Sorry for the delays in writing this.
So, after a good lunch back at our host hotel the guys were ready to go. I had driven back from the time trial by myself after getting the stage results and had time to think about what we should do. Usually I like to have options but today we had only one; Colin. Thomas had a bad time trial, by his standards and was still feeling bad so I knew that he was not going to be able to be our guy that day. The other guys, with the exception of Colin, were just hanging on but could be called on, if needed, to support Colin’s chance to finish well. One problem is Colin is our smallest guy so having one of the other guys give him their bike, if he had a problem, was not going to happen since they were all too big. The best they could do is keep him out of the wind, and stay around him and try to keep him calm until it was time to not be calm.
We got to the start of the last stage early to let the guys relax and limit any pressures they might be feeling. Franky got all the bikes ready and I checked with the organizer to get my new caravan number, this time number nine. Since Jake was out of the race, I told him he could be in the caravan car with me. At least he could learn something in there about what it’s like in the caravan and how limited I am, sometimes, with what we can do, see and understand in the car so he will better know what to do as a rider.
This stage is the hardest of the tour. Partly because all the guys are tired, partly because there is a leader and everyone is interested in moving up in GC or the KOM or the points or a stage win or whatever their agenda. I needed to digest what I think all of the other teams want to do and plan our tactic based on what we wanted out of the stage and the race overall. Those of you that know me and know how I like to race know that we don’t race for second or third or to maintain our GC spot, we race to try to win it even if it means losing our place we have. I think there are more positive lessons in the effort, the honest pursuit of a goal through the team than there is with trying to hold onto any place other than the lead. It’s how we grow, get better and expect more out of ourselves and each other than any of us thought we could do individually.
We were going to give it a shot.
This stage has an especially hard circuit so the race was probably going to be all decided in the last forty km of the race. Colin was looking like Colin, a good mood, not nervous, not much of anything. I don’t know if I will ever understand him completely. When and where to try to go was left up to Colin. He has a good race sense and understood what was probably going to happen. The leader, a New Zealander riding for DCM, a very good Belgian team, was in the lead by eleven seconds over three riders from the other good Belgian team, Avia. Avia was second, third and forth in GC at eleven, sixteen and seventeen seconds so I expected them to make the race. Two ways to do it as I see it, first, you start sending guys off in moves from the gun and force DCM to chase and cover with the yellow jersey. You wait for him to miss a move then you go all in to make sure you stay away. Give the stage away if you have to just make sure you get enough time to win overall. We did that a bunch of years ago with Jesse Anthony. We wore down the yellow and got Jess in a move with only one guy ahead of him in GC. He went on to get second overall but had a chance to win.
The second option is to wait and hit him hard late with all guns in the closing kilometers, all three one two-ing him and with the time bonus seconds available, take the overall. This option is much riskier, in my view. The yellow jersey is clearly a strong guy and if you leave it too long, he may be able to fend off all attacks by being aggressive at the end and put Avia on the defensive, that’s what I would do. We would see.
The race started and off they and not much happened of any significance. A large group of, maybe thirteen formed with the leader of the KOM in the group. None were a big challenge to the leader so they sat there at a minute and a half. I knew as soon as they stopped gaining time that the move was doomed. The kilometers ticked away and nothing changed except riders were dropped from the lead group. As we got to the circuit, some in the lead group jumped the break and went off on their own. It started with three guys and as we got down to the final two laps one guy was off by a minute followed by what was left of the field. That’s when it happened.
“Joyce, Colin Joyce, Hot Tubes number 62″ followed by a lot of gibberish in French. I have been going to France for ten years and I can’t speak a lick of it but I can understand race talk so I knew Colin was making a go of it. I tell them all, ” if you go, don’t half ass it, go with all you have and get separation.” That’s what Colin did. One rider went after him but never made contact. At this point the radio chatter was constant as the UCI people and the announcer were excited. Colin was gaining time quickly on the field and closing on the loan leader. I was waiting for a counter by the Avia team but the yellow jersey covered them all by himself. At this point Colin was just far enough back that the yellow had discounted him. It’s habit to, on tape in the top tube, put the top ten in GC and their gap off the lead. Colin was eleventh at forty-one seconds. Maybe they had overlooked him. The gap was up to thirty seconds, thirty-five, forty then it leveled out. Colin was eight seconds off the leader with less than a lap to go. Jake and I were at the finish line now, having decided to stop with one lap to go so we could see the finish.
I took the race radio out of the car and went to the finish line and waited. Lots of talk in French and nothing in English; we waited. The lead moto came into view with five or ten cars and motorcycles then a lone rider, the French guy who was in the move all day and nobody. Then there was Colin, in the drops, going as hard as he could. The French guy raised his arms in a well deserved stage victory nine seconds ahead of Colin. Colin, to his credit, raced through the line milking out every possible second then we waited and watched. Sometimes time seems fast, sometimes things seem to slow down to an intolerable pace. I looked at my birthday watch and was sure it was broken, stopped just when I needed it most, then it started ticking again. Nothing wrong with my watch as it turns out, just me. There was the field, charging to the line and that was it, it was all over.
My first thought was that we didn’t get the time needed to take the overall. We were close but I knew what we needed and we would be less than twenty seconds off. Then I though about what we did do. We were second on a stage of the biggest junior race in France. That was something. It seems every year we do something special here. Once in a while we win the overall, sometimes we get a stage win but we always seem to do something that endears us to the locals enough that they take pride in our doing well. We are, to them, one of them, we are their team and I like that.
In the end we missed the win by nine seconds, we missed the overall GC by nineteen seconds and second place by eight seconds and ended up fifth in GC. Had we not lost six seconds on the first road stage we would have been third overall and would have earned Colin an automatic spot of the world championships team by virtue of placing top three in a UCI 2.1 stage race. I didn’t tell Colin this because it wouldn’t have been a positive thing. Some directors like to point out all you do wrong, all that was missed, that you didn’t get. I would rather look at all we did right. Sure, we lost six seconds on the first stage because they didn’t race all the way to the line. We talked about it after and they understood the mistake. Rehashing it because some director is still stewing over it is counter productive, in my view. We raced like we meant it, we learned and moved on.
That was our trip to Europe for the spring of 2012. I hope you enjoyed it as much as they did doing it.
Thanks for reading,