Conor Dunne's Giro d'Italia diary: 'The Giro was finished and I was literally shown the back door, rode down a side street and back into real life again, where I haven't been for three weeks'
Sunday June 2, Stage 21: Individual Time Trial, Verona (17km)
After everyone on the team got through yesterday's mammoth six-and-a-half hour penultimate stage in the Dolomites, there were a few tears shed by some of the guys at the finish line and there were a lot of relieved riders on the bus afterwards.
After getting showered and changed and having something to eat, we celebrated our Giro survival with a bottle of beer each on the three-hour transfer to our next hotel.
We didn't get to the hotel until around 10.30 last night so I didn't bother with massage and only had a small dinner before hitting the hay. There was a wedding or something on downstairs so loud music went on through the night, but I was so tired I just fell asleep anyway.
This morning I had quite a lot of time before starting this last day, a 17km individual time trial, so I packed up all of my stuff and spent my spare time just lying on my bed trying to rest.
We were staying just outside Verona, so we took the team cars to the start where I got ready quickly and rolled down the start ramp at 1.52 this afternoon.
Although there was still a time limit to get inside today, it was nice to be able to finish the race on my own terms. I just set a decent enough tempo and tried to enjoy the day and take in the crowds and the sunshine knowing that the suffering was over and this was the last day of the Giro.
After crossing the finish line 25 minutes 14 seconds later, I followed the road under an arch and into a pink-carpeted 2,000-year-old Roman amphitheatre. The carpet ramped into the centre of the amphitheatre, over the same floor where gladiators did battle in the Roman era and up onto a stage usually reserved for operas and rock concerts nowadays.
I waved as I was introduced to the crowd before continuing my ride onto the stage, past the singers and dancers performing for the crowds, around the screen behind them and out the back exit.
And that was it.
The Giro was finished and I was literally shown the back door, rode down a side street and back into real life again, where I haven't been for three weeks.
I had 5km ride to get back to the bus so I took it nice and easy, knowing it was all over.
After getting changed, I had a bit of time to talk to everyone and saying my goodbyes over a celebratory pizza and another beer.
Looking back on my Giro, after finishing the Vuelta a Espana a couple of years ago, I proved to myself that I can survive another three-week Tour. I think the team have been happy with our performance here. We've stepped up from the second division or pro-continental level and have been consistent here.
We were up there on every sprint day, Ruben had a day in the break and got fourth, Krists had a day in the break and got fifth. We missed a couple of chances but I think we can hold our heads up high and be proud of our Giro. I enjoyed the sprint finishes, where we tried to get Cimo a win but went away with a couple of top fives.
I also got a day out front in the breakaway while wearing the Irish champions jersey - which is something that doesn't come along too often, and it was good to have Cork rider Eddie Dunbar alongside me in the break that day too.
I only found out last night that while I was suffering in the grupetto on the mountains yesterday, Eddie had spent the hardest stage of this Giro out front in the breakaway. He was only caught on the final climb by the overall contenders' group and finished 19th on the stage.
Eddie is only 22 years of age and is riding his first Grand Tour. For any professional rider, the step up to Grand Tour racing is massive. Obviously they are longer and have more climbing and stuff but not many riders will do more than one Grand Tour a year so most of the guys here are the best riders in the world, are at their peak and are riding to their limit to get a result.
Despite all of that, 'Eddie boy' took third on a stage and finished 22nd overall, while also helping teammate Pavel Sivakov to ninth overall. I don't want to put pressure on him, but to be able to do that is pretty special and I think Eddie can win one of these one day.
For me, it's a good feeling to finish this Giro. There were a couple of times when I doubted if I could do it but a few things kept me going.
My uncle Roger got me into cycling when I was a kid. He was a semi-professional rider in Luxembourg and also raced on the British domestic scene.
He used to bring me out cycling with him and took me away to the Alps one summer and taught me how to ride a bike. Roger was immensely proud of his Irish heritage and I always looked up to him. He was a huge part of my life and I was devastated when he passed away three and a half years ago.
Thinking of him and how proud he would have been to see me ride through those Alps wearing the Irish champion's jersey in a Grand Tour got me through some of the tougher times on this Giro.
Leaving my girlfriend Stacey and our son Jesse, who was only born a few days before I left for this Giro, was tougher than the hardest day on this Giro though. Compared to that, no mountain was ever going to break me.
I wasn't going home without finishing this Giro for them and now that it's all over I can't wait to get home to see them.
The final rider hasn't finished today's stage yet but I'm already on the way to the airport and can't wait for my flight home. With me I have one bike box, one big bag and quite a lot of smaller ones, which I have to pack into the bike box before I check in.
Jesse was just over a week old when I left for Italy, now he's over a month old and although I've been seeing him every day on facetime, there's nothing like actually being there and holding him.
I'll meet them in Dublin tonight and we'll stay there before the trip back to Carrick-On-Suir tomorrow, where the drive will probably be punctuated by a stop at Avoca Handweavers. I'm already envisaging which cream bun I'm going to order.
After 3,547km of racing over 95 hours, 28 minutes and 38 seconds, I finished over five hours behind overall winner Richard Carapaz of Movistar. It's been a tough three weeks but for me, stage 22 starts tomorrow.
I'm not taking a break from Daddy duties to recover for a few days. I want to get stuck straight into the cuddles, the nappies, the bottles and the sleepless nights from the gun.
So if you're travelling on a Ryanair flight from Bergamo this evening and happen to see an overexcited, sleep-deprived, long haired, giant gobshite standing with a stupid grin on his face at the front of the boarding queue - two hours before it opens, that'll be me.