June 15 -- Stage 7: Individual Time Trial Gossau (34.3km)
Time trials have been my downfall in stage races for the past few years and today I just tried to stay focused on the task in hand without getting too stressed out.
Racing against nobody but the clock is a specific art and there are only a handful of riders -- such as Fabian Cancellara, Tony Martin or Bradley Wiggins -- that can possibly hope to win an individual time trial.
For me, though, today was not about trying to beat Cancellara at his own game, it was about trying to beat, or even stay close to, some of the guys that began the stage around me on the general classification. If Cancellara took five minutes out of me it didn't matter as he will be dropped in the mountains tomorrow, but I knew I had to try to stay close to Frank Schleck, Roman Kreuziger, Mikel Nieve and Thibaut Pinot in the 39km test.
This morning when I woke up, I went down for some bread and a coffee before going out for a 45- minute ride on my time trial bike just to get the feel of it again.
I then rode back to the hotel, showered and got ready for the drive to the time trial course where I got changed again and spent about an hour and 20 minutes riding the course itself, deciding what gearing to use and which line to take in the corners.
Afterwards I had a bowl of pasta on the team bus and chilled out for an hour before changing and warming up for the stage.
I much prefer warming up on the road to the home trainer, but because we're always based in big city centres I never get to do it on the big races like the Tour or the Vuelta. But today we were in the middle of nowhere so I stuck my earphones in and listened to U2's 'Live from Paris' album as I rode up and down the local roads.
The course itself was beautiful but very demanding and for those technically minded among you I rode a top gear of 54x11 and a lowest gear of 42x21 with Reynolds Razor 92mm wheels which were proven faster than a disk wheel on our recent trip to the wind tunnel.
I didn't want to go full gas from the start because I usually have good intermediate times and then die a death at the end, so I tried to keep a steady pace. I soon got my heart rate up to 175bpm and tried to keep it there for the 48 minutes and 48 seconds it took me to complete the course.
After five kilometres of flat there was a proper 6km climb of around eight percent. They used it for the old Grand Prix Zurich years ago and it was pretty hard. In an effort to sit down and spin the legs rather than drag the bike over the top, I used a 42x19 on the climb as my directeur sportif Stephane Goubert yelled at me through the megaphone mounted on the roof of the car.
Stephane raced with me only last year and he was pretty good today, reminding me to change gear if he saw me labouring or spinning too easily. When we analysed things after the stage, he said that I've been told so many times not to use such a big gear in time trials that I've almost gone the opposite and am beginning to use gears that are too small for me. It's a fine balance but I feel like things are moving in the right direction.
After the main climb there were a lot of corners and rolling roads with a final 10km that required a lot of power to push a big gear to the finish.
Although I only finished 44th on the stage, two minutes and 12 seconds behind surprise winner Fredrik Kessiakoff, who managed to beat Cancellara by two seconds, I was happy enough. But while I did a good time trial for me, unfortunately some of the other GC riders, like Schleck, Kreuziger and Robert Gesink, had a great time trial today so I lost a bit of time to them.
Although I dropped 10 places to 15th overall, a minute and 52 seconds off the yellow jersey of Rui Costa, I'm only half a minute outside my goal of a top 10 overall. It's going to be very difficult to get back into the top five but a top 10 is realistic and I'd love to finish somewhere around sixth or seventh.
It's hard to predict where I can finish on the Hors Category climb to Arosa tomorrow, but I have to be with the top guys on the last two mountain stages and need a good performance.
As I was the last rider off from the team in the time trial, and I also went for a little warm-down afterwards, all of the other guys had already gone in the team cars and I'm left in the bus with Stephane and our grumpy bus driver Bon Bon. As usual, Bon Bon has provided us with some entertainment this week.
He's been caught by speed cameras twice and now we've missed the turn for the motorway and are stuck in traffic in the middle of Zurich. I don't think he'll be adding any speeding tickets to his tally today.