After a night of restless sleep I woke up today to the sound of howling winds buffeting our host house. I looked outside and noticed a few raindrops on the window. The day was shaping up to be epic from the get go. Thankfully the rain went away, but the wind kept on blowing with a vengeance. We eventually found our way to the start, despite some slightly confusing directions in the race packet, and lined up to start.
I overheard multiple riders who had already finished their races talking about how hard the course was, and started to get nervous. I decided that it would be crucial to remain near the front of the race because it sounded like every previous field had completely exploded, with riders trickling in to the finish in small groups. Time gaps affecting GC were a certainty.
Today the race got hard from the gun. On the first climb I made my way to the front where the GC leader was setting a hard tempo. I was already suffering and hoped that the pace would be hard enough to split the field since I really didn't want to have a replay of yesterday where the large crowd contributed to the catastrophic crash. I decided to contribute to making us all suffer and willingly took hard pulls. Our efforts on the hills and in the wind quickly paid off. We had whittled the lead pack down to about 15 riders on the first of our 7 laps.
Things didn't get any easier once we had the break established. We continued to kill it, and our pack got smaller and smaller. The course was such that if you weren't climbing a hill, you were fighting an insane head or cross wind. There was not anywhere to recover out there. I was suffering so badly that I had no idea how many laps we had remaining until we heard the bell signaling 1 lap to go.
On the final lap, the race leader went to the front on the feed zone climb and set an even harder tempo than normal. Behind him was a skinny 15 year old kid who can climb like a scared cat, one random dude behind the skinny kid, and then me. Abruptly, the dude in front of me decided he had had enough of the pace being set, sat up and veered to the left, almost colliding with me. This had the effect of opening a few bike length gap to the skinny kid and the GC leader. They kept hammering and I immediately realized that this would probably be the winning move. I gritted my teeth, accelerated from the already painful pace and tried to close the gap. It took me at least a minute, but I finally made my way up to them. Fortunately, I didn't bring anyone with me. I had to sit in for a while after bridging up because I was so spent. I eventually started taking pulls with them, but it became clear that they had a lot more left than I did.
Finally, we turned on to the final climb that was 300 meters from the finish line. My two companions began to sprint, and I was instantly popped. What followed was what seemed like the longest 200 meters I have ever traveled on a bicycle. I actually had to shift in to my lowest gear to make it across the line because of the combination of climb and headwind. I lost 18 seconds to the kid that won, but still put 30 seconds in to the guy that got 4th on the stage.
Getting 3rd on the stage put me in to 3rd on GC, which meant I actually got to spend some time on the podium for the first time in my life. I won a somewhat effeminate tote bag decorated with a cherry motif that was stuffed full of nature valley granola bars and other treats. The 15 year old that won the stage donated his prize bottle of wine to me for legal reasons, which is pretty cool.
Tomorrow will bring the time trial and crit. I am really wondering how the two guys in front of me are in the race against the clock.