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June 3, 2004
The final stretch
The last part of the Giro was without a doubt the hardest part on paper, but the legs were better and I rode through the third week more comfortably than the first two.
Rest Day - May 27
The rest day was spent in the mountains the day after the brutal 217km stage with four climbs. I decided to take the relaxed approach of doing next to nothing all day. Sure enough, you suffer the next day 'cause your body has shut down, but I just couldn't bring myself to do 100km like all the bigger named riders do, who are riding for GC. Then again, I am far from riding for the general classification. A roll down the mountain, a brew stop at the bottom, and a slow ride back up was what I did for a ride. My afternoon consisted of a long sleep, a massage, a few coffees and a lot of kickin' back.
Stage 17 - May 27: Brunico - Fondo Sarnonico, 153 km
As expected, the legs were blocked from the start and it was hard to get the body moving. Thankfully it was a downhill start and the only mountain of the day was at the 80km mark. We got to the mountain and the bunch split to bits straight away, and the gruppetto of over 70 riders showed there are a lot of sore legs in the bunch. I was in that big group and just happy to get to the finish without too much trouble. Tonkov won the stage after a long solo attack and proved he is not over the hill yet. Cunego still has the maglia Rosa.
Stage 18 - May 28: Cles Val Di Non - Bormio 2000, 118 Km
Short, but so hard! Three mountains in this short stage and not much flat in between. It was raining at the start and looked very grim. There were a few worried boys in the bunch, especially considering we climb to over 2600m on the second climb.
Over the first climb and it split, but came back together on the wet descent. Once we hit the second climb it split straight away, with the Saeco train lighting it up. The rain had stopped and the roads were dry. Gruppetto formed immediately but I still felt ok and kept going till I got into a nice group of 20 riders. Over the top and it was time for warm tea and a fair bit of extra clothing. Around the roads there was still 10 metres worth of snow both sides of the road. It made it interesting, once you put thousands of screaming spectators there as well.
After a long descent, it was a hilltop finish of 10 km. Our group had plenty of time to cruise to the top. Gatez and I brought the bunch home, with Gat telling the boys later that I was half wheeling him. Sorry mate!
Cunego won the stage and obviously kept the jersey. Apparently a few sparks flared up later that night in the Saeco camp.
Stage 19 - May 29: Bormio - Presolana, 122 Km
This was the day everybody was worried about. Once again, short but very hard. Three mountains again, but the first one being Mortirolo (a 13km climb averaging 10%, with bits of 16%). We hit this climb after 30km and we had Illiano away in a break. He was first over the climb, then descended to take out the Intergiro sprint and take the overall lead in that comp, with only one day to go, remembering we have Marlon also running third in that comp, who was leading it earlier in the tour.
I climbed well and got into a good group over the top inside the top 40 riders on the road. On the second climb though, I went hunger flat towards the top and lost contact. I ate on the descent, came good again and rode to the finish.
Tour is almost over! The crowd on the last climb was unbelievable, I have never seen anything like it in my life, and probably won't for a while yet. It was actually worrying at times, when spectators wouldn't move until the last minute. Many times I thought I was going to hit someone. Garzelli took the stage and Cunego the tour.
Stage 20 - May 30: Clusone - Milano, 149Km
A roll downhill into Milan. That's how this stage was talked about by the riders. I had an extra long park up in the village before the stage, lapping up every last minute in the village. The first 100km was like they said, a roll into Milan. With a few stops along the way. The whole bunch would stop at certain towns that had prepared a feast for all the riders. A quick drink and bite to eat, and you were off again. The only time the pace was upped, was for the Intergiro. Illiano ran fifth and held onto the jersey, fantastic.
Once we got to Milan, the pace slowly quickened up and the Fassa train got into full swing. With three laps to go, I had a short attack off the front. It was short lived, but I thought I'd better do something coming into Milan. Fassa did a perfect job for Petacchi again, and he took his ninth stage win.
So I finished my first Giro. What a feeling? Now I sit back and the first thing that comes to mind are the good times. They overwhelm the bad times when I thought cycling sucked and I wasn't going to finish the tour. The most amazing race I have ever done and I got so many stories out of those three weeks. I'd be here writing for ever, and you guys reading will get fired from work for reading an hour long diary.
To all the Aussies that rode the Giro, awesome ride boys and thanks for the good time and the memories.
Arriving back to my town Sunday night, 100km from Milan, they held a festa for us. It was a great night to celebrate, eat half a cow and taste some great vino. Now its time to kick back, rest, relax and do a little bit of training (I said a little bit). Like today for instance, since my buddy Russ has left for Holland to do his nationals, I headed out for a ride solo. I loved every minute of it! Sunny, hot and perfect day. I even stopped in the main town for a solo brew stop, read the paper and downed a few coffees.