By Magnus Backstedt, Alessio-Bianchi professional cycling team
It was a chaotic day… pretty much like every first stage in a big tour.
You’ve probably already read about the way today’s stage went and, as you know, the day started out at a very easy pace and just got faster and faster and faster as we got closer to Alba.
At least for me, it wasn’t exactly the best course on which to start a three-week tour. I mean I do feel good – actually really good – on the road right now. It’s just that on a three-week tour it always takes me at least a day or two to get into the rhythm of it.
In the big tours, the final 10 or 15km are just so much faster than virtually any other bike race you’ll enter. There’s a lot on the line and winning a stage in any of them can give a guy a nice boost to his career. So it’s always a lot faster – almost like motor-pacing – and it takes me a little bit of time to get used to that speed. After last week, when the weather here in Italy wasn’t all that great and I had all of the sponsor obligations to meet, I didn’t get much saddle time in. It will take me a day or two to get my legs back.
Along the way today, I did have a bit of bother with my 11-tooth sprocket, so I drifted back for a wheel change. The chain was jumping when I first put power to the 11… it took a bit to get back into the field, but that was the only bump we had along the way today.
Like I mentioned yesterday, this is the first real big race I’ve had since winning Paris-Roubaix. So today, was my first time on the road in the peloton since that win. I have to tell you, it was quite special. Especially during the opening hour – when the pace was quite easy – others would ride up or drift back to offer their congratulations. Of course, it’s nice to have gotten all of this attention these past weeks, but it’s really special when your peers make a point of coming up to you and saying that they appreciate what you did in a race like Roubaix. That’s one of the best memories I can take from this Giro.
The race within a race
By getting away from the field when he did, Marlon al Perez Arango at least earned the Intergiro jersey. It is admittedly a confusing process counting up those Intergiro points, anyway. I won it last year based on a time trial in which I crossed the Intergiro mark a full minute faster than did the fellow who was closest in the race for that jersey. I will try to win it again this year if the opportunity presents itself. Ideally, I want to get into a good break and win a stage and if that happens, well, I get a boost in trying for the Intergiro title again this year. Still, I am not going to go out every day and beat my head against the wall trying to rack up Intergiro points. If it comes it comes. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.
And again it’s Petacchi
I didn’t quite feel on top of my game when I came into the sprint today, so I just sort of sat back a little bit and let the other guys fight it out. I, for one, don’t like mixing it up in a sprint if I know that I don’t have the legs to do something properly. It’s usually crowded enough up there and if I don’t have the legs to make a fight of it, then it’s better to stay out of the way and show a bit of respect for the sprinters that are giving it a go.
It really isn’t right to be up there pushing and shoving if you can’t contest the sprint. There are already enough guys doing it and the sprints are getting more and more dangerous. Today, for example, was plenty dangerous. There were lots of corners and, of course, everyone wants to make a show on the first day, so I was more than happy to sit back in the field and stay out of it.
I just don’t see how Mario Cipollini is going to be able to overcome Petacchi when he’s on form. Today was a great example. I mean, I still think Cipo’ might be able to pull off one stage win here – and add to his record – but it’s going to be more fluke than anything else. Petacchi is just in a league of his own these days. He has a very strong team… and the thing about Petacchi is that even if his team falters a bit and the guys aren’t at 100 percent, he’ll just open it up 100 meters earlier. It doesn’t even seem to bother him if he starts his sprint at 250 meters or 350 meters… it just means he’ll be a bit more tired after the finish, but he’ll still win it.
As far as I can see, he is going to take it every time it comes down to a sprint.
Tomorrow is going to be another survival day – one big mountain at the end of the stage. I will do my best to get to the bottom of the climb with the peloton and then ride my tempo up to the finish. Tomorrow will be the first little bit of a selection – it’ll be interesting to see who emerges from the field. I doubt that I’ll be there to watch the finish, though.