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One Day Closer...

Everyone was on their bikes early today, warming up for the start of the fifth stage of the Dauphine.  When we passed mile 0 (after a neutral section) and the race started, we went no farther then 100 meters before we passed the first KOM (top of the summit) marker, which read 10 miles to go.  It was going to be a hard start to the day!  Attacks started right away, as everyone knew that a rider in the breakaway had a good chance of winning the stage.  Half way up the climb, a huge group of almost 30 riders escaped.  Team RadioShack only had Ben on the front to chase, since the rest of the team was stuck in random places throughout the peloton, trying to recover from the big efforts they had already made covering other attacks.

I was on Ben's wheel, but the plan was for me not to work this early in the stage, unless it was really needed.  My job was supposed to start on the second climb of the day, going from there to finish.  Ben was drilling it on the front to keep the large break close, and the field was feeling the effects of the high pace, as riders began dropping out of field one by one, unable to stay in the group.  The gap to the large break hovered at around 35 seconds.  They too were having problems with the high pace on the climb and began to split apart.  I could see a group of 4 or 5 riders riding away from the rest of the break, and at the same time 4 or 5 riders were going in the opposite direction, soon to be back with us.

Just then Ben started to fade, and I thought that Team RadioShack might be trouble, as the gap to the lead four or five had increased just a little.  Just in time, Paulino arrived to the front to take over from Ben and save the day.  He was riding a steady pace that was bringing the group back little by little, but, with only half a mile to go to the summit, we were running out of time to bring them back.  If they went over the climb before we got them, we were going to be in trouble, since chasing 25 or 30 riders working together on a descent and through the valley would have destroyed the team. 

I hit it as hard as I could on the front to close the gap before the top - going numb in the process but reducing the gap to about 10 or 15 seconds as we reached the top.  It hurt, but would save a lot of energy in the long run!  A few moments later, G4 arrived at front, taking over for me. By bombing down the descent at 60 mph and hammering through the turns, he brought the group back together again, and Team RadioShack was looking great, with only 4 or 5 riders away in the break.  More importantly, the team was together at the front once again.

After a long descent through the valley, the next big climb of 12 miles arrived.  We hit the climb, holding a steady tempo, with G4 taking over the pace.  The climb was another monster at 12 miles long and gradient of 7.5%.  The first attacks had no real effect on us, as each attack would go up the road a short distance and then come back just as fast.  G4 rode the first 4 miles until Paulino, who was having a great day, took over. 

Just then, Danny Navarro from Astana attacked with an impressive burst of speed.  It was so strong that no one tried to go with him, and we didn't have to either, since he was a ways down on the general classification and not a threat to Jani’s lead.  Paulino continued riding the front for next 7 miles, leaving me as Jani's insurance card to play if trouble hit.

With no real threat up the road as we went over the top of the climb, I went to work with Paulino on the front of the group as we descended to the finish.  We rode a steady pace, since we had no need or intention of catching the group of riders up the road. 

Danny Navarro had caught and passed all of the original breakaway riders and soloed in for a great win.  Behind him, Team RadioShack had done a great job of protecting Jani all day, bringing him to the finish with his lead still intact.  Tomorrow's stage finishes on the legendary climb of Alpe D'Heuz, where I’m sure the real action of the race will come!!

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