Simply put, Team RadioShack rode a fantastic Dauphine, fighting through huge obstacles to bring home the overall win. After the crash in first stage, we were already down one rider when Haimar broke his wrist and had to leave the race, not to mention that Markel, G4, and Ben were hurt in the crash and spent the rest of the week racing below their best fitness as a result of those injuries. When half the team was already either down or out after stage one, it really showed what the team was made of and how much we all really like each other in the constant sacrifice and work that was given through each difficult stage.
All week long, I saw the team suffering to keep Jani in yellow. With each climb we would lose anywhere from 2 to 4 riders by the summit, only to have them fight back to peloton to immediately take another pull on the front time and again. It hurt me to see Tomas, who didn't make the time cut yesterday, feeling bad this morning. He spent more time on the front then anyone in the race, working day after to day to keep the rest of the team that much fresher for the later part of each stage, and yet still felt bad about being unable to help today.
At the start of today's stage, it was once again all out when a group of 8 escaped. Three teams chased the break with everything they had, going through the valley before the first and only big climb of the day, which began 30 miles into the stage. As we hit the climb, the break was only 45 seconds in front of us, and every team was trying to send riders across to it.
For Team RadioShack Paulinho was putting on a show. We had lost everyone on the team except Paulinho, myself, and Jani, who of course needed to stay protected and save energy for the general classification fight. Paulinho drove the pace steadily up the entire climb, while I would follow any attacks that might put the team in danger of losing the jersey. After each attack was neutralized, Paulinho would just continue riding his tempo past everyone that had attacked us, while I would return, tucking back onto his wheel until the next attack came. Finally, we got the break we wanted established, allowing us to ease off the pace and recover just a little.
Markel, G4, and Ben fought to return to front once again to take over the work from Paulino and I. When the break gained too much time, the other teams began pulling on the front to protect their own leaders’ places on general classification, or perhaps, thinking about the one last shot at winning a stage in this year’s race. The Dauphine was nearing its end, but not before they threw one last obstacle at us.
We entered the 7 mile circuit that we would do 5 times, with everyone on the limit from the pace of the teams chasing. The weather was unpredictable – with rain on the descent and dry on the climb, making the day even more difficult. And the circuit itself was not going to be an easy one. It had a mile and a half long climb that averaged 9%, but the second half had to be closer to 11 or 12% - in other words, HARD.
As we hit the climb each lap, the pace would increase, decreasing the size of the field at the same time. The descent wasn't any easier, with each wet turn causing the field to split apart even further. And, at the bottom, it was a full sprint out of the last corner to hold the wheel in front of me as we crossed the finish line each lap. I can’t image how hard it must have been for the non-climbers to close the gaps to the field after each descent, since it was hard enough in the group – all I could think was “Thank God I can climb!”
As we hit the climb for the last time, riders started attacking immediately right from the bottom. Astana took over the front and set a blistering pace that allowed no one to get very far. Just as we neared the summit, one final hard attack came, and what was left of the field blew apart. I had to pass 4 riders to stay in contact with the front group. As we flew down the descent, an AG2R rider was taking every risk possible to catch the break that was only seconds ahead of us at that point. After a few turns, I hard a big crash just behind me, while Tejay van Gardener came flying by me to close the gap that was just front us. From there on out my job was done for Jani, and I could ease up just a bit and take it safe to finish line.
It was a fantastic race, and I can't be happier to see Jani win. He has been my teammate and roommate now for three years, and I can assure you no one works harder or deserves it more! So congratulations Jani and Team RadioShack - overall winners of the 2010 Criterium du Dauphine!