I had everything mapped out and plan in place to ride the exact time and speed I felt would be enough to win the stage and the race. In the end it would have been more than enough but unfortunately it was not me who performed it. Stefan shumacher defended his lead by proving he was the strongest man in the race of truth and winning todays TT.
For me all went perfect in my preperation and I arrived on the start line supremely confident. My warmup which I have completed so many times before went perfect and I was ready to rock and role. I started great and it all felt so easy. I was immediately a couple of kmph above the speed I planned and was having to hold back my enthusiasm to keep a lit on blowing my engine. I could immediately see that I was gaining quickly on the 2 riders ahead of me and assumed I was most likely putting time into my greatest rival shumacher in the process. In the absence of race radios our team director and I had devised a plan using the car horn to keep me updated on shumacher relative to me. Pretty simle, 1 honk was I was pulling away and 2 honks he was closing. Just as I started to settle into a perfect rythm and confident I was flying into the race lead I got a 2 honk when I had been exppecting 1. This immediately changed my mindset and confidence and while I could still clearly see I was closing on the 2 riders ahead of me to the tune of taking 20seconds out of them in the first 8km, shumacher was not following my script and was surprisingly closing. This was where the wheels feel completely off. Instead of relaxing into my comfortable fast rhythm I was now on edge and pushing the fraction harder than I knew or wanted to and was no longer racing my race. The 2 honks continued and I started to concede that if he was closing I had to except he was stronger and simply start to conserve in a bid to hold my own position of 2nd on GC. This seemed a relatively easy task considering I had taken 20-25 seconds out of the 2 riders directly behind me within the first 10km.
By half way I was completely puzzled and no longer racing my own race. I knew I was going quick but was demoralized that shumacher was apparently closing in on me. With the u turn it gave me a chance to see for myself exactly how close to me he was. To my surprize I was 15 seconds ahead by my rough calculation however It was a pretty accurate calculation give or take a few seconds. So now I was really confused and could understand why chris kept telling me I was down when I was clearly up at that stage. After this the wheels continued to fall off as the fatigue of pushing slightly harder than I knew I was capable of in the first half was beginning to take its tole. It not easy pushing a rd bike at 50kmph on the flat rd and 15min into the race I had averaged around 450 watts so I was certainly at my limit of capacity for an effort like this and to be able to pull it off I not only needed my body to be in perfect shape but most importantly my head which had gone from concentrating on what I was doing to thinking about everything else around me that I had stupidly allowed myself to worry about.
I pushed on and started rapidly loosing power and speed. I was now down around 46kmph and nudging closer to 45's and 44's instead of the 50's I knew I had to maintain to win. Still I maintained a big advantage over the riders ahead of me while chris kept honking his horn 2 times to remind me shumacher was coming. This was starting to really bug me as I had seen with my own eyes that it was not the case however as I was starting to suffer I assumed now he most probably was closing fast. At 5km to go I had my expert teammate in timing joris balit from switzerland!! To do some time checks and let me know where I was at at what I believed would be the most crucial part of the TT, the final 5km run to the line. I knew joris would be spot on with his time checks so I was confident I could believe in time check. As I passed he let me know I was 15 seconds up which I knew was about the amount of time I was ahead of the riders ahead so figured he was just telling me that but it turns out he was telling me I still had 15 seconds on shumacher which he had calculated with the use of a friend a km down the rd helping out. Talk about swiss precision!! As expected joris had not let me down but by this point I had well and truly let myself down and joris said he could see it in my face. He could not understand why I looked so defeated and did all he could to enthuse me as I went past but it was 2 late. He had seen me pedaling so perfectly as it felt in the first half when I passed him but now where I needed to hit the turbo I was dropping the anchor and visibly coming to a grinding holt.
At this point with 5km to go I was fastest by 15 seconds and in the virtual lead of the tour by 10seconds but I had already lost the race to what turned out to be my biggest rival, myself. If I had been more alert and focused on joris's time check which I knew I could trust and realized I was infact in this position as planned who knows how I would have approached that final 5km. I am pretty sure knowing your winning the tour would have a bit of a mental impact on you and boost which at this moment I desperately needed. In this case however there was to be no miracle. The wheels had well and truly fallen off. I continued to loose power and lose speed coming to the realization that I pushed to my limit and believing i was being still beaten by a stronger rider and was in survival mode. Even though it was not actually the situation and I was actually still on track to achieve exactly what I had set out to do 5km before this thought was long gone. As I slowed my rivals all sped up as I knew I needed to do to win the race. In the all 3 riders, the 2 infront and schumacher behind would take between 25-45 seconds out of me in the final few km and I was all of a sudden dropping completely off the podium into 4th and had blown a golden opportunity.
I reflected a lot and knew it was all my own undoing. I had made the fatal error of taking the focus of myself when I knew all was going perfectly with myself but allowed the honking of a horn to completely change my focus in the race. In chris's defense he said they found it difficult to take time splits of trees looking a minute behind them in the rear view mirror. He said they were doing there best but not really sure exactly what was going on. In reality it was dum of me to even suggest using such system and even dumber allowing it to dictate how I raced considering I felt I had a full proof plan anyway. I was confident I could win the race and did not need any more information than that. I needed to simply execute what I knew I was capable and when things got tuff which they do for eveyone use some mental strength to stay within my own body and push through and execute my plan. I have blown a great opportunity to win a race in the circumstances I always dreamed I could win one. Start the final day TT in a perfect position and ride into the jersey. It was my first chance to make the dream come true and I let it slip. I simply choked in every sense of the world.
It is days like today that remind you how important it is to be not only be physically at your peak but mentally aswell. Whenever I have done my best races or sporting performances it has always been after using a sports psychologist which are hugely under rated or arriving at an event with a clear mental plan and not allowing any outside distractions to waver me from my path. Today this focus alluded me and the result was disastrous, it brings me to the very simple conclusion. No matter how good I think I am or confident in my condition I have to ensure I am 100% mentally on the money as well. I am not and have never been the athlete that can rock up to any old event and use natural talent to dominate a field. The simply explanation is because I don't have any natural talent. I have only ever performed at the highest level and achieved my best performances when I have perfectly prepared for an event, both physical and mental. I don't have a switch I can flick. Any results I will ever garner will come from a specific period of training and preparation and its as simple as that. I am sad it taken another spectacular failure on my behalf to reinforce a fact that I certainly knew deep down but just another little reminder that we are always learning! Its ok to make mistakes, we all do!! The most important thing is what you learn from it and do differently in the future to ensure it does not happen again.
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