Stage 3 - Kilrush-Castleisland 175k
Obviously I was nervous about today's stage as I had spent 100k in howling winds either chasing up to the front group in an 8 man group or towing her home in another 6 man group having gotten shelled in the line-outs over the top of Corkscrew Hill. In the end I had grabbed some precious minutes for the B prize but I could pay for it today. My abiding memory of yesterday's stage was seeing a rider on the ground after the stage with foil blankets and ambulance crew around him. I could only see his bikes shoes sticking out but I could tell by the bike that it was one of the pros suffering from exhaustion. He was still there 30 minutes later. Yesterday was simply nuts but I felt my sensations were good this morning despite the effort.
We had a tail-wind for the first 80k of what was the longest stage of the race today. You would think that is good news but it is fact horrible news as it just means more line-outs. Indeed, they lined it out from the gun but the main part of the bunch refused to snap. You need to have sixth sense for bike-racing, it helps greatly for positioning yourself when it matters. The line-outs can be over a kilometre long at times. Pure stress. Today, I was much closer to the front now that I have been able to figure the race out over the last couple of days. While I cracked in a line-out yesterday it was because it was absolutely vicious and I had expended a fair amount of energy trying to chase up. I wouldn't have gotten up on my own account, I was largely relying on the stronger guys to tow me up. Today I was sitting on the pros wheels for the line-outs and I seemed to be able to cover them. Just as they were taking me to my absolutely limit in terms of speed, the pace would seem to stay there allowing me to cling on. Another kph faster and I might have had to pull-out of the line and try and jump back on once I had blown to the back of the line. Letting a gap open in a line-out is an understandable yet unforgivable part of bike-racing as gaps can be too much to close and so the group loses time. After a really fast first hour and a half the bunch seemed to settle down allowing a lot of shelled riders from the line-outs to get back on. As we turned out from Limerick we now faced strong head-winds with a potential for dangerous crosswinds on the main road to Kerry. Heading up the first Cat 3 drag I was sitting comfortable in the wind shelter and then suddenly noticed that I was close to the back of the line. The people who I thought were behind me had disappeared altogether on the climb. This was good news for me as far as the B prize was concerned as my competition would be largely in that group. Wow, I was now in a pretty big chase group on a 17 man break. I can't worry about getting into breaks yet as they are a gamble. It's ok if you are not a GC style rider and you are going for a stage result but if you are looking after GC then you have to save your energy for battles later on in the week.
While the winds were blowing us across the road and forcing us to ride in the gutter, they were not as strong as yesterday's. I was feeling surprisingly good all day so I felt confident that if I could just get to the bottom of the Cat 1 Crag Cave climb 10k from the finish with this group that I'd probably have another good showing. On the fast drop into Castleisland where we would then go through the town before hitting the climb I should have pushed right up to the front. That was my mistake of the day as the pros lined it out on the narrow road to the bottom of the climb meaning that there was no way I could move up from my position. If you hit the climb first then you can fall back as stronger riders come around you and still remain in the group, albeit at the back of it by the top of the climb. In this scenario I was in the back third of my group approaching the climb with no chance of moving up. Then suddenly, we came out of the trees and could see the Crag Cave climb looming right in front of us. Sizing it up we could see the crowds lining the route of what was a horrible stomper. We all dropped it into the small ring because we could see what was coming and as we hit the steep lower slopes I got stuck in a rider-jam. Dowling had made the error of dropping it into the small ring on the actual steep slopes and inevitably dropped his chain. The road was blocked as about 8 riders managed to hold onto track-stands before the space opened up again. I was just saying to myself, whatever you do don't clip out of the pedals as you'll never get going again. Thankfully I got through a gap but the front of the group was already 50 yards up the road and leaving us trailing. After 165k in the legs one is never quite sure how the legs are going to react to such steepness but they weren't too bad. I wouldn't have been able to hang onto the front lads but I managed to regroup with some very decent lads on the descent and we got home close enough to the front of the race only a few minutes behind the stage-winner who was in the break of the day up the road anyway.
Thus, another good day at the office. The legs are getting stronger but I am only 3 days in. I can only take it one day at a time but I took the opportunity to take stock of the competition for the B prize today. I am still leading that category but I have to still play the overall GC game and then hope it's good enough to land the prize in Skerries. While it's nice to have the advantage it's not really something I can think about until stage 7.
Tomorrow is a huge stage. Lots of tough climbs on heavy roads with the wind ever-present. Big changes in GC are to be expected. Yet, another stressful stage on the race to look forward to.
Right, time for bed.