Controlling the chaos

In the team bus in the morning before Tuesday’s third stage over the cobbles we discussed our plan, and were all given jobs. Mine was to get in the break, with Simon Gerrans and Serge Pauwels to help me.

The idea was that if I made a big effort to get in a move, and then it was brought back, Simon and Serge could help keep the race together while I got my breath back. I made one effort and was pretty gassed. It took two gos - the second time, we were away.

You try to be smart in choosing which move to follow. I look for combinations. Obviously the French teams were keen to do something. And on a stage like Tuesday’s, you also look at Quick Step and try to work out how many guys they want to let go.

Maybe it’s luck, or maybe some people have a nose for it - I don’t know. But seven of us got away, and it proved to be a good mix of teams and riders. We settled down and worked well together, everyone pulling through, and I felt really good.

But I was in the break not to try and win the stage - though that would be nice - but to be in a position to help the team, in particular Bradley Wiggins. We knew there’d be chaos over the cobbles, and so the best place for me to be was in front of Brad and the rest, so I could drop back and help out in case of any kind of problem.

Just before we were caught, I attacked, because I sensed that the other guys, except for Ryder Hesjedal, were finished, and they had started going too slow. Also, when the group came up from behind - and it was approaching pretty rapidly by now - I wanted to be able to join it. I didn’t want it to be messy, as it might have been if we’d all been together.

When ‘G’ - Geraint Thomas - came up with Fabian Cancellara and Andy Schleck and the others I gave him my bottle. Was I surprised to see G in that sort of company? Not really, no. Everyone on our team knows his ability - he belongs up there.

As it happened, the team’s plan - which was to have me in front so I’d be able to help out in these crucial stages - came into its own at this point. G told me his radio wasn’t working, and he wasn’t too sure what to do. Should he go back to the next group, which had Brad in it, and help him?

I radioed Sean Yates, our sports director, and asked him what G should do. “Stay there,” was the message. I passed it on to G and then dropped back to help Brad.

It didn’t take long for that group, which Brad was really driving, to swallow me up. I asked Brad how he was; he said he was alright. Then I tried to ride as hard as I could for as long as I could. But Alexandre Vinokourov attacked, and that put me out the back.

Why Vino attacked, I really don’t know. I think it would’ve been better to roll through until the next section, but I couldn’t go with them when they speeded up. When you’ve been in the break all day, riding steadily through and off, you lose the ability to make those accelerations.

So that was me in no man’s land again, though not for long, because Thomas Lofkvist was in a group behind. Again, I tried to pull in there too - we were on the last section of pave by now - but I was really at my limit by now. With a kilometre to go I sat up and rolled in. Job done.

At the end of it we could reflect on a good day for the team. We lost our cobbles specialist, Juan Antonio Flecha, to a puncture, but other than that it all went pretty much according to plan.

In fact, it was one of those days when almost everything that was said in the bus in the morning worked out. It’s good to have a plan, and everyone’s happier when they’ve got a job to do - so we were all quite satisfied. There was some discussion over the dinner table about whether it would’ve been better for G to wait for Brad - but you never know. He was fighting it out for the stage win, he’s up to second overall, and he’s in the white jersey. That's good for the team, too.

It’s a day I’ll certainly never forget. I’ve ridden Paris-Roubaix once, and I’ve raced over the cobbles before, but to be out in front for most of the day, and to experience those crowds when you're at the sharp end of the race, was an incredible feeling.

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