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Lovin' every minute
I've made it to four days to go. The feeling is weird, I'm tired but not as tired as I have been. Maybe, I'm over tired, or I just can't physically get anymore tired. One thing is for sure though, I am tired! Legs are sore and my whole body for that matter but every muscle in my body seems to be in a routine.
On to the good stuff, and I'm still loving every day of this Giro. It hurts like crazy but its still all good. The atmosphere of riding Italy's biggest race is a buzz. Kickin' back in the Village every morning before the start is great fun and the laughs that go with it help heal the pain on the bike.
Stage 10 - May 19: Porto Sant’Elpidio - Ascoli Piceno, 146 Km
I was as nervous as anything before this stage and a lot of the boys noticed it. I was sick but feeling better and knew I just had to get through this stage and it'll all be better. In the village I was quiet and didn't enjoy the coffee as much as usual, sitting wondering if it was my last day in the village.
It was a short but very hard stage. Up and down from the start for about 100km, before you descended down, and flat to the finish. Out of the blocks and my legs felt the day off as I was told and knew, but couldn't do anything about it. They had shut down, but were fresher. A break went up the first climb and we had Illiano in it. Saeco set tempo as usual but on the climbs the bunch was splitting. Over the first few I was ok and hung on no worries. Then the brick wall we hit gave more than a few of us problems. A big group went off the back but with the whole Fassa team coming back for Petacchi, there was no panic.
It wasn't until the last two climbs when I was in all sorts of trouble and the triple espresso I had before the start was starting the wear off. I had to do some serious fighting to stay in the bunch and fought hard enough to stay there. I made it over the climb and all the way to the finish which was a bunch sprint won by Petacchi again.
When I crossed the line I felt like I had won the stage, just the feeling of finishing after feeling that way was sensational. In my mind I had already packed my bags for home. There were however a few good blokes that kept motivating me on my worst day of the tour. On days like this its good to have mates in the pro peloton, and just shows how good Aussies are to each other. Brett Lancaster and Scotty Davis both giving me a push on the arse when I was in trouble. Also, comments like "If you think all the guys at the start line that are laughing and joking around, aren't hurting, think again, hang in there Willo" from Charly Wegelius help a lot. John Trevorrow kept kicking my arse when I even looked like mentioning, "I can't do it" or "I'm too sick". That's exactly what I needed.
Stage 11 - May 20: Porto Sant’Elpidio - Cesena, 228 Km
I woke up feeling a lot better than I had been, thus being in higher spirits. Todays stage was flat for the first 155km, followed by 7 or 8 really sharp, shortish climbs. From the drop of the flag it was on, attacks going non-stop. That's the way it stayed till the 55km mark when a break finally went. When the break went you could hear the sighs of relief in the bunch. Unfortunately, it wasn't the usual nice tempo set by Saeco. Due to 12 riders making the break, four teams went to the front and drove at an uncomfortable tempo for two hours. When we hit the first climb at the 155km mark, the average speed for the day was a tad under 52km/h, and it wasn't a tail wind.
We had Marlon Perez in the move and once again he got more points in the Intergiro competition, and regained the blue jersey for the leader in that competition. Gatesy and Lancaster both got into the break as well. We hit the first climb and I was actually feeling ok. Most of the break had been caught. The third climb we hit, the lights went out, I just blew. By the time the grupetto caught me I was in all sorts of trouble. I don't know if this sudden halt was from the remnants of the cold, the long day, lack of eating, the previous two weeks of racing or all of the above.
Anyway, once again mates came to the rescue and Matty Wilson dragged my sorry bum over the last climb. I owe him a beer after the tour, that for sure. Sella, from Panaria, put in an awesome display of climbing ability to win solo.
Stage 12 - May 21: Cesena - Treviso, 210 Km
I woke up feeling a bit second hand after yesterday's stage which depleted me. Today's stage was a pancake flat stage into the main town of Treviso, which is 30km from where I used to live as an amateur. Again it was on from Km 0 but there were a few sore legs in the bunch and a few people thinking, "why bother going up the road on a pancake flat stage when Fassa are this strong and will just ride you down". So, it wasn't too long till a break got away.
