It's been a different Tour of California for me this year. Last year with Liquigas, I was helping Peter Sagan win stages, but this year with Team Saxo-Tinkoff, we're looking after Mick Rogers for the GC. With Sagan we were just going full gas every day for the stage, and if it didn't look good for the stage we weren't too concerned. But when you have GC aspiration, you can never let your guard down, it's on all the time. We're looking strong with Mick in second place.
Mick had a good position after stage 5 to Avila Beach, where he made the front split in the crosswinds. A split like that isn't something you can plan for four hours ahead of time. You don't know when or where it's going to happen. The team has to ride together so we can communicate and make a decision instantly, or react to another team's attack.
In a windy situation, it's really tense, and you have to stay within arms reach of each other, because even if it's not dangerous now, all it takes is a change in the wind or a turn in the road and the situation changes. We went from a block headwind where nobody could go anywhere to a ferocious cross-tailwind and the field split into six groups in the space of three minutes.
Until then, I was pretty much in denial about how much I've been struggling since my stage 2 crash. I was in the middle of the bunch when the hammer dropped, and went quickly backwards as the pace quickened. It's hard for me to make efforts, and got spat out the back and limped in on that stage.
The frustration really hit home about mid-way through the time trial the next day, when I got to a particularly irritating cross-headwind section and the pain and struggles of the last few days culminated in a near-meltdown.
All I wanted to do was get through the stage inside the time cut, 25% - is that too much to ask? I was humping it through the crosswind, I was so uncomfortable, the wind was blowing me around like crazy, I couldn't sit, I couldn't stand, it hurt to breathe, it hurt to stand, it hurt to split - aaaugh! I had to calm down, breathe, finish. And, phew - I made it inside the cut with room to spare.
Luckily we have a mountain finish today, because I feel infinitely better in an upright climbing position. It's bike racing, you can put up with so much on the bike because it's so one dimensional.
I've been lucky to have my family following the race this week. It's a nice respite to spend time with them for an hour or so. It lets you step out of that bike racing bubble for a little bit. It makes it more relaxed and familiar to have them around. When you're a professional cyclist it seems you're always working. If you're not on the bike, you're recovering, taking care of nutrition, and in my case this week I've been spending a lot of time with the chiropractor. There's always something to be done off the bike.
I'm looking forward to getting through the next two stages and being back home in Colorado for three more days before I'm pretty much gone for the rest of the summer.
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