The racing started full-gas with the first sprint hot spot just 5mi into the stage. Sam and Phil were looking after me until both of them flatted over the course of a minute. Both later returned to the race without too much hassle. Meanwhile, Lang and Daifuku were swinging the big sticks off the front of the pack trying to get into moves.
Going through the third hot spot a group of four rolled up the road with what I thought were two Amore e Vita riders. They had a good gap and I thought that might be the race since either of those guys would win the overall if they stayed away. Traditionally this race has been won from an early break or field split, and with the bad weather I thought this year would be the same. I attacked through a turn and bridged up to that group on a descent leading into a very sketchy set of turns and the first climb of the day. When I caught the group of four I lifted the pace on the climb to drag some guys out, but unfortunately the only guy to come with me was a janky Bruyneel Academy rider who wouldn't work. Classy. I half-heartedly dragged him around for a few miles hoping someone else would bridge up, then threw in the towel once the field made its way back up.
Immediately a Tecos rider countered with another Bruyneel rider and that stuck. A few guys started to trickle across and I worked my way into that flow. When that group sat up I hit it again and bridged up in a few minutes on another technical descent. I knew it was all-in at that point since the very gnarly Eichele road climb was nearing. By the time we hit the climb we had a 1:30 gap. Tecos attacked for the KOM and the other two of us dragged our carcasses over and regrouped at the top.
That's pretty much the way it was all day, Tecos taking the KOMs then the three of us rotating between. Mike Olheiser bridged about halfway through the stage and that made things better, he took some long pulls but didn't look like he was feeling stellar. Joe also did a great job in the caravan, figuring out a short-cut to get up to the break to give me some coke and food. Lifesaver. I imagine there are some finger prints squeezed into the doors of that Kia rental from his hapless passengers.
Our gap hovered between 1:20 and 1:50 all the way onto the circuits. It was pretty sweet leading the break onto the circuits, riding through the screaming crowd, and seeing yourself on a giant TV screen. It was short-lived though. Tecos attacked on the first KOM of the first lap and hovered in front of the three of us for a while. We kept rotating while the field slowly brought us back. Once the gap came under one minute I decided to try to get across to Tecos. I attacked on the KOM and we dropped Olheiser then kept working for another gap. We brought Tecos back to about 5 seconds right as the field caught all of us and a counter went up the road. That was with 6 of 11 laps to go.
From there on I went between hanging on for dear life and feeling like I was still strong enough to win. I got into two more small breaks on the circuits but immediately felt gassed then almost got dropped. I chilled out the final two laps to sprint from the group I was in, but couldn't pull many more tricks out of my hat by then.
I finished 25th on the stage, 23rd overall, and 3rd in the KOM competition. I tried to talk my way into the most aggressive rider competition since I was leader on the road the whole day and kept attacking on the circuits, but then I found out the Tecos guy stuck it out in the front group for the rest of the circuits so he definitely earned it.
I'm reasonably happy with my ride, this was one of the few races where you can legitimately get "TV time" and I was psyched to still feel strong enough after the long bomb to stay in the pack and still be a part of the race. This year also saw the biggest group in the history of the race make it onto the circuits, and in years past the move I was in was the kind that lasted to the finish. However, going by how I felt today and how the race played out, I'm confident I could have been there in the finish with enough juice in the tank to make into one of those front groups that would have resulted in a "result." Always what-ifs when you don't win.
It was still an awesome race regardless, very epic course and weather, and I'm always happy to hang it out there and actually race my bike. There were lots of guys content to sit in and let Amore e Vita ride on the front, and in some ways changing Univest to a stage race really killed today's stage. Traditionally it's a balls-out, aggressive, charging style of racing but the way it played out ended up being pretty formulaic and boring. The teams who sat back, watched Amore e Vita control then win the race, brought it on themselves and raced like nancies. I didn't finish high up, but at least I put myself in a position where I could have won, and put pressure on another team to burn some matches. Until teams start doing that more, the "euro-style" class Univest is trying to become is just going to be another race-by-numbers stage race.
The day took its tole on the rest of the guys. Lang was taken out pretty hard in a crash and pulled out with a busted up hip and helmet. Phil and Nick had bad legs and never really felt it. Sam and Daifuku made it onto the circuits but fell victim to the climb and the gaps it opened up. All of us had a great time in the race though, and in the future I think this is a kind of event any one of us could do well at.
Tomorrow we have a long, 2hr/50mi criterium to close things out. It's not part of the stage race even though it's still part of Univest. Lang might sit it out because of his injuries, but the rest of us will be looking to throw some more bombs, put our heads down, and hope the dice turn up in our favor when the dust settles.