Alright, I have had over a week to digest the epicness of what was last Saturday, so now I will try and recall it to my memory without stirring too many bad feelings and recount it for you.
The race began with a neutral roll through Milan. As if 260km was not already long enough, they tacked on another 7 or 8 of neutral before the official start. I guess it wouldn't have been too bad, except for the fact that I was already cold! Once the official start happened, it was the ceremonial attacking. I was following wheels and making sure there were no big moves gone without us in them. After a good bit of attacking, the field finally split a bit and the break was able to go clear. Then it was time to settle in for a long day in the saddle.
I found a comfortable place in the peleton trying to conserve as much energy as possible for the final 60km of the race. It was in these last km's that we would climb the infamous Madonna del Ghisallo and a new climb the Colma di Sormano. These brutal and telling climbs happened within a span of 20km, which meant a long section of hard effort and little recovery in between.
The majority of the day was uneventful except for the overall excitement that the constant drizzle, occasionally heavy rain brought. With this ever present flow of wet and cold, the race was made much harder. The nerves were very high at moments as we passed through some towns and guys were skidding out of control and crashing on the rain-slickened streets. I thankfully avoided them, although I was split off the back with a large group of guys due to a crash. No panic though and I just sat in as other panic-stricken riders chased for their lives to get back in.
Perhaps the most nerve wracking time during the race was the descending. The first of the descents was ugly. We heard over race radio (thank you for the safety!) that there was oil on the road about 3km down the first descent and that guys from the break had already crashed there. Not being one to bomb any descents as it is, I was a little bit more nervous. I remained calm though and didn't take any risks. As it was about the correct timing, all of the sudden guys in front of me were sliding everywhere. Bodies, bikes all over the road. I grabbed my brakes hoping to slow enough and avoid the slippery conditions. Thankfully I steered through the wreckage and avoided the slick road. Sometimes though, there is just nothing you can do to stay upright being as cautious as possible.
After the descent was finished, it was time for some food, drink and recovery before the next small climb and another harrowing descent. I did my best to be at the front before the descent to be as safe as possible, but yet again during the descent, something crazy happened and guys in front of me were everywhere. I managed again though, to keep it cool and narrowly avoided the crash. I was relieved and after the descent, I was in the front group. The crash had caused a major split in the field and I was on the winning end. Didn't really matter though, as the remainder of the field eventually chased back on. Energy saved though!
The rest of the race was preparing for the Ghisallo and hopefully the Sormano. It was a fast, but not insanely dangerous run in to the Ghisallo. I was fighting to get to the front, but the narrow roads and highly variable pace made it hard as the field would string out and then bunch up. We hit the base of the first of steep slopes of the Ghisallo and I was fighting through the strung out field to find my way to the front and eventually found myself just hanging on the back. I did my best not to panic and just paced myself. I didn't feel too great, but knew I needed to fight because the pace would eventually slacken and then I would be able to hopefully recover a bit. And yes the pace let off a bit after the first few km's and I had a chance to recover/suffer through the rest of the climb.
A short descent followed the Ghisallo with the immediate beginning of the Sormano. I did my best to slam a gel and drink something, but when the effort/pace went higher on the Sormano, it was lights out for Matthew. A small gap opened in front of me and I was already near to my limit, so then I was doomed. I started falling back and tried to maintain a decent pace, but there was no way I was coming back to the front group. Eventually the cars all passed me and I was left to finish the climb by myself. That is where all my fun began!
The remaining kilometers of the climb seemed to drag on forever. I had completely mixed feelings on stopping versus finishing because I was out of the first group and had no chance to winning or helping my team win, but quitting a race is not my style. As I would slowly figure out though, I didn't have much of a choice; I would "finish".
After suffering through the final kilometers of the Sormano, I began the descent and was not anywhere near prepared for the conditions I was facing. Wearing shorts, base layer, jersey, arm warmers, wind vest and rain jacket, I began the never-ending descent. It took only a few hundred kilometers for the cold to set in and from there it can only be described as bone-chilling.
My feet had already been numb for the last 100km, but the cold that was setting in now was incredible. The muscles in my back and neck began to get tenser and tighter with the shivering and me clinching the handlebars and brakes in a effort to maintain control and slow myself because the faster I went, the colder I got. The temperature was no warmer than 43F degrees and combined with the wet conditions, the chill set in quickly and deeply. During the descent, I had a few vehicles pass me and I even asked a Cervelo team car for a ride, but they were full and I was left to try and get to the finish; a task that seemed near impossible to me. I considered several times during the descent to stop at someone's house and ask for some warm tea and maybe even a ride to the finish. I never did though and finally reached the bottom.
By the time I had reached the end of the descent, my muscles had essentially frozen and quit working. I began a painfully impossible attempt at pedaling to try and gain body warmth and get myself to the finish. After several minutes of suffering, I gained a small amount of body heat and some blood flow to the legs that would hopefully carry me to the finish. Misery was still the overwhelming feeling though.
I rode the rolling road along the coast of Lake Como and was just praying for the town to come and a warm shower. I had already made up my mind that any ride I could take or the fastest route to the finish and my warmth would be ultimate destiny. As luck would have it, no rides were offered and I would have to ride it in. I was joined by a guy from HTC Columbia, who I give a lot of credit to because he stuck it out and finished, while I abandoned about 12km from the finish. The route came into Como and did a loop out from the finish line area and I originally started away, but I couldn't do it because I was frozen and the thought of another 25+ minutes in the condition I was in left me wanting nothing else but a warm drink and shower. So ultimately, I abandoned within "spitting" distance of the finish after 250km.
Looking back on it, I really wish I had stuck it out and been the 35th and final finisher of the race for my self pride, but of course hindsight is always 20/20. Despite abandoning, I feel good about the race because I still pushed the limits of my body and gained more valuable racing experience.
Upon finishing, I was met with a bottle of warm tea and a hot shower. It was delicious and wonderful. Thanks for reading and following all year. I will do my best to keep you all up to date on the happenings as I approach the 2011 season.