This time we had Scarselli in the break with two other riders. Fassa rode on the front straight away and that's the way it stayed for the next 200km. There was a slight crosswind which was making things less cruisy at times, and you had to stay awake and up the front. Sure enough, in this pretty much uneventful day the break got caught and Petacchi won for the sixth time. Robbie was second and the only one to challenge the Italian. I led Marlon out for the Intergiro which was on 30km from the finish. He gained a few more seconds and holds the jersey, just.
Stage 13 - May 22: Trieste - Altopiano Carsico ITT, 52 Km
The time trial course was a hard one. Uphill from the 4km mark for the following 20km was suited to the climbers at first look. The last 20km though was into a block headwind. I was off pretty early being towards the bottom of GC. I got outta the blocks and settled into a rhythm, taking it easy over the climb and riding within myself on the way home. I was fairly happy only being 6mins down over 52km, while trying to save the legs as much as possible.
Russ was also off early, and being a noted time trialist he was particularly motivated. When he came in he held the fastest time for a while before Bäckstedt came in. When the big guns headed out he was still fifth. By the time the last rider was in, he was eighth. What a ride! It rained for the last 15 riders, but the wind stopped, so the two cancelled each other out really. Brad Macca put another good ride in to finish second and move to third on GC. Popovych took the jersey, two seconds ahead of Gonchar.
Stage 14 - May 23: Trieste - Pula/Pola, 175 Km
Today was again outta the holes, attacks going from the gun. This time I made the move, with six riders. I thought the break was gone and settled in for the long day ahead. This time though, the bunch chased and brought us back within 15 km. We got caught at the bottom of this climb (which looked like a speed hump on the graph) and I went backwards at an alarming rate. We went up this steep section and I thought I had made it over no worries. Then we turned left and it dragged up into a filthy cross wind. I was in trouble yet again. I managed to somehow reef and tear, and got over. That was nearly the end of my Giro! If I got dropped there, I wasn't going to make the time cut.
On the climb, while I was fighting for my life, a break went with Illiano in it. Saeco rode tempo and it was a bearable day in the end. The break got caught and Petacchi yet again took another stage win. I was so happy to see the end of that stage.
Stage 15 - May 24: Porec/Parenzo - San Vendemiano, 234 Km
The longest stage of the day, the day before the hardest stage of the tour, thanks organisers! This stage finished 4km from were I used to live in 2000, 2001, so I knew all the roads towards the finish. A long break was always going to go, this time we had Russ in it. It was a long day in the saddle for the big fella, and a hard one at that. Mainly a flat day with a few hills, the sun was out and we followed the coast from Croatia to San Vendemiano.
My legs felt better today but far from perfect. At one stage I thought I made the break that was going to go away, and I prayed we got brought back. When Fassa and Petacchi are this strong, unfortunately you're wasting your time and energy in all-day breakaways. So according to script, Fassa chased and brought the break back. Petacchi won his eighth stage and took the record for most stages wins in a Giro. Russ still looked fairly fresh at the end and picked up some good prime money for us all.
Stage 16 - May 25: San Vendemiano - Falzes, 217 Km
Four mountain passes, and two climbs that I rate as hard too. That's the day we had in store for us. I knew the first few climbs and was worried about today's stage. As it turned out I finally had good legs and cruised all day till the last climb when I ran out of petrol.
We hit the first small climb and a break went. We once again had Illiano in it. The bunch wasn't too interested in chasing and we cruised along for a while. Over the first berg of the day and the bunch is still all together. It wasn't till the cat 1 climb to over 2000m where the group split. Most of the groups came back together before the second last climb of the day where it split to bits.
I found a nice group and rode to the finish, surprisingly only 50 guys in front of this group. The only hiccup was going hunger flat on the last climb, but Gatez and Scotty Davis were there in true Aussie style to get me over it. Russ showed a lot of courage today to get through after his epic yesterday, big hard core ride. My Italian team mate, Scarselli, stopped with an on going Achilles injury.
Cunego put in a sensational ride to win and take the jersey. Brad Macca put in another great ride to finish in the front. Although, a dampener was put on things when the jury supposedly saw him hang onto a car and docked him 20secs. That wasn't the case though, and he didn't even go for a bidon on the hills to stay away from this kind of trouble.
Tomorrow is a well deserved rest day, then four days to Milan. Three of those days, going over wall-like mountains. This Giro is unbelievable, its such a roller coaster. One day your on the rivet thinking you're not going to make it. The next, your feeling OK and all is rosy. Then the cycle starts again.