Today’s stage always looked like one of the easier days. 90km, wide gravel roads for 60km but constantly undulating. The talk around the camp was that it suited road racers and that a breakaway might stay away, not exactly my kind of stage then!
With that in mind I decided to race my own race. 8am we were underway, already scorching hot above 30 degrees. The break went away early, about 9 to start but settled at 6 people. At first I was following wheels but after seeing that there were lots of fast corners I took to the front for a clearer view ahead. Kilometres went by and I was still on the front, everyone must have thought I was stupid but I hate speed alterations so setting the pace suited me. The terrain was rolling with pretty testing climbs, up to about 2 minutes but a gradient that I could power up.
The breakaway had about 3min 30sec at one stage and no one seemed to want to chase them down. Cory was the highest placed rider in the break and no threat to the top 3. I hardly looked back while I was riding but when I did I was surprised to see there were only about 10 guys left and some of those seemed to be suffering. Maybe my legs were good today?
After 30km I looked back and I had a gap, completely unintentional but I was content with that and just kept pushing on at the same pace. Through bottle depot 1 I had clear space in front and behind. No chance of catching the group I thought, 5km on the gap was 2:00 then a bit later 1:50, then 1:45. I was still feeling good and happy to crank it out. At the 60km mark we had bottle depot 2, I made a very quick stop and after the gap came down.
One hill soon after I had them in sight and clocked it at just 30 sec, but after that they seemed to up the pace. Given the quality of the riders in the break I didn’t think I’d catch them, but I didn’t want to get caught either. Then suddenly I saw a green jersey ahead, one if the Austrian riders had dropped off the group. It didn’t take me long to catch him and he stuck on my wheel for a while until we hit a more technical section where I decided to try and get the gap, which worked.
The last 10km was tough as I was low on energy and with 3km to go I finished my water, but I could cope with that. One more long, steady climb and I saw the finish line, crossing in 6th place. About 6min behind 1st & 2nd and 4min behind 3-5. Mike Mullkens was a very popular winner today, he was never won a stage despite several coming close many times. Cory was 2nd, showing how strong he is. I’m really happy with 6th, the competition here is really crazy and a top 10 puts you among the best riders in the World.
Camp tonight is literally the middle of nowhere. It’s a deserted mining town and the only thing here is a lake, which was great for swimming in. It was great to finish early as temperatures today were crazy high, 45 degrees in the shade and someone had 52 on their Garmin while riding! I’ve never experienced anything like it! Even at 9pm the temperature was still 29 degrees.
Stage 8, the penultimate stage is going to be another hot one. It is short again but more technical so should take longer. It will be interesting to see how the legs feel after today!