Just two more road stages to go in Fleche du Sud. The last three days of racing have had their ups and downs, and hopefully I can maintain an upward trend for the remainder of the race. Today is 170km of undulating terrain and Sunday's stage is 150km with some gnarly finishing circuits. After yesterdays debacle, in which Team USA had all 6 riders in the "peloton" that finished 25 minutes down on the day's breakaway, todays Stage 3 should provide ample opportunities for a day long break. A result in the general classification is no longer possible for our team, so hopefully we can sniff out the day's break.
I will send out an update with today's stage result, but first a little recap of the race thus far (and excuse the brevity, we leave for Stage 3 shortly). The prologue was bittersweet; I rode to a 20th place finish, 14 seconds off the winner on the 4.5km course. Although I am happy to have scored a top 20, I was only 2 seconds off of 13th place and just a handful more out of the top 10, so I was left yearning for a wee bit more. The real bummer of the day, however, was my teammate Carter Jones crashing with 400m to go in his prologue ride. He was on pace to challenge the fastest time of the day and would certainly have been top 5. Even with the spill he finished 24th, 17 seconds down from the leader.
Stage 1 started off well as Carter rolled off the front with a breakaway of 4 riders. He managed to get enough points to take the intermediate sprints jersey before getting caught with 70km to go. The remainder of the day was ruled by some bad luck; Cole House, our team sprinter, broke a spoke with 50km to go and burned too many matches chasing back on before the finishing circuits. My saddle slipped after hitting a pothole, which turned out to be rather annoying. The stage finished with 3x10km circuits, with a 2km climb each lap. Cole and I ended up in a grupetto that finished 6 minutes down, while the remainder of the team held strong and finished in the main peloton. Fellow first-year and roommate Connor O'Leary finished a solid 29th as the first American across the line.
Stage 2 was a bizarre race. The profile advertised the course as the hardest of this year's race. It took place in the northern part of Luxembourg, so the hills were taller and longer. The first two hours of racing were very fast. A breakaway of 15 or so rolled away on one of the smaller climbs early on in the race, then another 15 riders bridged up after an impossibly steep climb out of the town of Wiltz. I was feeling better than the previous day and didn't have too many problems on the climbs until the GPM (Grand Prix de Montagne) at 78km in to the race. The climb was 5km and gained nearly 1000ft. of elevation and proved about 1km too long for my liking. Over the top, Cole House and I were in a chase group of 15 dangling 10 seconds off the back of the main field (now about 50 riders) and after a hard chase of about 15km, we regained contact with the peloton. At this point, the 30 riders up the road had nearly 5 minutes and most teams (excluding the USA of course) had a representative up front. As we hit the finishing circuits with 50km to go, the peloton we were in became an official "grupetto"; no teams took the initiative to chase, and by now the gap was so large everyone in the group was concentrating on saving some energy for the final two days. By the end of the stage, our group of about 100 riders was 25 minutes down on the winner. It was a disappointing result for the US of A, but I think we all cherished the opportunity to ride nice and and easy final hour of the tough stage.