So close and yet so far… Stage two at the Tour of Kosovo saw me as stage winner and wearer of the leader’s jersey... but 17km more than what was supposed to be a 130km stage ruined all Malta’s chances of glory. Cycle racing is such an unpredictable sport, one time you feel like you cannot take anymore and a second later you are riding up front leading the race and gaining time on the peloton.
Midway through the stage I found myself in difficulty trying to keep up the pace on a relatively short incline, I thought it was the end of my day as this was not the kind of terrain I struggle on. Somehow after much chasing with some other riders we managed to get back in the peloton. My legs were burning with the effort but I was glad to be back in the race. All of a sudden I see three riders dash to the font, still trying to catch my breath I seized the moment and I went onto their chase and cover their attack, my reasoning was that I didn’t have much to survive so I was just using what was left in me to help my team. I looked back and I saw that we had opening a sizable gap. It was chaos up front: cameramen, photographers, police, sirens and team cars. We smashed onto the pedals like crazy trying to stay out enough till the end of the race. This move meant that my team mates did not have to do any work saving valuable energy in the event we were caught. However other teams had other plans for us and soon our margin started to diminish. After some 10km we were sucked back into the bunch and the pace slowed a bit down (which meant more attacks are coming our way)
One Albanian rider surges ahead and opens a couple of hundred metres, there was no response from the peloton. It wasn’t just me that was getting tired. So… you guessed it. I went again, this time on my own. I was going faster than before, I tucked in my aero position and hammered onto the pedals as if the finish line was just round the corner. I saw the Albanian rider in front of me and all I could think of was to chase him down. All of a sudden a familiar voice... Charlie Greens is here… His body half out of the window… Kurragg Etienne Kuragg Etienne!!! He was throwing energy at me and I was going even faster. This also meant that I had gained one minute on the peloton.
I was on a planet of my own as I drew closer to the Albanian rider who was leading the race. I caught his back wheel and drafted him for not more than 10 seconds and took the front again. He sat on my wheel but I was not willing to take any passengers if he did not collaborate, I dropped him in a slight incline and now it was just me and the final 7km climb to the finish. I had been out for some 50kms and at the 132km mark I took my last gel. I had a margin of 2.5 minutes more than enough to take the jersey and the stage. 137km and I see a sign 10kms to go…. Not a good sign as I was no fresher than 10km before. I started the hill to the finish still keeping a strong steady tempo… 5km to go still holding strong another couple of kilometres and I my legs went numb. The tank was empty... Still thinking I could pull this one I dug deep into my reserves but now I was going slow and with 2km to go I was caught by a German rider (not any German rider... he had placed second a week earlier in the German hill climb championships). I squeezed everything out as I was passed by more riders. Jason and Maurice came by, I felt the world falling on me as I could feel their disappointment, I just couldn’t keep their pace as I told Charlie who was still encouraging me (still half out of the car) to follow them to the finish. Another switchback and I see the finish line, I heard Christian coming from behind me as he pushed me through the final metres across the line. The physical pain was over… I looked at my computer; it read 147km… 17km more than what we were meant to do…. It was a tough pill to swallow…. My team mates were incredible… they were not just sitting pretty in the bunch but blocking off riders in order to slow the pace down. It was an epic ride that I felt it was worth sharing. It was all or nothing, I got nothing just the will to do it all over again and fail another time. In sports if you keep knocking on the door long enough it finally opens.