Ciao, Grüezi, Guten Tag, Bonjour! The Tour de Suisse is a midpoint in the season. Some riders were eager to earn Tour de France selection and others were looking forward to a midseason break. Team Dimension Data's squad looked forward to nine days of challenges and opportunities.
At the team presentation one rider from each team was elected as a representative to compete in a head to head turbo trainer race. At the end of the night the fastest rider would win each of his team members the newest Samsung phone. I was nominated- because the guys knew I'd have a good attitude and not for my leg speed! The sprinters and trackies warmed up and found their game faces. Laughing and ready for embarrassment, I put on my cycling shoes. We were all shocked when I finished second!
Stage 1: 6 km
Two minutes from the finish line adrenaline faded and searing pain overcame the endorphins. One by one we spluttered across the finish line like smoking overheated engines.
Stage 2: 173 km
Nic jumped in the early breakaway and scooped up the intermediate sprint points. Something physiological blocked me from accessing my power. I suffered to hang but was unable to really "hurt myself" in a productive way. As we approached the final climb two pile up crashes blocked the road. I stopped for Lachlan and helped pace him back but I dropped soon after. Mekseb attacked in the last km but the sprinters swept him up before the finish.
Stage 3: 160 km
A hectic route through Bern littered with traffic islands, twisty roads, and cobblestones brought us to an uphill sprint. Reinardt placed 11th.
Stage 4: 150 km
American, Larry Warbasse riding for Team Aqua Blue, escaped after a difficult start. The peloton whittled down on the first of two climbs. Heading into the summit finish I hit the front pulling our climber, Merhawi, into position. He placed in the top 20. Larry held on for a glorious stage victory.
I was still riding much worse than I had expected. My director, Bingen, reminded me that the same thing happened at the Dauphine last year. I was terrible the first three days and then something clicked. I knew "it" was in there but I couldn't access it. Form is a fickle thing.
Reinhardt was forced to abandon with a stomach bug.
Stage 5: 222 km
With a threatening forecast and a 20 km climb to over 7000 ft elevation, it was a mad fight for the breakaway. After an hour and a half of attacking I surged up the road in a group of six riders. We worked well together but the peloton kept us on a short leash. With 35 km to go the gap had fallen to two minutes. It started raining on a very narrow, rough lane down the side of a mountain. We swerved through the corners (I watched a replay after the race and was pleased by how "cool" we looked- so pro). With 20 km to go our gap was down to 15 seconds. Game over. One of my breakaway companions attacked. I followed. The chasers were tired. We were tired after such a long day, but we committed to the end. The two of us swapped off turns and built our advantage back to 40 seconds. But, with 5.5 km to go the sprinter teams ended our time in the spotlight. Frustrated and already damaged I fought to the line and finished 21st.
We were rewarded with a very nice hotel overlooking Lago Maggiore, a very nice stay after 6 days in sweltering rooms with no AC and not enough space for my roommate and I to open both our suitcases at the same time.
Stage 6: 167 km
During yesterday's exploits I had scored some KOM points and wanted to give it a go. Again 1.5 hours of attacking ensued without a breakaway. From so many attacks my normalized power was 370 when we hit the first climb, another 20 km death march. Those of us who'd been attacking or who weren't climbers on good form dropped immediately. It was a long, draining, and painful shlog up yet another 20 km climb to the finish line. It started raining at the top of the finish climb and I saw a rainbow arching over the snow capped mountains with no sign of humanity in view. It was breathtaking and almost worth it. Almost. ;)
Stage 7: 161 km
The final summit finish (actually in Austria) would bring us over 2700 meters elevation. After a brief skirmish, Lachlan settled into an 18 rider escape. For some tactically inexplicable reason two teams chased like banshees keeping the gap at two minutes. We covered 100 km in two hours and the breakaway never had a chance. I worked to put Merhawi in good position at the base of the mountain. He placed top 20 and is 15th overall.
Stage 8: 100 km
Eight laps of a viscous technical circuit with a two km climb in the middle created a dog fight. Jaco made the breakaway but the sprinter teams kept them close. Over the radio our director told me I was free to try something. On the final lap the group split down to 40 riders over the climb. I made the split and shoulder bumped for position. I grabbed tenth wheel coming into the final turn with 600 meters to go. I clenched my jaw and readied. However, a rider dive bombed me on the inside of the turn too fast and took me to the edge of the road braking to avoid a crash. He couldn't hold the wheel and I lost my chance to sprint.
Stage 9: 29 km
After so many days of physical and emotional ups and downs this was a test of guts and stamina. I followed my time trial protocol and hit the road. I went out fast but was feeling good. After five minutes my minute man was in sight. I ripped through a right hand corner and my front tire blew out. I had no follow car and had to stand there waiting for a neutral service vehicle to pass by and make a clumsy wheel change. Game over. I rode just hard enough to burn off the caffeine and adrenaline.
The Tour de Suisse is one of my favorite races. We see most of the country, passing through the German, French, and Italian parts. The views and roads are outstanding. I expected more of myself from a performance standpoint but I had some good days and enjoyed the atmosphere of the race and our team. Merhawi placed 15th overall. The highest finish ever for a black African in a World Tour stage race.