Monday, August 11, 2014

What if?..

In this year's Tour de France, Jack Bauer came painfully close to winning Stage 15. He had spent all day off the front of the race only to be caught within a few meters of the finish line. 

We were watching the stage while at training camp and I don't think there was a single person that was not glued to the TV, willing him to the line. 

After the stage, his disappointment was clear as he was left to ponder what could have been. People around the world felt for him, I mean, how could you not? He was so devastatingly close. Nobody wanted to be in his shoes. Including me. 

Stage 4 of the Tour of Denmark was relatively short with a 98km road race followed by a time trial in the afternoon. As we were preparing for the start, the wind began to pick up and the storm clouds were rolling in. The course did a slight loop on itself, which meant that at some point in the race there was going to be a tail wind, a cross wind and head wind. Not easy conditions to race in.

As soon as the gun went off, we set off at a relatively gentle pace. With the wind at our backs, the peloton assumed that any attempt at a breakaway would be crazy. Suicidal even. So I attacked. 

With the tail wind, I reached 71kph in my initial surge. I quickly made a gap on the bunch as they continued along at a more calm rate. Some doubts entered my mind as I also realised that my actions were potentially crazy. Keeping a charging peloton at bay alone into a headwind was a near impossible task. 

Thankfully, behind me, two other riders decided to jump and made their way across to me. We quickly gained an advantage of almost 4 minutes as the rain began to fall.

In the bunch, rain makes things a lot harder. Nervous riders, slippery corners and brakes that don't seem to do anything cause crashes and general mayhem. Fortunately for the three of us in the breakaway, this meant that we were able to sustain our advantage. 

I never thought that the break would stay away. I was totally expecting to be swept up well before the finish, however, with 30km to go, we still had an advantage of almost 2mins. We pushed on with everything we had in hope of possibly denying the bunch. 

The effort took it's toll on one rider and his legs gave up. This left two of us at the front and to be honest, my legs were close to giving up as well. 

The race finished with 3 laps of a 3km circuit and as we entered the loop we still had a gap of around 30 seconds. With the possibility that we could survive, I suddenly found some extra power. 

With 2 laps to go, I had no idea how close they were. The lead car was still behind us but thanks to the rain, I could barely see out of my sunglasses. As we went past my Team Director he was screaming at me to go so I knew we had a chance. 

With one lap to go, my legs were getting tired and my heart rate was the highest it had been all day. I still had no idea how close the peloton was and as we rounded the last corner into the slightly uphill finishing straight, I gave everything I had. 

The signs indicating the distance remaining seemed to take forever. 300m... 250m... 200m... Then the inevitable...

100m before the finish line the bunch swallowed us up and I crossed the line in 16th position. 

At first, I thought to myself, 'oh well, I gave it my best'. 10 mins later, the 'what if' began to set it. What if I went a little harder in the windy section? What if I wasn't so hesitant on the slippery corners? What if?...

Despite the end result, I still stood on the podium with the most aggressive rider award but I will probably dwell on what could have been for a while.

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