The stage started with a ceremonious 37km where we pottered along behind the winners.
I felt awful.
I found it very hard to congratulate David Blanco. I told him so. I felt crap, humiliated, embarrassed; it was the first time the reality of loosing the race had sunk in.
David is a friend, he’s a very intelligent and interesting guy. He’s off to work in Africa next month, his record of five victories in the Volta a Portugal set, I said I’d visit him and I’d really love to one day, finances and career permitting.
After the ceremonious part of the stage came the racing. The area round Lisbon is really hilly and the race was very tough.
In order to ‘keep up appearances’ I and a couple others were asked to control the race, letting only a small group go and then drilling it. I did… begrudgingly.
At one point we passed a forest fire which must have made good television. I enjoyed taking chunks of time out the breakaway on the roller-coaster descents, trying to catch the TV motorbike.
On the circuit in Lisbon I went round calmly towards the end of the peloton, avoiding the many holes in the road, although the roads were much improved on last year.
A team mate, our third man in GC crashed and I waited for him, alas he found a more effective way of making his way back to the bunch and abandoned me to the wolves as they say.
I finished a couple of minutes after the rest and met with a lot of nice people, had my shower and drove down the coast with my family, followed by a fantastic dinner in Milfontes.
Well there you have it, +/- 1800 km cycled in two weeks, 1600km raced.
I got to the end okay and was actually sad it was over. Yesterday morning (Monday after the race) I woke up early, still in “race” mode, excited. It felt weird. My family also found me weird… It’s taken a couple of days just to settle down… Even so I feel kind of ‘battle ready’.
I woke up and saw a yellow jersey on the wall of my bedroom, a jersey I helped win the previous year.
I felt a bit odd thinking back to it. We were welcomed by huge crowds in 2011, in Lisbon, Almodôvar and Tavira, towns full of people, open top bus parade, fireworks, the lot.
A friend phoned me from Tavira and said that there must have been only 20 people to welcome the team this year -I didn’t bother going anyway as I preferred to have a nice dinner with my family. I’m not much for ceremonies, or small talk with strangers, so it doesn’t make any difference to me whether there’s a big kerfuffel or not.
I’m looking forward to spending time with true friends and my family.
The funny thing is, win or loose, the job is the same.
I love cycling, I love this brutal, unfair, beautiful sport.