Stage one of the Dauphine started off fast, with attacks going straight from the gun. Unfortunately for me, I was back in my weird dream state and spent the start of the race trying to shake it off yet again. Oddly enough, it disappeared at the exact same point as yesterday's race - about 4 miles in. Luckily for me, today's race was 120 miles long and not another 4 mile prologue!
The break finally escaped about 25 minutes into the race. After that the pace in the field dropped to an easy tempo as no one seemed too interested in chasing on the front all day. With a hard 2 mile climb coming right before the finish of the stage, the sprinter teams weren't showing any faith in their respective riders being able to make it over with the front group to contest for the win, meaning they were also unwilling to do the work on the front to keep the break in check. That left race leader, Alberto Contador’s, team Astana doing the bulk of the work.
But even Astana was not willing to spend all day on the front alone, so the gap to the break grew to over 9 minutes. At that point, the chess playing began. Alberto and his team were willing to give up the stage and even the race if some help didn't come soon. Garmin was the first to start riding, and then other teams joined in the chase. Astana's gamble was paying off, as they no longer rode the front, saving their riders for the work that would come later.
With 50 miles still to go and 9 minutes to bring back on the break of 5, the pace was fast and for some reason overly nervous. Sure, it was important to be at the front right before the final climb, but until then the back half of the field seemed to be the place to be. I saw guys bumping into one another and almost crashing left and right as they just managed to keep the bike upright.
The dream state I had been in at the start was now long gone and a state of survival had taken over. As we neared the climb I was right at the front when the near misses we had been experiencing all day began turning into big crashes. At that point, I heard a crash happening behind me, and I didn't need to turn and look to know that it was going to be a big one. I stayed focused on staying at the front as the climb was coming up fast!
We hit the climb fast and furious as Garmin was using up a rider every 200 meters, with each one sprinting up hill until they blew and the next one taking over to do the same thing. They did their job though, as the break was coming back to us quickly. I was on the LIMIT and hoping that there was no way we could continue like this when finally the last Garmin rider dropped off the front and the pace eased up just a little.
When Garmin blew, Alberto put his guys back on the front and showed that he was at least a little interested in winning the Dauphine, despite statements to the press to the contrary. He had three riders driving the pace hard up the climb. Attack after attack came and went as Astana just upped the pace a little with each move. The attacks were having their effect on Astana, though, as they too were quickly losing guys from the front.
Right at the top of the climb, Alberto himself had to cover an attack in order to keep things from getting too out of control. Seven riders went over top a few hundred meters in front of us, meaning it was going to be a fast descent as the chase was on to bring it all back together again before the finish.
At that point in the race, Team RadioShack had Jani off the front with one other rider going for the win, while a group of five were chasing them, and what was left of the field were flying down the hill single file just behind. We were taking each turn at full speed and full risk as splits between the riders started tearing the field apart, only making each rider go faster and faster through the curves in order to stay in contact with the group.
Once again, I heard a rider slide out just behind me, with his bike tearing across the road as he took the turn too fast, making it impossible to make it out upright. That caused a slight gap to open up in front me as I hesitated just a little, a moment I paid dearly for. As we hit the final straightaway, the gap was still there in front of me, and I had to throw everything I had into the pedals. It was just barely enough to close the gap and get me back into the front group.
With less then 500 meters to go all the groups were back to together to form what was left of the field, and the sprint was on for the win. At that point, I backed off and let the others have their fun for the day as the odds of me winning the sprint was not likely in this group!
Back in the bus I found out that the crash before the climb had taken down 20 or so riders, and it was a rough one for Team RadioShack. We had Haimar, Markel, G4, and Ben all go down it. Haimar left for the hospital to check on a possible fractured wrist, which was just confirmed, while the others all came out with major road rash. With Haimar out, it means a loss of some serious power here as well as less help for Lance in the big mountains in the Tour de France – definitely not the day we were hoping for! Now it's time to get some rest so we can do it all over again tomorrow!