For me, summer begins when the heat comes, and today's stage brought the heat from all direction. The temperature was 98 degrees throughout the valley with lots of sun, while the attacks at the beginning and the end of the day brought heat in another form altogether.
At the beginning of the stage, we were on narrow roads with strong crosswinds. With 130 miles to cover on the stage, and the first big mountain summit finish coming at the end of the day, it was going to be a hard day on the job for Team RadioShack. The first 40 minutes of the stage were intense, with hard battling for position at the front of the field. We had the entire RadioShack team on the front from the start of the race to control the field. We wanted a break to go with no more then 10 riders, and if possible less then 5.
The crosswinds split the field into pieces within the first few miles of the race. The team did a great job at front, staying together for the first 10 miles. After that we kept one or two riders on the front at all times, while letting the others recover in the field from the big efforts they putting in chasing the attacks down.
It was amazing to see how well the team rode together, even when they were on the limit. No one wanted to let Jani down, and each did more than their fair share of work to get the job done. At times we had only one of us on the front sprinting all out to chase 20 guys who had escaped from the field, laying everything on the line to keep the race under control.
After about 25 miles of intense racing, we got what we wanted when a break of two riders escaped from the field, including Danny Pate. For the next 90 miles there wasn't a lot going on, but once again, we had some great scenery to check out along the way. We kept two RadioShack riders on the front all day to control the breakaway, holding them at no more then 10 minutes lead throughout the stage. We then tried to keep the rest of team as rested as possible for the finishing climb.
On the approach to the final mountain, the action returned in full force. We hit the climb hard, right from the bottom, with riders attacking from all sides. Liquigas riders were super motivated to win the stage, and they were the first to light things up. As soon as the climb got steep, I went to work on the front to control the pace and keep the attacks to a minimum. My job was a simple one on paper - keep Jani from being isolated. The original two riders from the break were still up the road, and there were another 4 or 5 riders chasing each other just in front of us. I got some great help from my teammate Ben Hermans, who took over the front for a few crucial kilometers, giving me a chance to recover.
I got my second wind and a little recovery just as next group of attacks came. I took over from Ben and started setting into a rhythm on the climb. On the headwind portions, the front group remained uncharacteristically large, as the riders behind were using a lot less energy while sitting in my draft. While pulling in the headwind sections, I would ease off just a little to give myself a chance to recover, and then after the hairpin turn when the wind would change to a tailwind I would increase the pace.
That tactic would help to string out the group behind me, which in turn meant that when we hit the headwind section, if anyone wanted to attack, they would have to use a lot more energy just to get to front again before they could even try to get away. At that point, the team car was far behind, caught in the traffic of dropped riders, meaning that I had to stay just below my max. If anything happened to Jani I was his last line of help, so I was doing everything I could to save energy and make the job a little easier.
With each attack, Gallo was quick to tell us who they were and how far behind Jani they were on the general classification. I let each attack go and stayed in rhythm, gradually bringing back rider after rider. When we hit about 2 miles to go, the big attack came. Alberto had all of his guys hit it hard, shattering what was left of the group into pieces. I had to let the groups go by me as I was hitting my max and needed to recover from my effort on the front before I could go again.
At that point, even with Jani up the road, I couldn't relax because I knew that if he had a flat or some kind of problem I would have to be there to help. I jumped from one group to the next, recovered then jumped again to the next, leap-frogging my way back to the front. With each effort my lungs were burning and the legs were on fire, but when I hit the 500 meters to go sign, I could final ease up and call it a day.
Jani did a great job of following attack after attack from Alberto all the way to the line, and even increasing his lead on the second place rider in the general classification. It was a hard day, but with several more big stages to come, it’s going to be a great Dauphine!