Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Grand Pyrenees

Two very difficult stages in the Pyrenees are complete and the mountains of the Tour are now behind us! So where to start... Stage 17 was short but included 3 category 1 and 1 hors category climb in the last 75km. It was basically a flat 50km and then mountains. Jens jumped into the early move and it looked ok, but then Katusha wasn't happy because Rodriguez wanted to try and win the mountain jersey. So Katusha pulled all out for the first 50km of the race to keep the break close and then expected Rodriguez to jump across on the first climb (Col du Portillon- 8.3km @ 7%). Frank and I looked to be ready for that move (along with a lot of other guys!). At the base I was with Gregory and Frank, but as Gregory accelerated to make sure Frank was in front, I got cut off and lost valuable places. Frank was able to follow the expected counter attacks and bridge across to the break. There was a good bit of reshuffling and the peloton exploded under the pressure. I stayed in the front with Haimar and Jens eventually came back to us from the front group. When the dust settled there were ~20 guys up the road and we were happy with Frank there because we knew he had the best chance of winning the stage for us. Over the next climb (Col de Peyresourde- 13.2km @7%) I struggled to find a good rhythm and felt like I was suffering unnecessarily. I battled to stay there though and tried to fuel myself as best as possible. After the top it was a very fast descent into a small valley with a few rollers and corners and immediately into the next climb (Col de Val Louron-Azet- 7.4km @ 8.3%). The peloton stretched and those corners/rollers hurt like crazy! We hit the base of Val Louron and FdJ tried to blow things up. They quickly pared the peloton down before settling into a little bit of a rhythm. As we neared the top there were only 30 riders left and about 1km to go AG2R went full gas. There were only 10 riders who could follow. Haimar tried to jump across but didn't make it. I battled to stay close but couldn't follow. I chased on the descent but never came back. Maybe the worst moment of the day was hitting the base of the finishing climb (Saint-Lary Pla d' Adet- 10.2km @ 8.3%) and being able to see the finish looming some 800 meters above me. I can say honestly that those last 10km were not easy!

So that brings us to today. On tap was another relatively short stage at 145km, but it included two of the giants of the Pyrenees: Col du Tourmalet (17.1km @ 7.1%) and Hautacam (13.6km @ 7.8%). I was hoping to be able to try for the breakaway today, but my plan was derailed when I got a flat about 2km before the real start. I went to the car for a new wheel and returned to the back of the field just as we hit km "0". With the narrow roads and attacks there was no chance I could make it to the front to even try and make it into the break. Again 20 guys got away, but today Nibali and Astana had other plans than to let the stage go to someone else. They began to ride immediately and ride hard. The pace they set was incredible. After 75km of up and down, it was time to start the real climbing. Astana set a hard tempo that immediately split the peloton. I stayed in front with Haimar as best I could. About 5 or 6km from the top I began to slip off the pace. I tried to stay close and go at my own rhythm, hoping that I could come back. I lost ground over the next couple kilometers, but then about 2 or 3km from the top I found a second wind and began to close back in on the group. I went over the top I think about 30-40 seconds off the back of the group, but it soon became evident that I was never going to catch them. It was a super long descent, but it was way too fast for me to be able to come back alone. I was clearly in "no-man's land" because there were only 2 other guys who came back to me for the first 20km of the descent. Then after we hit the valley and there was a big headwind, a small group from behind caught us, and then eventually another small group of guys. I latched onto the group and fueled up for the final push to the finish. I crossed the line pretty exhausted, but I'm also feeling a little bit of relief. The mountains are done, I've survived, and now I just need to battle through potential rain tomorrow and a long TT on Saturday. It's so close now!

Regarding the team, Haimar and Frank have both performed well through the Pyrenees and at the moment Haimar moved up to 10th in the gc and Frank 12th. The long TT on Saturday will be a big test, but Haimar has a chance to move up to 9th maybe. We're hoping! Send him strength!! 

5 comments:

Scott K said...

Congrats on surviving the battle through the mountains. Best of luck in the final few days. Proud of your efforts. Keep riding hard!

Tracey said...

Another great race report and day for you Matthew. Too bad about the flat at the beginning. Gallant efforts indeed. Enjoy these last few days and congrats to you for such a wonderful series on your first Tour . . hopefully we'll see you there next year!!

Jim Savre said...

As always you're too modest. Congrats on your high finish in the stage and your dramatic jump up in the overall classification! Best wishes for a smooth ride to Paris.

Anonymous said...

Sorry about the flat. I was wondering when I saw you at the back as the race got going if you suffered a mechanical. Great riding all week and stay safe tomorrow! Paris is on the horizon!

Anonymous said...

Spotted you at the back of the peleton just as you started a climb. There are only two places you can be spotted in the large group, the front or the back. Very tactical of you to stay in the back, so we can all see you! Great job and I'm exhausted watching you.