After the nationals were over I was soon on the way to Austria for the eight day 2.HC Tour Of Austria. The profiles looked pretty grim, with over 3500m of climbing on a couple of days but there were a few days that would be suited to me, so without a prominent GC contender or sprinter in our line up I would enjoy a bit more of a free role. This was the first time for a while I’ve been able to race for myself and go for a win. Normally it’s my job to help control the racing and bring back the breakaways, now I’d be doing the complete opposite! Another exciting thing was there was a TT, so I’d get to wear my national champ’s colours for the first time in a TT!
The tour started off with an intermediate stage, it didn’t look like a definite sprint stage, neither did it look too hard so we were all kind of intrigued on how it would go. I must say the first climb after 10km of attacking and trying to go in the break was a bit of a shock to the system. I didn’t feel too good at the start, I must say.
So the break went, nobody from HTC in it. Not a great start but not the end of the world, usually this would signal a hard day for us as it would be our job to reel in the breakaway for one of our fast men to finish off but as I mentioned earlier we had no real “fast men” so the pressure was off us and it was down to another team to do the hard graft.
It was pretty much a formality, break went, team chased, break came back and then a wild bunch sprint. I tried to get stuck in, follow the right wheels and hope that I would get lucky and might be able to do something. Easier said than done!
The next day was all about getting to the finish in one piece. There were a few climbs early on and then what was for sure the hardest climb I’ve ever done at the finish. I knew it wasn’t going to be a day for me so the plan was simple. Get to the finish. Just to make things that little bit harder I got caught behind a crash at the foot of the finish climb. Just to give you an idea of how hard it was it was just over 7km and took me around 50 minutes to get to the top. I had a 39×28 on my bike and at one point I was doing 6kph at 38rpm! Now thats steep!
The next two days actually were pretty similar in my approach; pure survival. I know it may seem like a real negative way of racing to some of you but it’s simply a matter of fact that I would never be able to get over these climbs in a good position so I just had to get to the finish each day, inside the time limit and in the best possible shape going into the last four days which would suit my build a lot more. So I clicked into survival mode, and got through some of the hardest routes I’ve ever ridden on. The main climb of the week was the famous Grossglockner, which the Giro visited a few weeks back. This was 26km in the smallest gear, this stuff just isn’t funny!
Anyway, crazy hills were over and it was time to click out of “survival” mode and get back into “race” mode. So we were at stage 5 and I was full gas trying to go in the breakaways again. I almost made it this stage but just fell short of making the group. My good mate Gatis Smukilis made the split for HTC and sprinted to a fine 2ndplace from a six man group. Good job, Gatis!
The next day would be my day! I was sure of it. Stage 6 on paper looked like the easiest day so far, so as you would expect a good percentage of the peloton were hoping for a steady day where they could recover a bit from the previous few days. It wasn’t to be. We woke up to gale force winds! Happy days, it may sound sick but I like the wind. I suppose I kind of feel at home fighting for position and scrapping in the gutter. Maybe I’ve been in Belgium too long?
Anyway, I started the day on a mission, today would be my day. I fought all day and made every single break and split of the day. Eventually after a few groups came and went I was in the wining move. I was happy to be there of course but a bit gutted about the composition of the group, there were a few fast guys there including Benatti, Van Avermaet and Robert Wagner, the newly crowned German champ. Anyway, it was what it was and I had to make the most of the situation.
Straight away I was thinking of how I could win the stage. What would be my best way to do it? All the questions where buzzing round my head. At times it didn’t look like the break would stay clear to the finish. With 20ks to go we had just 55 seconds so it looked like it was over. I was doing the bare minimum until then, but when I realised we might be caught I started to ride pretty hard and managed to help pull the gap out a bit. We hit a small cat 4 climb with 10km to go and I attacked into it hard. I wanted to shake some of the sprinters or at least soften them up for the sprint. We got rid of a few but not the two guys I was most worried about.
So after a bit more attacking and messing about there were 11 of us heading to the finish together 35 seconds clear of the chasing peloton. I had seen the finish before and knew I had to be 2nd out of the last corner to be in with a shout. I was sat in Benatti’s wheel, who in turn was at behind Van Avermaet. Two pretty big names ahead of me kind of freaked me out a bit. I should have gone over them before the corner but I hesitated and waited. These guys would leave me for dead for sure? Thats what I thought anyway. I hit the last 200m on 3rd position and went full gas for the line. Somehow I passed Benatti with 100m to go and almost snuck passed Van Avermaet on the line. If the race was just 10m longer….. But it wasn’t, so 2nd was 2nd! I was pretty disappointed at the time and still am now. I had the legs to win, just not the confidence. Still 2nd place in a HC event is a pretty big result and probably one of my best ever so I can’t be too pissed off!
Next up was a 30k TT near Vienna. I was feeling pretty tired in the morning but I was still up for it. My director wanted me to go easy and save my legs for the last stage but I wanted too do a good TT so I decided to go full gas for 10km and see where I was at. I worked out what pace I needed to ride at to get into the top 10-15 and what I thought I could hold and tried that for 10km. 8km in and I was fading already, yesterday’s effort had taken its toll, so I sat up and rode easy to the finish taking the advice of my director.
The last stage was for sure going to be a sprint stage, only 120kms, pan flat and with 10 finish laps it would always be one for the sprinters. I actually felt quite good coming into the last few laps so I told the guys I wanted to sprint. There were four of us from HTC together coming into the last 2km and things were looking good until someone got stuck in a tram line and went down pretty hard. Of course this caused a spot of chaos and we lost contact with each other and all battled to the finish as best as we could. We ended up with 2nd (Martin Velits), 10th (Jan Ghyeselink) 13th (me) and 18th (Smukilis) so not a bad day out really.
We went into the race with no real pressure or stress and came out with 3 2nd places and a win!
Oh I forgot to mention Grabshy’s win didn’t I? What a legend he is, he did the TT with a 58×11 on his bike and smashed everybody with a 53kph average and a course record! That guy is one of the many machines we have at HTC-Highroad!
Good job this week boys!