Stage 2 of Gracia Orlova was an epic 123 km that featured the same brutal 8km climb that we finished on in stage 1, except it was now in the first 20km of this day’s race. Knowing I probably wouldn’t make the front group over the top of the climb, my job was to stamp out aggressive moves at the beginning of the race and protect our GC rider, Lindsay Myers, who was 7th overall. As soon as we hit the climb the field blew apart and I simply found a group to ride with and paced myself to the top. At the base of the decent the skies opened up and began to pour on us unfortunate 15 riders, and looking down at my speedometer I realized I still had about 80 km to go until the finish, including two more climbs and a nasty steep 1 km finish to a castle atop a hill. Not only that but it was, of course, freezing cold rain and my arms and legs soon became numb and refused to function. Luckily I had teammate Jackie Kurth to keep me company in the same group for the rest of the 3 hr 45 min race. The rest of the race was quite uneventful except for a crash on a descent that left two riders sprawled on the highway and a Ukrainian chick that insisted on constantly attacking our group as if we were the winning breakaway instead of a group of survivors riding for 60th place. I think I finished in the 70s. Our team leader Lindsay Myers finished fourth on the day, keeping her in 7th on GC.
Saturday was the time trial, and practically everyone’s legs were cooked for the 26 km event. It was a flat, 13 km course that we repeated twice, so it was easy to pace oneself and important not to blow up midway through the race. Unfortunately I was still sick with a cold and blowing snot all over the TT course, probably slipping up other riders and causing wrecks. I ended up in a satisfying 22nd place for the day, just less than 2 min off the winning time. Lindsay Myers, on the other hand, finished in 5th place, moving her up to 4th in GC.
The last day was a circuit race consisting of 6 laps to total 100.2 km. There were no climbs in this race, but a few grades and a tricky bike path section with a sharp right hand, 100 meter kicker that was sure to string out the peloton. And then it began to rain, in the usual Czech Republic fashion. And in the usual European peloton fashion, nobody gave any more room than usual to allow for the slick roads. I did not have the guts to ride up front in the draft, and soon found myself dangling dangerously off the back in the strung out bike path section. And just like that I became one of the many shelled riders in the last stage of Gracia Orlova, except for one important difference. I didn’t drop out. Even though I could no longer see the field or the caravan, I rode the rest of the 80km race by myself. And the broomwagon followed me the entire way, either because they felt sorry for me or truly had nothing else to do. Eventually another vehicle drove in front of me, so I essentially had my own miniature caravan. The police on the corners and roundabouts still stopped traffic for me, and a part of me felt bad for holding up cars, but I mostly didn’t care because I felt so tired and miserable. I’m pretty sure I was the last rider to finish the race, and I don’t even know how far back I was from the main field, nor do I really care to know.
This afternoon I just arrived back in the States, and I have just five short days until I leave again for some racing in China!