Where am I?
This is a question that comes to every stage racer at some point in the season. When the hotel you’re in feels just like the last one and the one before that and the one to come tomorrow. You’re in a washing machine on deep spin and haven’t got the energy to care. Each of the comforts of the hotel room begins to feel like a little assault on your sense of self. Generic toothbrushes, toothpastes so tiny they compound the loneliness of the pro racer — it’s like that miniature tube is saying, “You get two squirts bud, then you’re out.” The crappy shampoo, the 3-in-1 coffees, the stiff towels, the rubbish slippers, the tiny glasses!
You wake up and don’t know where you are because, well, you don’t know where you are.
So let me check. Ah, Taoyuan City, just south of Taipei, sat up in bed typing this, watching Taiwanese television and so glad that I can’t understand a word. If only all TV was like this…
Tomorrow we have a stiff stage, going up all day with a leg-breaker at the end, 400m in about 3km. Hard to describe the speed we hit these things at, but by the end you’re swinging like a pirate in the rigging in a hurricane, dodging past Blowees and bad moto drivers and absolutely killing it. To replicate the speeds we go up these things in training, as anyone who has raced will know, is just about impossible.
Amazing what the fear of being dropped will do.
So on the second of today’s two climbs with 30km to go, a group of about 40 went clear over the top and we barreled down the wet descent — the scent of blood was in the air. And once the pack senses a break, it’s full gas, riders of the apocalypse-style, and I just love that moment. You look back and see 40 instead of 140 and then turn back and it’s nose-to-stem. They all love it; I know they do, and of you look close you might sometimes see a little smile between the snarls.
For all that we spend hour-after-hour taking it easy, letting the escape go, covering breaks or jostling for position before a climb, it’s going as fast as we possibly can that we are addicted to, delivering pain, tapping out Morse codes of suffering on those pedals! Get crushed, laddo!
It’s that primal.
So that’s where we were, we headed down the descent and hit the coastal road and we were flying. Attacks started and my two teammates and I went in some but nothing stuck. Finally one went and the quality was, well, quality. Dirk Muller, Wam Kam Po, Rhys Pollock, Floris Goesinnen, Taiji Nishitani and Takashi Miyazawa — some names there you might not have heard, but very solid, impressive riders.
We chased, but it was forlorn; those guys were on rockets. In the end, Wam Kam Po (at a very young 39 years of age) won and Miyazawa took yellow. The Saxo Bank rider was said to have tears in his eyes at the end — this was the one-year anniversary of the tsunami that hit Japan, and I for one am thrilled for Takashi. Wonderful result.