How do the legs feel? That was the big question at the start of this 96 kilometer stage with 2700 meters of climbing. The Mortirolo and the bad weather had taken their toll yesterday, but of course that also affected our opponents. After a short section through Aprica and a neutralized descent of 7 kilometers, the legs could immediately start climbing the Passo Di Santa Cristina. With an average gradient of 10%, this was not an easy e climb but immediately a climb to set the legs on fire. The feeling was good and after the climb we were rewarded with a wonderful 25km descent.
Today's goal was to defend our 5th place in the standings. Yesterday a Belgian team had caught up with us by 7 minutes and was now 6th at only 1 minute 50 from us. We felt their hot breath on our neck. So it was important to keep an eye on these guys and not give them any space. In the first few kilometers of the next climb, the Passo Vivione, we were in a group with the numbers 3, 4, 6 and 7 of the classification. So it was the right group. There was a steep climb of 20 kilometers and we had to do everything we could to stay in the group. At the back, the Canadian team (7th in the standings) had to drop out. The fantastic scenery we rode through completely passed me by due to the concentration and effort. Fortunately Andries had enough in reserve to pull me through and also to take the occasional photo.
At the top, Andries would get water and I would ride on to recover for the final climb. But our Belgian opponents had other plans. In the descent they went on the attack and I had to do everything I could to keep up with the group. We went so fast that we even caught the team that was riding in 2nd place. Now I was in a group with 3 Belgian teams, numbers 2, 3 and 6 of the GC. After about 5 kilometers the calm returned and not much later Andries could join us again before we started the final climb, the Passo della Presolana. A short climb of 7 kilometers where I saw to my despair at least 3 times a sign of 14%!
After 2 kilometers of climbing I heard a Belgian rider dropping. I grinned and immediately got more morale. One Belgian team dropped 2 more to go! But this last climb was too steep for me. Andries went all out but his body also started to crack and we had to let go. At the finish we lost 39 seconds to the number 3. Nevertheless, we were very happy with our 4th place today. Especially when we saw that we had put the Belgian team behind us at a gap of over 2 and half minutes. With that, we secured our 5th place in the standings.
With 118 kilometers and 3200m+, this is the longest stage of this Tour. The stage started right from the start with the 5 kilometer long Passo della Presolana. So we were glad that our hotel was about 10 kilometers from the start. This allowed us to warm up the legs on our way to the start.
After the Passo della Presolana there was a short easy climb to the Croce di Salven before we could descend for 20 kilometers to the foot of the Passo Croce Domini. This climb was of a different caliber. With its 24 kilometers, it was of the hors category. We were in a nice group that rode up the mountain pretty hard. A bit too hard for me and because we didn't see a direct competitor for the classification we decided to let this group go and climb at our own pace. One hour and three quarters of solitary climbing through an enchanting landscape. We had no idea what position we were in in the race.
At the top, we filled our water bottles and dived into the descent. We picked up some riders so we could ride the last 30 kilometers in a group to the finish. We hoped that these riders would want to join us at the front. But in vain. When Andries started to drag at the head of the race, 5 of the 8 riders were dropped after 30 minutes. He was clearly the strongest of our group and I was working hard in his wheel. The three of us rode the last kilometer 12% uphill to the finish.
Once we crossed the finish line we still had no idea what our position was. I did notice that there were quite few riders left. We were therefore totally surprised when team CycloWorld was called to the podium. 3rd in the stage and also moved up to 4th in the general classification. Tired but very satisfied we went to sleep to be able to start fresh for the last stage.