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By Magnus Bäckstedt, Alessio-Bianchi professional cycling team
Man, this was a tough day.
Like I’ve said here for a few days, I am feeling a whole lot better on the bike, and I sure needed to be, because this was tough!
I have to say I’ve never suffered as much on the bike as I did today for the first 40km of this stage. I just cannot remember ever doing a stage this fast on terrain like that. It was unbelievable today … absolutely unbelievable. Everyone in the peloton was just sprinting flat-out for the first 40km. Every attack drew some kind of response from the field, and people just kept attacking and attacking … and the terrain made it absolutely brutal. It was 2km up and 2km down and just kept on going like that the whole time. Even the KOM – about 4.5km in length – the peloton seemed like it was hitting 40kph on the climb.
The whole time it was up and down, up and down. I would lose a few spots on the climb and ride like crazy – diving into corners hard – trying to make up whatever places I lost.
Finally, it eased off. It had to. And I am glad the pace didn’t keep up too much longer. Finally, as it eased up, Igor Landaluze from Euskaltel and Felipo Simeoni of Domina Vacanze got off the front. Really, they managed to get away just as everyone in the peloton had just sat up … mostly because everyone was just too wasted to move.
Right before they went – and while we were all pushing it like crazy – I looked around, and everyone I saw near me looked ready to explode. It had been like that from the start, and they all looked like they were riding at 100 percent just to be able to stay on the wheel in front of them. It was absolutely incredible.
So, these two guys just sort of drifted off the front then. Of course, they really had to put in a lot of work to get away and build up any kind of lead. These guys timed it perfectly, though. When they left, there was a bit of a pause and then everyone let out this big sigh of relief and looked happy to see them get away. Everyone sat up, caught their breath, got some drinks, stopped to take a piss and recovered a little.
Of course, once those two hit 10 minutes, the sprinters’ teams moved up front and started driving it just as hard again. We were doing 60kph at times. It made for an unbelievably tough day … but not nearly as tough as it must have been for those two poor guys, getting caught like they were with less than 100 meters to the line.
What can you say? It’s just not fair. I mean, if they’d have been caught with even a kilometer to go, I’d say, “All, right fair enough,” but that close has got to rip your heart out.
I do need to respond to the many questions I’ve received about the Tour’s decision to eject my teammate Martin Hvastija.
From my perspective, it was unfair of the Tour to suddenly decide to throw him out after eight days of racing. Martin has never been caught using anything; never caught in possession of anything; and he’s not tested positive. Now, I respect the Tour’s decision to apply a stricter standard, but in Martin’s case, the whole thing is based on a taped conversation from three years ago.
What’s more, the organization knew about this before the Tour started and said that it was not serious enough to keep him out. Then, after eight days of racing, they come and tell him, “No, you can’t race anymore,” and that is what makes it absolute bullshit as far as I am concerned.
It’s a 3-year-old case, and if the charge was that serious, then they shouldn’t have let him start in the first place. If it wasn’t serious enough to keep him from starting, then they should have allowed him to finish.
But that’s just my point of view. At the end of the day, the decision is made by Jean-Marie, and we can’t do much about it. So, I’ll just focus on the task at hand and ride my bike.
On another note, I wanted to thank all of the readers who have been sending e-mails to VeloNews. It’s good to see that you all are reading these diaries and cheering me on. Don’t think I don’t appreciate them, because I really do.
Tomorrow is going to be a tough one.
Wish us all luck.