Battling in the break

Yesterday I tried to work for Mike again in the field sprint for first. I looked back once to make...

9th Vuelta Lider al sur Chile

Stage 4a - February 13: Osorno - Valdivia, 112 km
Stage 4b - February 13: Máfil, 20 km ITT

Yesterday I tried to work for Mike again in the field sprint for first. I looked back once to make sure he was still on my wheel. Later he said that he knows me so well now that he knew I was going to look back even before I did, and nearly warned me in advance not to. It just so happened that the guy in front suddenly braked, and while it wasn't a razor thin margin it still got both our hearts up in the throat. Definitely don't want to crash at 60 kph. I failed to get him into the last K and he had to freelance, and ended up sixth.

Yesterday afternoon's stage 4b was the ITT, and after having done a 20km time trial during the morning stage bridging to a breakaway, I wasn't looking forward to doing another in the evening. I wore my iPod and put on my most motivational techno tracks but it didn't work. I got smoked, as we all did.

Stage 5 - February 14: Valdivia - Villarrica, 182 km

Stage 5 today was our first of three long ones, 182 km. As our director Gus Carillo says, the honeymoon is over. During the neutral section we rolled past a foggy river, where preparations were on for a regatta. I rode near the front as I always do in neutral zones. When the flag dropped the inevitable hard early attack went immediately. With the race announcer's well timed playing of some classic Rage Against the Machine music still in my head, I opened the throttles wide. It was a very hard opening four or five Ks since I sorta missed getting the draft of the attackers, and had to go through a few guys who did have the draft but were getting blown off the wheels of the strongest attackers. With my teammates speaking encouragement into my earpiece that we were escaping rapidly, I kept the hammer down and finally latched on. We had a five man break going. The first 80km we all worked, but the leading team - Lider - had a man there who wasn't pulling very hard at all. I tried to work no harder than him. When he took the first "meta volante" points sprint, it was infuriating enough to me that team Lider was in first through fourth on GC, leading team GC, winning stages and intermediate jerseys, and basically greedily getting it all. I decided right then and there that in the off chance that we stuck it to the finish I was winning this stage. Confidence born of numerous breakaway wins, and a bit of anger!

We rolled through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, with snow capped volcanoes and craggy hills surrounding the two lane roads. On the second KOM climb of the day, the Lider rider smacked it hard and shed us all. At first I tried to stay with him, but he was flying! Dropped back to sit on the two Publigias (Yellow Pages) riders. Hold, hold, hold (a Mike Sayersism). 500m to go to the summit and these Publigias guys are losing ground. Now a twenty second gap to the Lider guy... hold, hold... bam! All out sprint time. Over the top I'm surely redfaced and giving it my characteristic grimace as I skim past spectators and the checkered KOM flag being waved by the Lider podium girl. A thought to the infamous crash of Lance from a spectator's mussette bag, and I leave a few more centimeters room. All-in now, everything I've got, closing to ten seconds, and that's it. Not getting any closer.

A look back to see the damage. The Publigias guys are gone, but the Lider guy's unofficial 'teammate' (someone on the payroll of team Lider) is coming up quick. What the? This guy has been pulling for a hundred Ks today already, harder than anyone else in service of the Lider guy I'm chasing, and he has the gas to get my wheel? Wow. Now I can't chase too hard or I'll risk towing this guy up to his 'teammate' but not making it across myself. I've learned that lesson from the days of team Mercury dominance.

Okay, the final result was the three of us just barely stayed clear of the fractured peloton, and being on the short end of a two on one combo meant trouble for me. The Lider guy not only could outclimb me (at least in February) but he's also a sprinter. Out of the last turn we both stepped off the wheel of the third guy and went head to head for 250 meters towards the huge blue plastic inflatable finish canopy. Even though I did very little today and tried hard not to show my cards, this Lider guy isn't cracking. A centimeter at a time, he ekes out a small advantage over me until I realize I'm not going to get it. A hundred meters to go I'm beaten, and I can't believe it. For hours later I'm kicking myself, but I have to remember it IS February.

After the race today I walked for an hour through numerous shops looking for a French coffee press. Finally selected one, unfortunately it is glass and somewhat heavy. They are so hard to find. I had picked up some grocery store ground coffee. They are totally used to serving Nescafe instant here. But I am trying to cut back anyway. It makes me have to pee too much in the races. Today I was miserable for about an hour during the five hour race, having to pee so bad but afraid if I dropped off the back of the break they would drop the proverbial hammer and I would have a hard chase back on. Finally I stopped and peed for like a minute! They were cool and didn't go too hard, and I got back on in another two minutes.

The crowds here are huge in the town centers. Every town has a central square called a Plaza de Las Armas. Usually we start in such a plaza in the morning.

Okay, tomorrow is 204km. More later!

John

Email John at jlieswyn@cyclingnews.com

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