Before California my race schedule switched from the Tour de Suisse to the Dauphine. Since the end of the Tour of California I spent five and a half full days travelling. I did the best I could to recover, train, and eat correctly, but the combination of jet lag, swollen airplane legs, and rain every day in Lucca made it difficult. I knew my condition was good, but also that this lead in to the Dauphine was less than ideal.
The Tour de France has been my objective and motivation since I broke my leg in January. Whether or not I make it, the carrot kept me focused on my job through a challenging time. Of course, the priority is that Cannondale brings the best team possible to the TDF, but I really want to be on it and the Dauphine was the final chance to make a case for myself.
Criterium du Dauphine: 8 days
Prologue: 4 km
A rude start up a mountain so steep it might have been faster in hiking boots immediately separated out the overall contenders. At the finish it took me 10 minutes to catch my breath before riding a ski lift back to the bottom. Scanning way down the results sheet to find my name was a reality check.
Stage 1: 190 km
I hoped that a long less challenging day would shake out the cobwebs that seemed to have settled in my legs. At the finish I didn’t feel any more powerful, except now my hands, butt, and back hurt. I stayed relaxed knowing that I’m in good shape, and that sooner or later my engine would switch on, and the legs I had in California legs would return.
Stage 2: 170 km
With a climb to the finish, I had more responsibility to protect Pierre than on stage one, but when it came, I still couldn’t access the power I knew was in there. The road kicked up and I fought a futile battle against my own body before falling behind the elite group of climbers. Jack Bauer represented for the team with a strong day in the break. Allergies added extra challenge. The reaction was so strong that even my arms and legs broke out in a rash.
Stage 3: 182
The speed ramped up as we stair stepped to higher elevations and then plunged at mach speed down narrow roads into a valley. One short climb stood between us and the finish. The race to the bottom of the climb was like a full sprint lead out. I held on until just 200 meters from the crest of the climb, but the elastic snapped. Instead of beating myself up- because I certainly belonged in that group- I pulled hope from any improvement no matter how minuscule.
Stage 4: 176
Wind created stress for nothing, because for most of the day it blew straight in our faces. An intense ten minute storm drenched us and I saw many guys shivering. But the clouds lifted, the wind desisted, and about the time the tv helicopters hovered into view, we hit the finishing circuit. We mashed down skinny, rolling roads, fighting for every inch of space around us, and squeezing through small gaps to keep the team together in line. At three km to go, we blasted through roundabouts, dodged a crash on the right, and leaned into the left hand corner for the uphill sprint. Pierre stayed out of trouble. The stage was more technical than physically challenging, so I didn’t get a sense of my progress toward normalcy.
Stage 5: 140 km
A short stage like this with so many climbs guarantees fireworks, and my legs came back just in time. I must have done four ten minute efforts that were better than my prologue time trial. It felt good to be in the race. Even the pain was good, bright, clean and responsive, rather than the dull, achy, accumulating discomfort of the previous days. I was comfortable at the front and felt like I belonged there instead of apologetically pushing myself to the front “just trying to do my job.” Heading into the final climb I had Pierre on my wheel and trusted myself to take care of him. The peloton blew to pieces immediately, but we were in the right place. I kept Pierre in sight as long as possible, since I would be able to provide the fastest wheel change if need be. Pierre placed 7th.
Stage 6: 140 km
Stage 5 was 3.5 hours. I planned on a four 4 hour day maximum, but we accumulated 4500 meters of climbing which meant slogging up steep mountains the whole time. It was so intense that eating solid food was difficult. I ripped the top of gels like grenades, sucked them down, and hammered on. After a crazy difficult start, a large breakaway formed. I rode at the front beside former teammate, Dan Martin, “Hey Dan, do you think they’ll blow it up on The Madeline?," a 20 km ascent to 2000 meters elevation. “No, no. they’ll just do tempo,” he assured me. “Ha, I don’t mean blow YOU up, Dan. I mean blow up the peloton.”
When we hit the Madeline just halfway through the stage, Cantador, Aru, Pinot, Bardet, all of the GC contenders attacked. Sky rode like a team of robots and scattered bodies all over the climb. I held on for the first 12 km, then slowly the altitude took it’s toll on me. I lost a little ground and prayed the front group would lull at some point. I went over the top in sight of the first group, and psyched myself up for a daredevil descent. Super tucking at 100 km/hr on the straights, I tried to read the corners and adjust my speed using the whole road. I guessed wrong on one blind corner, and nearly straight lined off a cliff. I caught a group that was just behind the leaders and we chased until the final climb.
The stage was an hour longer than I anticipated and we had raced it at well over 1000 calories/hour putting me in a massive calorie debt. My energy reserves were depleted and I hunger bonked so hard that I got dizzy and could hardly ride in a straight line.
Pierre suffered the same “bonk,” and slipped to 13th in the overall.”
Stage 7: 151 km
With another outrageously mountainous profile and 10 km uphill start, we threw all caution to the wind. “Everybody in the break with Pierre.” Hoping to draw the right straw, I followed one too many attacks halfway up the climb and went over the top fluttering at the back of the peloton like a tattered flag. On the downhill Jack and Slagter slipped into a large break. Sky began their robotic team time trial chase. When we began the next climb, I queued up with Pierre and blasted off the front. I gave him my best effort to pull him across to the breakaway, but Sky knew Pierre was dangerous and reeled him in before he made contact.
Ettix sacrificed two of their big engines to pull warp speed into the penultimate climb. I lost a few positions in the feed zone, remembering yesterday’s bonk. On a single file downhill a gap opened about twenty riders ahead of me. I didn’t even get to try on the climb. Since it was the last stage and I had a flight to catch, I rode to the group ahead of me rather than wait for the one behind.
Pierre moved up to 10th overall.
As soon as I was ready, my soigneur, Dietrich, drove like a rally car racer and got me to the airport 2 minutes before check in closed for my flight. At the airport I reflected on the week. Although it took my engine a few costly days to switch on, I finished the Dauphine with good feelings. Now I’ll train in Lucca and wait for a phone call about the Tour de France.