Today's fifth stage of the Giro Rosa from Jesi to Cesenatico was most likely the last chance for the sprinters to come out to play this year. With the peloton moving into the mountains tomorrow I was determined not to miss another opportunity as I had a few days earlier in Frattamaggiore.
Hitting the half-way point of the tour the tiredness and hunger hit me hard last night but as we rolled out of the beautiful – and busy – starting town of Jesi I could tell it was one of those where you get on your bike and your legs just want to party.
The 118km stage made it's way back towards the Adriatica coast which we rode along yesterday before following the coastline north for the remaining 100kms or so.
As we turned left onto the coast we were meet with the crosswinds that didn't show up yesterday and I immediately went into high alert mode.
I love crosswinds, I get a strange kick out of the fact that while the mountain climbers can drop me in an instant on the climbs I can roll in the echelon and drop them on dead flat roads. I find it somewhat ironic.
But, we're at the Giro not Qatar so rather than racing to the front and trying to get an echelon happening – as I would have done in races like the Ladies Tour of Qatar – I immediately started searching for Elisa. Finding her quickly I told her to stay on my wheel.
We saw it in the Tour de France in 2009 when Quickstep and Columbia-HTC totally shattered the peloton in the crosswinds catching out GC riders like Contador. I was paranoid that teams like Giant Shimano, Orica-AIS or Boels Dolmans would try the same thing and didn't want to risk Elisa finding herself out of position at the wrong moment.
I was confident that if any teams were going to try and split it I would:
a) be in a good position to jump straight into the echelon or
b) be able to sprint up the outside and jump in the echelon in time.
While Elisa is actually fantastic in a peloton, having her on my wheel just gave me some piece of mind. I knew if I started to see the classic warning signs of a team about to 'throw it in the gutter' I didn't need to look any further than behind me before I raced to get in the echelon.
Despite my high alert status we reached the halfway point of the race all together. While individual riders like my teammates had been active trying to get a breakaway going nothing was going away. What was really lacking to break up the peloton was a group effort where six or more riders caught the rest of the peloton by surprise and immediately started riding echelon; opening the pace line maybe wide enough for six or eight riders to get protection from the wind but leaving the rest of the race hanging in the gutter, single file.
I started talking to the team leaders of Specialized Lululemon and Boels Dolmans, Trixi Worrack and Ellen van Dijk.
Finding Trixi in the bunch I leaned over and asked her; "Would you guys be interested in trying to break it up? You, us and Dolmans?"
Trixi: "Do you think it's windy enough?"
Me: "I think it is if you actually ride echelon rather than just put everyone in the gutter."
Trixi: "Okay, yes."
Ellen also agreed. I made the decision that we would try directly after the first and only mountain sprint (GPM) of the day at 75km.
As we started to move towards the GPM my team and I started getting ready. I could see the orange train of Boels moving up the outside of the peloton as well and behind them the black and white of Specialized Lululemon.
The climb was short but steep and Anna van der Breggen (Rabobank) launched herself up and over the climb but there were still a few Boels, Specialized and Hitec at the front and just as planned, as we started the descent Ellen jumped to the front with her teammate Megan Gaurnier on her wheel. I jumped on them with Elisa and Ashleigh on my wheel and we started rolling through. Tiff Cromwell from Specialized Lululemon was rolling through with us and we had it in the gutter.
But in the end out attempt to split the peloton was futile; probably a combination of not the perfect moment, too much shelter from buildings on the side of the road and not actually enough wind. Still, it felt cool to try, and to open my legs up a bit.
With still more than 30kms to race my high alert status remained switched on; if I could have had a siren like they have when a tornado approaches small towns in the States I would have. Or at least a flashing light like the ambulances.
On a few occasions the peloton stretched into a long line in the wind as individual riders continued to try to breakaway but nothing was escaping. The race had an average speed of 42km/hr so that gives you some idea of why a breakaway group found it hard to stay away.
Leading into the last 15kms my teammates were gathering around me and we started moving up to the front of the peloton. With about 3km to go I found Bronzini's wheel and started following her further up the peloton.
With about 1km to go Orica-AIS were on the front driving the pace and as we followed the road up a small off ramp before the road swept left and under itself I seized the opportunity to move up. Seeing Emma Johansson backing off the wheel of her teammate slightly I used the speed of the off ramp to slot perfectly in between her and her final lead-out girl.
I couldn't believe how smoothly this was going. With 800ms to go I was siting third wheel. Perfect.
Oh, we're still going left. Shit. A sharp left hand corner which hadn't been shown in the road book was all of a sudden in front of us and caught more than just me off guard. Locking up my back wheel I fish tailed through the corner and almost went straight instead of left.
Correcting the fish tail I made it through the corner but not without loosing five positions. Shifting frantically out of my 53x12 I tried to accelerate as quickly as possible back to the leading riders, luckily I found Vos' wheel.
Now sitting about sixth wheel I followed Vos' line around the final left hand corner which came at 400ms to go. When the sprint finally opened I found myself stuck between Bronzini and Johnasson. With no where to go I was forced to pretty much back pedal. I finished 5th.
While it's not the podium, or the win, I was looking for I was still happy with the result.
After we cross the line Vos said to me, "nice save". Guess she also wasn't expecting the corner.
Tomorrow is finally where the GC riders get their mountains. If they ate lollies I would say they'd be like kids in a candy store, climbing to 1200ms at one point the overall classification will surely be shaken up.
5 days left.