Matt Brammeier writes: Austria and praise for the 'hardest working rider' leading the Tour
More despatches from three-time Irish champion
Well, since I last wrote things haven’t gone exactly to plan.
I'm not a sprinter and I’m not a mountain goat, so there's no point in me waiting too long! My chance of victory would be in a breakaway. Some days it was one hell of a gamble; actually I'd say most days it was a pretty huge gamble.
Nine times out of 10 we started either on a climb or near the bottom of a climb, and when I say 'climb' I don't mean a measly bump in the road, I mean a proper mountain col! If I made too much of an effort early on, didn't make the break or the break didn't quite go, I could be in trouble. This happened more than a few times; I didn't care: I wanted to take that risk because I wanted to win.
So as I said, on more than a few occasions, I rode like a man possessed to get in that breakaway that didn't quite make it away. Whether it be the wrong combination of riders/teams, too many or too few riders, I just didn't have much luck at all! So cue the imminent suffering. Man, did I suffer a few times, after near maximal efforts from the starts, I'd hit the climbs severely in the red zone!
I think it was the fourth stage where we had 12 kilometres of flat before the first climb of the day: a first category, nine kilometre climb with an average gradient of seven per cent. If I wasn't clear by then, it would be a battle for survival. The break didn't go and we hit that climb full gas. I started to the climb in what was the unsuccessful breakaway and quickly shot back to the rear end of the strung out peloton. The GC riders where taking chunks out of each other, and I was scared for my life I was in so much pain!
At one point, I didn't think I would make it but after a few glances about the road I noticed there were a fair few people in the same boat as me! I made it over the top in a small group of 10-15, and we quickly started working together to catch back up as we still had more than 150 kilometres remaining, including all 25 kilometres of the Grossglockner! After a short panic we made it back to what was left of the peloton. After a few kilometres, some groups came back from behind and in front and most of us were pretty dazed and confused. The big boys had gone off up the road to play on the Grossglocker and we were left behind to make it to the finish alone. When I say alone, I mean all 107 of us! Never have I experienced a 107 rider grupetto! Boy, was I glad to have some people around me that day!
After a few days of this, my luck hadn't changed. I started to get a little bit of knee pain on stage four. I thought nothing of it and put it down to the high volume of climbing and hoped it would sort itself out and fade away. By stage five, the pain had come on a little earlier and was a little more severe than before. I was now getting a little worried.
In the closing stages of the sixth stage, the pain suddenly amplified until the point where I could no longer pedal. Sometimes when you experience pain on the bike it's always a struggle to make that wise decision to stop digging a hole and to stop and recover. I had passed that bridge. The decision was no longer mine. My body had finally had enough of my defiance and yelled at me to stop right there and then. I stopped dead in the road in a bit of a mess. My Tour Of Austria was over.
My immediate thoughts concerned what I would miss out on: the TT the following day, the last flat stage, the possibility of the Olympic Games. As always we think the worst in times like this and it’s hard to be positive. I was on a flight back home that same day and at 11am the following day, I was in hospital getting checked out by one of, if not the best knee specialist in Belgium. After some scans and prods they found a small inflammation in some tissue surrounding my knee. An anti-inflammatory Cortisone injection and a period of rest was prescribed and it seemed to do the trick. Just five days later and I’m all healed up and back into training.
It seems like my team mates are struggling to keep the rubber side down of late. This is playing havoc with everybody's race programs. As it stands, I'm not entirely sure when my next race is, but whatever it may be I know when I need to be fit and in form so it doesn't bother me too much. As long as I'm racing my bike, I will be happy enough.
So with the few days rest and a few good days of training at home, I have spent a fair few hours sat in front of the TV watching some fantastic bike racing at the Tour. After experiencing first hand the dominance of Team Sky and Mr Wiggins at the Tour du Romandie, I was pretty sure who my pick for the winner would be. The commitment and sacrifices Brad and his teammates have made over the previous weeks, months and years are pretty impressive and we can now see all of that hard work paying off. I've heard stories of the riders living at the top of a mountain, having every calorie entering their bodies scrutinised to the nth degree, even food parcels being delivered to the riders’ houses with exactly what they need each day and nothing more; the list goes on. These guys have been living like robots, monks, whatever you want to call them. I think it's so special to see a guy like Brad leading the biggest bike race on the planet - at last the hardest working athlete is winning.
Hopefully, by the next time I write, I will know when I'll be next pinning my numbers on. Until then I'll be trying my best to get as fit as possible for the last big push for my 2012 season with Quickstep!