Wednesday 26 June 2019

Conor Dunne's Giro d'Italia diary: 'You get the same eejits who ride too hard at the beginning of the climb'

Sunday May 26: Stage 15: Ivrea to Como (223km)

Irish Road Race Champion Conor Dunne descends into Como on Sunday May 26 stage of the Giro D'Italia
Irish Road Race Champion Conor Dunne descends into Como on Sunday May 26 stage of the Giro D'Italia

Conor Dunne

We had a nice hotel in the mountains last night and, after suffering with my back throughout the day, the staff worked really hard on me for about two hours - with my usual post-race massage by Paulo followed by a visit to the team osteopath Paula in an effort to get me ready for more hills today.

They both worked on loosening up my back and hamstrings. Some more stretching after dinner meant I went to bed a little bit later than usual but it was worth it to get the work done and I slept like a baby.

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I did some more activation and stretches on the bus before the start today and thanks to Paulo and Paula I felt a lot more comfortable on the bike and was able to put the power down when I needed to. I was really happy about that.

With a flatter start followed by a mountainous finish, I think everyone thought today would see a big breakaway group go early and stay away to the end but it didn't turn out exactly like that.

Dario Cataldo of Astana and Mattia Cattaneo of Androni Giocatelli-Sidermec went clear as we approached an uncategorised 5km-long climb after just 8km of racing. With everyone trying to join them up the road, it was eyeballs-out all the way up. Expecting the worst and a bit tentative as to how my back would perform once we started climbing again, I started at the front of the bunch so that I could give myself some sliding room on the way up.

I eased over the climb about 100metres off the back and regained contact on the descent. The two escapee's teams tried to block the road at the front to allow them some leeway but my Israeli teammate Guy Niv managed to squeeze out and give chase after a few minutes. Unluckily for Guy he got stuck in no man's land for about 10 minutes, dangling just 18 seconds off the back of the two leaders before some more counterattacks from the bunch saw him closed down.

Once Guy came back to us the bunch just settled down and we rode quite an easy tempo, for which I was so grateful. We had about 150km to the first categorised climb of the day so everyone seemed to take a breather as the two leaders began to build up what became a maximum advantage of 16 minutes.

For the first 50km we had typical Irish weather on the Giro, sunny one minute and raining the next, but the sun came back out for the second half of the stage so it was pretty chilled in the bunch - until Simon Yates' Australian squad Mitchelton-Scott suddenly started riding hard on the front after about 140km. They were absolutely smashing it and the sudden acceleration meant there were a lot of grimacing faces riding in their wake.

With the first big climb of Madonna del Ghisallo coming 20km later, everybody was just hanging onto their coat-tails and waiting for the grupetto of heavyweights and non-climbers to form once we started going uphill.

As it happened, the grupetto inadvertently formed on a little descent leading into the Ghisallo. It was so annoying. It didn't feel that fast but I think fatigue added to the whiplash effect of cornering on a fast descent saw gaps open between the wheels, leaving a big group of us out the back before we even got to the climb.

It didn't really matter to be honest, most of us in the group were just waiting to get dropped on the way up anyway.

The last two days in the mountains have been horrible but the climbs today weren't as steep and I could get a nice rhythm going on them. But there is always someone in the group who is having it worse than you. Today it was my teammate Krists Neilands.

There's been a bit of a head cold going around the team for the past few days and it's affected different riders in different ways. Ruben, Awet and Krists' seem to have gone to their chests and Krists was really suffering today and I felt sorry for him, barking up phlegm as we climbed.

There were still about 60km to go but we had loads of time to make it inside the time cut so there was no real panic in the group. Still, you get the same eejits who ride too hard at the beginning of the climb and cause splits in the grupetto on the way up.

Our Latvian road race champion was in a really bad place today and was just off the back of the grupetto on the climb. I knew it was touch and go whether he'd finish if he got dropped so I just eased up a little and rode with him to make sure he was safe in the group by the top. We had Ruben, Awet, Cimo, Guillaume and Guy there too so we tried to nurse him to the line between us.

If it was any other race Krists probably would have abandoned today. You can't recover from illness when you're riding your bike for six hours a day but at least tomorrow's rest day gives him a bit of a chance to get back before the final week starts.

Again, there were plenty of Irish supporters on the roadside and it's nice to hear the Irish voices shouting. Thanks especially to the Lakeside Wheelers club from Mullingar who were going mental on the last climb cheering me on. By the top we had about 50 riders in the grupetto, most of them the same old faces that have been there since we entered the Alps.

The descent down into Como was nice today - a fun downhill with pretty spectacular views of Lake Como in the background. After that we could afford to take it a bit easier on the final third category climb with 15km to go, finishing 37 minutes behind stage winner Cataldo - who crossed the line with just 11 seconds remaining of his earlier 16 minute lead over the peloton.

Everyone is tired now but as we make our way to the next hotel, morale is high with tomorrow's rest day to look forward to. We know we can unpack our bags for the day and have no racing to worry about as we go to sleep.

I'll have some more work done on my back tonight and hopefully with the rest day tomorrow I'll have time to get it sorted again before we hit the rest of these mountains.

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