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Magnus Opus: A big split, an interesting finish and a looming sense of dread

It really does pay to pay attention. That’s easy to say, but over the course of a five, six- or seven-hour stage you can let your attention lapse and miss something important. Fortunately, I was keeping an eye on things as we headed toward the coast of the English Channel today.

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By Magnus Bäckstedt, Alessio-Bianchi professional cycling team

Magnus Opus: A big split, an interesting finish and a looming sense of dread

Magnus Opus: A big split, an interesting finish and a looming sense of dread

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It really does pay to pay attention.

That’s easy to say, but over the course of a five, six- or seven-hour stage you can let your attention lapse and miss something important. Fortunately, I was keeping an eye on things as we headed toward the coast of the English Channel today.

I was a hurting a bit on the day’s Category 3 climb just before we reached the Channel and I noticed the CSC boys all moving up front together right after that. We were riding into a heavy rain right then, too, so I thought for sure that as soon as we hit the left turn along the water that they were going to try something, put it straight in the gutter and just go for it.

I figured that I needed to get up to the front myself then, too. So I started making some crazy moves past people, working my way up there and got fairly close to the front just as they put the hammer down. The split in the field happened right behind me. I was the dead last guy to make it.

I was pretty happy about that. I figured that I made a lucky move and for 20k the guys up front really put in a huge effort. We were suddenly just flying down the road on these little hills – up and down and up and down – running along at 60kph at times. All of it in this driving rain. The roads were slick and the rain and road spray were such that you couldn’t see anything.

It turned out that Stuart O’Grady – a guy who usually reads a race really well himself – was caught out by the split. There were a few others back there, too, Moreau being one of them. Still, all of the biggies – Armstrong, Hamilton, Ullrich, even Mayo – made the cut. And that may have been why all of a sudden – just as we got out of the rain – everyone suddenly stopped riding up there.

The split took a lot of effort on CSC’s part, even with help from Postal up there. With that much effort, you have to hope for a return and neither team really was going to benefit from it if all the GC guys were up in the front group with them. You can imagine what would have happened if, say, Ullrich or someone else had missed the cut. They would have driven that all the way to the finish like that. It pays to pay attention.

So Moreau and Stuart and the others lucked out as the peloton re-formed after 20km and then everyone’s attention turned to the final kilometers and the finish.

Today’s finish was a nice change of pace, with rolling hills all the way toward the line. It was quite an interesting finish, really, with those hard little drags over the last five or ten kilometers. A lot of guys were really hurting once it got to a sprint – including me.

It was a nice finish, though, and a real change of pace from the usual. These days you don’t see a lot of groups getting away in the last five or ten kilometers like you did today. Usually if things regroup with 10 or 20 kilometers to go, you know it’s going to be a bunch kick, but today the guys managed to get away and hold it all the way to the finish. That makes for quite a nice end to the day, really.

The team is holding up nicely. Boldato is starting to come around a bit after a couple of crashes this week. Scott Sunderland is starting to ride exceptionally well. He was in the mix all day and was still going well at the finish. He even managed ninth place today, I believe. That’s a good sign. He never really tries for the sprint unless he’s got phenomenal legs. Caucchioli is riding very strong. He’s looking good, always up there in the first 10 or 15 guys and always riding clever. We are really hoping that he can do something when we get to the mountains. He tells me he’s feeling good.

All told, I felt a little bit less energetic than I did yesterday, but I still feel okay on the bike. I am going to need to feel good.

I figure the stage on Tuesday – after the rest day – will suit me quite well and maybe that’s a day when I can try my hand. It will have to be then, because Wednesday is going to be a nightmare. Lookat that profile. The thing is 240k long and there a million bloody climbs in there. It never stops. There will be a lot of people suffering that day. It’s going to be awful. Nine categorized climbs.

Those days are the worst. With so much on the road, you can’t allow yourself to sit up until you get to that last Category 2 climb before that big Cat. 1. If you stop riding hard before that, you won’t make it in with the groupetto, you won’t make the time cut and your Tour will be over.

But in the mean time, we have a couple of easier stages and a rest day. Let’s enjoy those.Cheers!