Prologue: 2 km
We raced on an access road from the bottom of the Olympic Park ski jumps to the top. I’m still coughing up phlegm from four and a half minutes of lung bleeding effort. I exploded in a steep section with five hundred meters to go, but hung on. Although I placed only 38th, I set a personal peak 4 minute power.
Our defending overall champion, Levi Leipheimer, fresh off the Tour de France, placed 6th positioning himself for a repeat.
Stage 1: 187km
With a team of Columbians in the lead, European ethics took a back seat to aggressive South American racing. Assigned to cover breakaways of more than five or any with Columbians, I jumped to wheel after wheel until four non-threats escaped. We hit a twenty minute climb three times. It insulted us with its steady torturous gradient. The Columbians took control on the climb. On laps one and two I made the selection of thirty riders. After the climb they stopped pulling and attacked. I followed moves or helped shut them down.
Jesse Anthony, of my Alma Mater, Kelly Benefits, attacked. We let him flounder in suicidal desperation. To everyone’s surprise he caught and passed the breakaway. Then four race favorites including two Columbians and my two teammates, Levi and Jani, caught him on the last ascent. He let them do the work and out sprinted them. Jani and Levi gained over two minutes on all but three competitors moving to 3rd and 5th overall.
By the time my race went bad, I had already made my contributions to the team. For my confidence I wanted to make the selection as I had done twice already. I started the climb in poor position, but crested with Vande Velde, Zirbel, and Pate, just behind the lead thirty. Vande Velde crossed the gap in the last two hundred meters of the climb. I thought about following, but assumed safety with Zirbel and Pate, two of the strongest rollers in the peloton.
Wrong. We chased within thirty seconds for fifteen km, and never made the junction.
Stage 2: 160 km
Again the Columbians refused to control, choosing the offensive instead. I covered their bottle rocket attacks for an hour, before a group finally took off with a Columbian and RadioShack’s Phillip Deignan. Before the feed zone at 80 km, I was enjoying a nice chat with a BMC rider. “Hey, I hate being at the back in the feed zone. I’m gonna move up,” I told him. As riders swiped feed bags from their soigneurs (team care takers), Mancebo, one of the most experienced racers, attacked, ethics abandoned. He pulled the break away back, and earnest attacks resumed.
I followed a Columbian. Six of us escaped. A group of thirty including Jani came up to us. Realizing that Levi and the Columbian race leader had missed the split, a number of teams committed to maintaining the selection. When the rest of the peloton to rejoined, RadioShack sighed relief. We let three riders escape, then helped set tempo to discourage any more attacking.
A number of crashes in the last ten km made the finish dodgy. To avoid trouble I stayed up front with Levi and rolled in 15th. We’re still in striking distance going into tomorrow’s time trial.
Stage 3: 15.5 km TT
Pedaling over 50 kph, head down, we dove through turns on the twisting race track at Miller Motor Sports Park. I leaned too far in one corner and clipped my pedal on the ground. Knowing that Levi or Jani would need every ounce of our strength to defend the next day, I held a manageable but hard pace. Levi stole the yellow jersey and placed 4th on the stage. Jani moved into second overall and placed 7th on the stage. I finished 18th.
Stage 4: 130 km
Eleven times we pulled up and down the mountain, the arid wind like a hair dryer blowing in our faces. 25 riders had escaped. I wanted to shut it down but I stuck to the plan of our leaders: stay together, don’t panic, ride steady. Only four of us chased for six laps. Each 12 km circuit the escapees gained ten seconds. Two of our riders died (figuratively) in the heat and altitude. With only one helper I’d soon follow. We lifted the pace to put a dent in the gap before fatigue rendered us useless. Attacks launched on the next climb and I went out the back with my teammate. We had saved two guys to help Levi and Jani in the finish. It was up to them.
As for my teammate and me we kept riding hard to make the time cut. Riders finishing a certain percentage of time behind the winner are eliminated. Coated in salt from evaporated sweat, we finished 10 minutes behind the winner.
Levi kept the jersey. Jani slipped to third, and the time cut eliminated two of our riders. Smaller breakaways are easier to control. It frustrated me that we allowed such a big group to escape and had to ride such hard tempo. Although we defended, it damaged our team going into the final and hardest stage. I can’t help worrying. Levi, however, earned my confidence this year, and will get whatever I have left.
Stage 5: 175 km
A breakaway never escaped. Attacks flew all day, and our team worked to prevent a repeat of yesterday by jumping in big groups. With Levi, Jani, and Deignan saving energy for the three mountains, three of us took responsibility. For two and a half hours we followed attacks. At one point I followed fifteen riders with four Columbians including Sevilla and Tejay. I looked behind. The peloton with my leaders was falling away. I dropped out of the break and helped chase it down.
I started the first climb up front with Levi on my wheel, but dropped into a group climbing at my limit. Phillip set tempo, then dropped back to us. My group of 15 chased the front group of 20, and caught them after another 6 km climb. With 20 km to go, 11 of them up the side of a mountain, Phillip, Bennet, and I rode straight to the front and emptied our tanks.
When I slotted in ahead of Levi, he swore, “#&$# yeah!” Later, he said it gave him chills. Columbians attacked one by one, and one by one we dragged them back. Bennet took the beginning of the climb, then swung wide. I pulled into 9 km to go until my eyes crossed, and Deignan took over. Then Levi did what he does best.
On the way to the finish, spectators said, “Levi did it!” I pumped my fist. He had dropped all but the strongest Columbian and gifted him the stage victory content with the overall victory. Jani finished just behind them and kept 3rd overall. I finished 20th with Mancebo.