I rolled off the start ramp having zero idea of the conditions of the course. Man was it difficult. It was almost never flat. It was big rollers with lots of wind. It was brutal. I really struggled to find any kind of comfort. About 20km in, I blew my nose and sure enough, blood. FANTASTIC! All I could do was roll on and let it bleed. Thankfully it didn't bleed as much as the one on stage 5, but it was still messy. I think I might have begun to find a comfortable rhythm in the last 15km, but I am not really sure. I was just happy when the finish came, and I could roll back to the bus and relax.
The two previous stages were pretty similar to the others where the main goal was guard for big breaks and protect our guys to the finish. Stage 8 began with some "small" climbs before a 20km "real"/categorized climb. Well let me tell you that these small climbs were quite difficult. We screwed up big time by missing a huge group of 25+ riders, but thankfully so had Liquigas, so they chased. I had covered 5-6 previous moves, so when this one rolled off the front in different pieces, I was unable to cover it. Problem was that no one else was there either. No harm no foul though, right?
After the group came back and a smaller break went, we had a few moments respite before the 20km climb commenced. I was not feeling great when we hit the climb, and a few attacks started again, so to even follow was a real struggle. Thankfully they stopped and a "manageable" pace was taken up. I say manageable because at a certain moment maybe 6km from the top, Katusha went to the front and drove it hard. The field was fairly strung out, and everyone was definitely feeling some pain in the legs. After the top, you would think it might settle a little but no way! Katusha rode the front like motorbikes all day. I was suffering horribly, but took in some food and water; then I forced myself to make an effort to the front. Although it wasn't any easier there, it felt less painful. It is a weird mind game.
As the end of the stage approached, I knew I had to fight to stay with the leaders to help ours guys if they needed it. We hit the last categorized climb of the day, and as the shouts for "gruppetto" rang out, I fought to find a rhythm and get over the top. I made it over and readied myself for the next uncategorized bump that was probably just as hard as the categorized one. These categorization systems are so funny! Anyway, I fought my way up that one and found myself with Jani and Haimar at the top. I gave Haimar my last bottle of water knowing it was more important for him in the finish. I made the descent and roared into the next uncategorized bump with the remainder of the peloton. We hit the bottom, and the explosions began. My legs initially felt really bad, so I began to relax. Then I said to myself I had to fight, so I jumped back to the tail of the group. At that point my legs actually started to feel good, but it was too late. The field had strung out, and I could not make up enough ground to ever see the front again. A bit disappointed about being dropped, but knowing I had done my job, I rode to the finish. The finish was one of the most insane I had seen. It was so steep in a few parts that I thought my bike would flip backwards. It didn't though, so I got to ride stage 9!
Stage 9 was another summit finish with plenty of rolling beforehand. That start was directly into a category 3 climb at km 3. I was trying to cover the moves, but I was full throttle just trying to follow, so I was basically useless. I even lost the wheel on the descent after the top, just couldn't go faster! The move thankfully went right after the descent, and it was time to settle in for another day of being ridden into the ground by Katusha. I don't know how they are so strong. Anyway, I did my best to protect our guys, get bottles, and keep myself alive for the day. As is usual, the pace amplified as we approached the final climb. I lost contact with our guys, so I surfed the field as it rolled into the climb. As we hit the preliminary slopes, guys pulled the plug. I kept rolling on until about 10km to go when we came onto another ramp upwards, and I decided it was enough. I wasn't going to be able to help our guys anymore, so my job was finished. The climb was definitely not easy even going at my own pace. It was quite steep in some parts, plus it was super windy. I made it to the finish, gathered my jacket, and descended back down through the chaos of cars and spectators to our bus.
My "story" for stage 9 can be titled Frisbee Bottle Top. As we descended into some valley, a guy tossed a bottle to the side. He did a fine job of getting it out to the side, but it hit the rock wall and exploded. At that moment, I noticed a small "flying saucer" headed straight for me. It was just sort of hanging there mid-air, looking like a perfect Frisbee. Before I could react, the bottle top collided square with my mouth. It hurt quite a bit as we were moving at 60kph+. Thankfully the cap was going the same direction, so the physics made the speed difference a little less. Nonetheless, this hard plastic Frisbee left my lips stinging a bit.
So now it is onto the rest day. I am not sure if I am looking forward to it or not. I guess it will be nice to have a day to chill, but I am sort of used to the routine now. I'm praying we don't have a drug control in the morning. It is just so rude to give us a rest day, and then wake us up at 7am. Whatever though. I have heard reports of serious rain in the north of Spain, so I am praying for that to stop, too. I guess that is about it. Hope you're enjoying the reports thus far. I'll do my best to keep them coming.