Happy belated 4th of July. I’m one of three Americans in this race and the only on my team missing BBQs and fireworks.
Tour of Austria: 9 days
Prologue: 5 km TTT
From the side lines the team time trial looks fluid and graceful. On your teammates wheel it feels less beautiful. Such a short effort meant that every pull, every corner, every motion mattered and we were accountable to one another. Relaxation and routine keep the mind clear and focused. We lost a second here and there as always, but did a solid ride to tie for 4th place.
Stage 1: 208 km
The heat cooked our brains inside our helmets. A small breakaway and the long distance caused a calm boring day until a 3 km kicker before the finish. We caught the breakaway there and attacks flew left and right, but none gained traction before a diminished bunch sprint.
Stage 2: 200 km
A similar profile to stage 1 with slightly different tactics. Things went haywire for the first hour with little teams marking each other and big teams marking big groups and other big teams. I stayed at the pointy end of the race to make sure we didn’t get caught with our pants down. When it settled down we drank and sweat until another kicker and technical finishing circuit. There the race opened again and attacks flew, the the kind of effort that made our eyeballs bulge and everyone sit a little higher to let their lungs expand. I saw the crash coming on the descent. Idiots. Why do you think there’s a security guy with a bright yellow flag blowing his whistle like a maniac before the switchback. Even I can figure out what “Auchtung” means. They slid all crazy and desperate, fishtailing left and right at 60 kph until one high-sided on the downslope and took a few with him. Too fast. I prayed the guy on my outside wouldn’t try to make the corner and force me into the carnage. I yelled “Straight!” and fortunately the Belgian understood.
I followed attacks, as the km’s ticked away. At the 20 km to go sign I launched off the front with an AG2R rider. We held between 20 and 30 seconds but wouldn’t give up. At 10 km to go Marc De Maar bridged the gap. I jumped on his wheel and we dropped the AG2R rider. I was empty, out of water, out of gas, but I knew we had a chance, because the peloton was out of sight on the twisty roads. Alas, they consumed us 1.5 km from the finish.
Our director, Johnny, said he had been tasting the champagne.
Stage 3: 185 km
Copy. Paste. This time we set up a full lead out for Tom Jelte-Slagter into another short climb before the finish. He attacked over the top in a small group and the and peloton caught him 1 km to go.
More to come. Counting down the days to the USA! Fire up the BBQ.
Stage 4: 210 km
Hard start, small break, smooth fast day, scattered rain showers, and we appreciated the cool atmosphere. Before the 17 km final climb I was well positioned looking around for our leader. I found him at the back, but the speed was already insane, so we waited for the uphill to advance with strength. However, the peloton was in pieces in the first km. I gave him a big push, sprinted up to him and pushed him again, hoping he’d make it to the leaders. He didn’t, but we had to try even though we never really had GC goals.
The highlight of the day was the drive home. A tornado ripped through the valley shattering windshields with golfball sized hail. It tore the roof off our hotel and bend metal signs to the ground. We stopped in the middle and I’ve never seen anything like it.
Stage 5: 180 km
We averaged 51 kph for the first two hours. I covered everything over five riders like a maniac. Finally four riders slipped away. We threw two riders into the rotation working for Tom in the sprint. But the break was disorganized and they came back soon. The race reopened momentarily until three got away. With only forty km to go we kept them within reach. Then a huge crash took down half of the peloton. The organization didn’t have enough ambulances so they neutralized us. It was a disorganized mess. We rode neutral for ten kilometers before they stopped us. The breakaway got ten km closer to the finish for free and they got to rest for ten minutes. When we restarted, it was all hands on deck. I joined the chase pulling 100%, but in the end the break arrived six seconds ahead of sprinters. We covered 175 km in just over 3.5 hours.
Stage 6: 170 km
The 23 km Großglockner climbs to 8000 ft elevation and the summit finish on the Kitzbuhler Horn with her terrible 20% drags would nail the coffin shut. Before these we smashed a 20 minute climb. I attacked the first climb hard, but the break didn’t go until the valley on the other side. The leader’s team hit the Großglockner hard and pulled the break back to two minutes. Feeling brazen, I tried to bridge the gap, but was pulled back. I sort of enjoyed the insults. It meant I hurt them, and restarted the battle. As the climbers tested their legs, the group whittled, and the loudmouths were dropped. Matej Mohoric, our Slovenian missile, attacked the technical descent. He blew minds and after two riders crashed trying to hold his speed, they let him go. He made it to the break.
I helped position our leader for the Kitzbuhler Horn, then carried on at a good training speed.
Stage 7: 125 km
Moreno Moser made the 21 man breakaway. I spent the rest of the stage angry that I hadn’t. They made it to the finish, but we averaged over 48 kph, so they didn’t get it for free. Moreno placed 3rd on the stage.
Stage 8: 185 km
If I include all of the final stage's drama, it would be too long. From fights and crashes, to five different breakaways, and enormous mountain passes. I attacked on the last climb, and four riders followed. We gained a minute, the chase group split on the descent. Slagter and Matej were there, so Matej and I dug deep to get Tom to the finish. However, the group started attacking itself and Tom ended up away. Sixty riders came together for the finish. We had four and without a word between us set up a train for Moreno. With Moreno in the slipstream we tucked our heads and begged a few more seconds out of our legs before peeling off to leave the next guy in the wind. Moreno won the sprint by a tire’s width.
We saw every corner of Austria in 930 miles of racing. After my pre-race mini break I finished stronger than I started and so did the team. Also, my plane is about to touch down on US soil.