attacked, I thought we were at the top and now was just the descent and run into the finish. Man was I wrong. There was about 5km of false flat and small climbs before the final descent. It was not so easy and my crafty companion used his experience to pull only once on the hard part. I suppose it was my inexperience and excitement of where I was that made me just keep pulling, but it didn't matter at that point to me because I wanted to make it to the finish. I thought he couldn't pull through because the effort was too much, but I think he was just using his experience to bluff me, which evidently worked! Oh well, experience learned.
After the final descent, the two chasers caught us and there were four leaders. It was the final 5km and we were almost certain to be going for the stage win. Holy cow, I have the opportunity for my first stage win! I am sure I did some things wrong, but that is experience I guess. As we entered the final km, it was cat and mouse as usual. Two or three attacks went and I was just following. As one of the attacks came back together and the guys were catching their breath, I jumped figuring the counter attack was perfect and if I caught them off-guard and got a small gap, I might be able to hold it off to the line. My jump was at about 500m to go, but when I hadn't made a gap, I sat up at about 250m to go and hoped I could muster something for the sprint. The sprint opened and I couldn't get a wheel and then was not able to make a jump around any of them. So disappointing to take 4th of 4, but I guess that is just the way the cookie crumbled.
All in all, I am stoked that I was in the position to win the stage, but of course when you don't, it is a bit disappointing. Nonetheless, valuable experience gained and lessons learned. Hopefully this is just one of many opportunities I will have in my career to win a stage and next time hopefully I can reverse the fortune.
Today's stage is another hors category mountain top finish. The stage is basically flat until the last 40km where we begin climbing toward the top. There are a 4th and 3rd category climb in that last 40km before the final 16km ascent to the finish, but I think it is basically just one continuous climb. Assured it will be another leg/lung burning finish as the line is at 2300m. I am hoping to stay strong and ride higher into the gc. I'll try to report later! Bye.