“There were times when I really thought we were on the plane home,” is how Bernhard Eisel described his and world champion Mark Cavendish tough day through the Apennines on stage 6 of the Giro d'Italia on Friday, which saw the Sky riders, together with Taylor Phinney (BMC) and five others finish just a minute inside the time limit.
Cavendish and Eisel lost contact with the main bunch in the first hour of racing on a stage which featured 3,000 metres of climbing in baking hot conditions. Add to that the knock-on effects of Monday’s pile-up for Cavendish – and he crashed again yesterday – and it made for a very tough day at the office indeed.
“At a certain point we were on the plane back home. I mean, I will never give up, if I’m out of time, I’m out of time. But it was tough. I told Cav twice just to keep thinking about [his daughter] Delilah.”
“Yesterday he was on his hands and knees, and then he crashed as well, he was tired.”
“And I was like ‘that’s it, we’re not going to make it’. There were these long, long roads into a headwind and I was just giving it everything and I was like ‘just keep going.’”
“Then Jez [Jeremy Hunt] came back [from the bunch] and I was thinking ‘if he’s come back, that’s three of us going to go home.’”
“But Cav was recovering really well, he was on the wheel for 20k and then he started dropping me because I was empty. And I just killed myself trying to get through on the last part.”
Eisel was critical of what he felt was an unnecessarily tough stage. “It was one of those Giro stages you just hate,” Eisel said. “All those small ramps [climbs], they were real bastards.”
“As soon as you lost contact with the bunch, it became a day that was never-ending.”
With the time cut very much uppermost in their worries, on top of that Eisel says “the commissaire gave us the wrong time, although I have to say other than that he was nice to us. He was always with us. But we were really far back.”
“Then the first team car was giving us the times, and we had Nicolas [Portal, directeur sportif] with us. Then there were Rabobank and BMC with us too when we caught a group in front of us, and we got the support of those riders too.”
However, with 20 kilometres to go and even with the extra support, the riders were still dangerously approaching the half hour limit. “We were drilling it,” Eisel said. “For the last 20k I couldn’t see any more. I don’t know what I had, a heat-stroke. Then I had an asthma attack afterwards and I was lying [horizontal] on the bus for 30 minutes.”
“Even the team doctor asked me if I wanted to go home. It was just one of those miserable days.”
As for today’s stage eight, also extremely hilly and with a 20km final climb, it is, as Eisel puts it, “the same game again. It’s part of the job, but a medium mountain stage like yesterday with 37 kph average means the first group was really going. It was on.”