There were two things I didn't know when I woke up on the morning of 14th May, 2008 - First was that I'd be racing for the stage win, secondly that I'd end the day in the pantheon of all-time great bike throws. In fact, there's a third thing, I didn't even know there was a pantheon of all-time great bike throws - the top ten can be found here. and to add insult to injury the narrator refers to me as Robert Millar, which pretty much takes us full circle to an open letter I wrote to Pippa York during the 2017 Tour de France That was a fourth thing I didn't know at the time.
Belvedere Marittimo, 14th May, 2018
I was pretty chill before that days racing, so much so that I missed the roll out while sitting in the start village shooting the breeze over coffee with Max Sciandri. It was this delay that set off the chain reaction, pardon the pun.
I managed to tag back onto the very back of the peloton metres after the KM zero, which was good, bad, and soon to be ugly as the racing had already begun up front which meant the wave of whiplash was careening ominously towards me.
I resigned myself to my fate and got prepared for the inevitable roller coaster peloton rodeo that was about to begin, kicking myself for being so unprofessional while dutifully accepting my penance for being so stupid as to miss the start. Sure enough the peloton began to writhe and riders began to be unceremoniously dispatched from the line, yet much to my delight I was in total control and oddly enjoying the chaos of it all, cheerfully picking up positions and filling in gaps when and wherever they appeared. I began to realise I might be on one of my magic days that appear out of thin air, and so I figured I better mosey on up to the front and see what was going on, just in case, you know?
It's in this mindset that often the best things happen. I hadn't set out with any ambitions that day, I'd earmarked stages deeper into the race, so there were no expectations, and to be perfectly honest I was just happy that I hadn't totally missed the start, I already felt like a winner for making it back to the peloton literally as the race started.
By the time I got up to the sharp end of the peloton it was obvious that people were getting tired, there were repeated attacks not really going anywhere, and so I just waited a few more kilometres until everybody was totally wrecked then bided my time until a move broke free of the front and looked like it was going to stick before launching after it while making sure I took nobody with me. And that was it, I was in the break of the day after 17km of racing.
I was feeling pretty chuffed with myself, until I saw the 180km-to-go sign at the side of the road and recognised I'd made a terrible mistake, "What, the fuck, was I thinking?" Was what I was thinking.
It ended up being a hard day, medium mountain sort of thing. We had a strong five man break and we rode it hard with total commitment, so much so that the peloton gave up chasing us, and we were left to battle it out for the stage victory, by which point I was once again enjoying myself as I was quite sure I'd win the sprint, all I had to do was keep the group together. Which I did, repeatedly jumping after each inevitable attack.
Until the final one, the big one from Pavel Brutt that would set it all up for me as I just had to peg him and use him as my lead out, but that didn't happen, because when I launched to start chasing him my chain snapped and I pegged myself on my bike's top tube.
I was raging, all the physical force and mental strength I was channelling into smashing the final kilometre was exorcised with the jettisoning of my bike. I don't really remember it happening, what I do remember is all of a sudden finding myself standing in the road with no bike and no race and a few metres away a chain laying in a perfectly straight line on the road.
I went and stood against the barriers, quietly fuming, somebody tapped me on the shoulder from the other side, and quietly said, "Signore, vuoi la bici?" I ignored him, he gently lifted it over the barriers and placed it next to me. It was like a lover spurned.
I gave that bike to Max Sciandri. About a year later it was stolen from his garage. So yeah, if you ever come across at British National Champion coloured 2008 Felt, it's mine, and she can come home now. I'm sorry.
Luckily I picked up the chain, it's all I have left from that day, it sits inside a trophy on my books shelves in memoriam of what might have been.