September 8, 2008 (Toronto, ON) – In the last two weeks I have raced in eight races and have ridden over 1,500 race kilometers in Italy, France and Ireland. Now, in Toronto visiting friends and family, I can rest a little, train and prepare myself for the next block of races: the Tour of Missouri and the Road World Championships in Varese, Italy and several single day races in October in Italy.
At this time of year, the one-day races in Italy are some of the most competitive races of the season. The peloton is eager to achieve results to secure contracts for the coming season and all of the one-day specialists are fine-tuning their fitness for the World Championships. The two races I rode, Trofeo Bernocchi and Trofeo Melinda were fast from the start, never relented, and only a few dozen riders finished each race due to the speed, selectivity and difficulty. I was happy to attack in the finale and knew my form was good considering the difficulty of the races. After washing up, packing and eating a pizza, we boarded a flight to France for the Breton Classic, The GP Ouest France, in Plouay – a tough, hilly circuit race in the open wind on the coast of Brittany.
Eight years ago I rode in Plouay at the World Championships. It was my first pro Worlds and for that reason it was a memorable experience. I suffered on the wheel for 265 kilometers and was happy to finish. Returning this year, I knew I had a chance at a result and was eager to make it deep into the finale of the selective and tactical race. After crashing heavily into a ditch on the first lap I got back up, chased back on to the peloton and then thought my day was soon over. Each lap became a bonus and finally, when we got past the half-way point I had a feeling I would go the distance and even started thinking about a result. In a tactical last lap, I attacked several times, was unable to forge a solid gap, and finished, content with my form and race, but displeased with the result. After a hamburger and beer with my teammates, we woke up the next morning to board a plane for Ireland where we were to race the week long Tour of Ireland.
Known for its green countryside, winding roads and lanes, and short, steep hills we knew the race was not going to be easy. On the flight my teammate, Bernhard Eisel told me how hard it was to control the race last year, how tough the roads were and how lucky they had been to have a week of sunshine. We were prepared for a battle but also knew we had a good team that could win in the hills and dominate the sprints. Cavendish had just flown home from the Olympics and still had good fitness from the Tour de France while Marco Pinotti and I knew we could ride well on the climbs.
The team has been winning weekly. It has been an incredible season and the more the team wins the stronger the bond between the riders grows as we gain confidence from the results, in each other, and also learn from our experiences. The lead out train has become dominant in the last few months and no matter where the team is racing the sprinters can be confident they will be delivered to the sprint in a good position as the team can control the race from 10 kilometers out, increasing the speed until the last meters.
Cav’ won three stages with ease while a fourth was won by Frantisek Rabon. Franti’ had ridden on the front all week with the team for Cav, controlling the race and setting a hard tempo on the front. He looked dead three days in, and said in the team meeting that if he kept it up he wouldn’t be able to finish the race. He had a day off, sat in the wheels of the peloton and rested as much as you can on a hilly 200km stage. The next day he was back pulling on the front and looked good again – and the final day he followed the early attacks, made it into the breakaway, held off the charging group from behind and won the stage (his first as a pro) on an incredibly hard circuit in Cork. Behind Franti, Pinotti and I attacked and countered to wrestle the overall classification away from the bulldog of a Brit, Downing. After spending 20km off the front alone, I was caught, Pinotti countered and the race was his – he won the overall classification. We were on a high and, at the end of a tough week, as we came away with more than anybody had dreamed – four wins and the yellow jersey.
Next week will we have a strong and competitive team at the Tour of Missouri. More than anything else, we will have a group of guys that will have a good time racing together and sacrifice for each other, which seems to be what has carried us a long way already this season. It is a true team effort that has resulted in 70 wins, more than any other team.