“Get going!” The pain, my broken bike…a distant thought. My only focus was to get going again. There was still 5km to the top of the climb and I had to get back into the lead pack. It was Stage 6 of the Giro, half way up a 10km climb, and it was now or never.
For the first time I had come to the Giro with no General Classification ambitions. With my eye off the pink jersey I was free to look at all the other colours. Any jerseys or targeted stage wins would however have to be balanced with my teams objectives, which would include helping Chloe in the sprints and Elisa in the general classification.
My objective was to race aggressively, so I quickly found myself in the Mountains Jersey after Stage 1. The mountains jersey in this tour was green, instead of the usual white with red polka dots, so for the stage 2 and 3 I was wearing green. However with team duties taking over for the next few flatter stages, I lost the green jersey, but come Stage 6 we were back in my terrain.
I was ready to tackle the 10km mountain that awaited us midway through Stage 6. While Emma Pooley was far up the road riding in search of stage victory, we hit the major climb and the bunch splintered into several groups. Elisa, my GC contending teammate, and I had made the front split along with most of the GC contenders. I was feeling strong but halfway up the climb my destiny changed.
A split-second wheel touch and I had crashed. It was my second crash of the tour and, as I lay on the tar, my only thought was: “get going”. The team cars were held up behind other groups so, with only a push from neutral service, I got moving again. I started to pedal and, thankfully, my body was feeling okay. The sound of grinding gears didn’t deter my effort to chase back; I knew it had to be full gas or my goals would be rendered dreams.
I put in a big effort and regained contact with the front group, but then the real challenge started. Just as I rejoined the group, the climb kicked up. While everyone else flicked gears in response to the steeper gradient, I was forced to stay put in my bigger gears. The crash might not have banged me up, but it did a number on my bike. My derailleur was bent and my little gears were off limits. A shift too far and my derailleur would be in my back wheel. Feeling like my legs were stuck in slow motion, I pushed over heavy gears and watched the rest of the girls spin away.
Finally, a few kilometers later, the team cars started to zoom past. As my DS pulled along side me, I could tell he was looking for an explanation of why I had been dropped. Moments later I had my spare bike under me, a push from our mechanic and 1km to the top of the climb. During that time, the second chase pack was rolling through so I joined the wheels of Annemiek Van Vleuten, Emma Johansson and Megan Gaurnier. After a fast down hill chase, I rolled across the line in 10th, over four minutes back. My targeted stage had gone to Emma Pooley and my mountain jersey was sitting on the shoulders of Valentina Scandolara but to even out the score we maintained Elisa’s 3rd overall and she had kept the jersey for the best Italian.
That night I started to feel the tour. My crashes were adding up on top of 6 stages of hard racing and we still had a few stages left. Everyone is tired, I told myself. Everyone is hurting. I knew the only thing to do the next day was to get going. So I did. The next day I made the front split and even made a late, albeit unsuccessful, attack in the final few hundred meters for the win. My consolation prize was a sore throat, a visit with the race doctor the next day and a flu diagnosis. Turns out everyone wasn’t as tired or hurting as badly as I was.
I had the option to abandon but, first place or stone last, I wanted to finish what I had started. With constant back pain and a razor blade sore throat, I urged my empty legs to keep pedaling. By the last day my body was barely responding to my desire to pedal, let alone follow any moves. My race was over, but I wanted to keep going for the team. I crossed the Stage 9 finish line on top of Madonna Del Ghisallo in 18th and finished 13th in the overall standings. Elisa finished the tour 5th on GC and she won the Best Italian Jersey.
I returned home to Spain, exhausted and sick. I couldn’t believe how my Giro had done a 180. I went from fighting among the GC contenders, making breaks, attacking for wins and wearing the green jersey, to lying flat on my back unable to leave the apartment. Instead of standing on the podium in the mountains jersey, I was in front of the mirror checking out my newly acquired red spots. My flu diagnosis from the race doctor had developed into Measles. Who gets the measles?! I may have lost the green jersey but I earned my polka dots!