The Tour d'Alsace, which finished last Sunday, is definitely the hardest race I have ever done. Five days (plus a 5km TTT prologue) in the very hilly region of Alsace in France. I won't go in to detail on every stage, but here's one anecdote that sums up how the race felt and how I fared.
On stage four, the course was supposed to be easy relative to the previous three days. After three stages, I was very far down on general classification and our team's goal for the race had dropped to just survival, but I thought maybe, of all days, stage four would be the best chance for a decent result. I had boosted my own moral on stage three after finding myself in the ten-man breakaway that defined the final 20km of the stage. We were caught with 10km to go, so the breakaway was short lived, but it felt good to be competitive after hanging on for dear life the two previous days.
Stage four measured in at only 146km, the main difficulty being a category 2 climb 27km in to the stage. The climb was not too hard, but the pace was quick enough to split the field over the final kilometer of climbing. I had a bit of bad luck in the run-up to the climb and started at the very back of the peloton. And I mean the very back. In my attempt to move up at the beginning of the climb, I was pinched by some unexpected road construction and lost all momentum. I felt good on the ascent and did not panic when I found myself in the second split because we were maybe 10 seconds off the back of the peloton and our group was big enough that catching back on would be easy. The race commissaire decided the gap was significant enough to pass our group and resume his position behind the peloton, however, so now our small chase back to the peloton would have a large automotive obstacle in the way. After cresting the climb, the road descended in a twisty fashion for a few kilometers. I led our group down the descent (I have found that I can take many more risks on a descent when I choose the line through the corners), and as we approached a left-hand hairpin turn, the peloton was no more than a few seconds ahead. The Comm car, however, had yet to pull out of the gap, so Monsieur le Commissaire decided that the best place to stop and let us past would be on the exit of the hairpin turn. I realized this a bit too late and came bombing around the corner in full lean, only to find the stupid car right in my line. I hit the brakes, smashed in to the side of the car, then bounced and slid on the ground enough to get some gnarly road rash.
To make matters much, much worse, our team car was the 26th in the line of cars, so by the time they made their way down the mountain to me, I was a fair bit behind. The wheel change went smoothly, but my confidence had taken a hit and I descended like a snail. Needless to say, I was extremely unhappy at being hit by a car (or maybe I hit the car...either way I was mad), I was unhappy that I was minutes behind the back of the caravan, I was unhappy that I was bleeding profusely out of my hip, and I was unhappy that I still had 120 kilometers to race. Thanks to my team car, I paced for 30km before finally re-entering the caravan, and then another 10 km before making it back in to the field. If I have ever cried in a bike race, it may have been this one. That's how unhappy I was. And during the chase I was going too hard to eat or drink (rookie mistake), so when I finally reached the back of the single-file peloton, I was on the verge of cracking. Finally, the break established and the pace slowed down and I could recover, but holy cow when I reflected on the first 70km of the race, I was amazed I was still there. While pacing up to the peloton, we blew by at least a dozen riders who had been dropped and were waiting for the broom wagon.
The stage finished unimpressively for the USA, but once again we all survived. I did not recover well after the ordeal of stage four and DNF'd the montrously mountainous stage 5. Three of the five USA starters finished however. I am happy with my form going in to the final stage race of my European season, the Tour de Namur. Stay tuned!