By Magnus Bäckstedt, Alessio-Bianchi professional cycling team
We had Alessandro (Bertolini) up in the break today.
Actually, we were hoping it was going to hold and, for a while there, it looked like it might. They were up there hovering at around five minutes and then, even when two or three teams threw their guys to the front of the peloton, they managed to hold the gap for a long time.
There were points when we were doing 55 to 60kph and we were still not putting any time on them for the first 35, 40 kilometers, but no one can hold that for too long in a breakaway and the peloton eventually pulled them back in. It makes sense, too, since Petacchi really wanted another stage win and the other guys, like McEwen, also threw their teams into the chase.
It may seem that the guys up front were not making much progress early on, but I have to figure that a lot of that had to do with the fact that Jacky Durand was in the group. You know that if anyone understands the psychology of a break and the peloton, it’s Jacky. He has the routine down to a science.
I have to figure that he was more-or-less directing the other guys, telling them to ease up a bit and maintain the same speed as the peloton. Sure enough, when the peloton picked up again, they did as well, making it quite a bit harder to capture the break. If they had gone all-out from the start, they might have gotten 13 or 14 minutes on the bunch, but then, as soon as we’d gotten over all the hard bits, the peloton would have hit 60, 65kph and those guys would have been lucky to be holding 40kph and the catch would have actually come much sooner.
Jacky is quite clever like that, and every once in a while, he actually makes one of these things work. He’s a great guy. I’ve spent a few days in breakaways with him. He’s got such a good reputation as a hard worker and a guy who is willing to put it all on the line for a stage win. He’s popular among fans, but he has a good deal of respect in the peloton, too. He always gives 100 percent and hats off to the guy. He always tries.
One of the descents today – at the end of the first proper climb today (which was quite a long drag up) – we got a real treat. Over the top, we looked ahead and the road was absolutely dead straight, with not a bend in sight and the downhill grade had to have been 10 percent. We were flying down the thing. Within a couple of hundred meters, we were already hitting 95kph.
I was in the middle of the group at the start and just rode along the side of the field, moving up the whole time. It was quite a big thing in the peloton after we got down at the bottom of the thing, with everyone checking their computers to see how fast they’d gone. I topped out at 110kph! It was definitely the high point of my day.
If you look at the profile of today’s stage it was pretty much a downhill shot to the finish after the halfway point. There was one exception, though. At about 15km to go there was a tough little climb and even though the thing never even appeared on the official course profile, it really presented a challenge that far into the race.
It was as we were charging toward that climb that the end came for the guys in the break. Fassa’s lone member of the escape – Marco Velo – had stayed at the back of the group all day and then he flatted with 20km to go. He got a wheel, and sat up waiting for us to catch him. Then the Fassa Bortolo team came to the front and turned on the gas.
It was a little bit of a rough spot for me. I didn’t feel all that good. I reckon it’s because yesterday was the first day we encountered proper heat and it always takes a bit out of me, so I wasn’t quite at the top of my game today. But you get those days in a three-week bike race, eh?
Still, I actually managed to stay at the front on that last little climb. I’m not too sure if the climb broke things up, as I was at my limit and didn’t have time to look back. It was quite hard and, as I said, it was around then that Fassa Bortolo decided to really ride then, so they were making things quite difficult for people.
After that it was a quite nice, even run in to the finish. They were narrow little roads, but more-or-less straight trip into the finish. The only real breaks in that came with about 2km, there was a right-hand corner and then a long sweeping turn with 700 meters to go and then a sharp right turn with about 300 to go. Course-wise it was quite a nice finish today… and, as is usually the case, Petacchi got through there in great position and that’s all there was.
Have a good evening and we’ll talk tomorrow.