The start of today’s 71km (2,055m climbing) stage went back to being farcical. Priego de Cordoba have obviously paid a fair bit to have the race come through the town and wanted to show us every little street there was. Riders were far calmer than previous stages, but the route was just stupid, especially as after 4km of stupid back streets we came back past the start point, then up a nice big hill to string things out.
When we hit the dirt roads and the racing got underway I was in a fairly good position, among teams that I have got to know that are near us overall. It was very fast for the first 25km, on undulating dirt roads. Being in a group was crucial, so I pushed hard to make sure I stayed put. After 25km we hit the first feed station, but unlike previous days where I have met Milton there was no sign of him, so I just had to keep pushing on alone. After 30km we started the first long climb of the day and the big group I was in started to split up. I managed to stick with the faster riders until near the top where I slipped off.
Reaching the top there was a flat, fast section into the wind where I tried to regain contact with the group. Finally it got technical, first down then flat but rocky but I managed to catch and pass the group of 10 or so riders as they all struggled when it got rough. Then there came a really long, rocky and fun downhill. I managed to pass several teams on the way down, although it was very narrow and difficult to pass in places. Reaching the bottom, 47km in I grabbed a bottle and frustratingly still no sign of Milton. I pushed on alone again, up a steep singletrack climb and then onto a road climb where I finally caught glimpse of Milton ahead. I caught him up and another 4 riders behind caught on and we pushed on as a group of 6. In the distance I could see Gareth Montgomerie and Dave Henderson, perhaps a minute or 2 ahead. I needed to take it steady, but Milton wanted to push the pace and took the front. I struggled to stay on the back.
We reached the top and passed the final feed zone and timing point where we were only 10 minutes behind the leaders. We finally hit some more technical terrain where we pushed the gap open again, this descent was loose, tight and again rocky. Somewhere along we took a wrong turn, ending up in a field of sheep. We looked around, there was no sign of the course. Milton wanted to go one way, I wanted to go back the way we came. Eventually after about 5 minutes of standing around deciding what to do we caught sight of riders in the distance and headed that way. When we eventually got back on course we had lost loads of places, at least 10-15 teams had passed us. The descent continued and we were able to get passed a few more, but it was so tight in places it was almost impossible to get by.
Reaching the bottom Milton was obviously keen to push on, but I was getting tired and couldn’t keep the pace. We hit one last horrible steep dirt track climb and I was in smallest gear really pushing, but Milton was off on his own again. Another 5km of undulating tracks to the finish where Milton was waiting. I crossed the line after 3hrs 34min total time, which placed us 22nd. We are now sitting in 17th place overall, dropping just one spot. Tensions were running pretty high as we crossed the finish line, but later in the afternoon we had a chat, cleared the air and we both understand that we need to ride as a team if we want to do well. Milton wants me to be more aggressive in the neutralised starts and near the beginning of the race. Hopefully I can do that, in return I want him to ride the race with me, at least from the first feed zone onwards and understand I can’t ride as he can. Tomorrow is another day, a big day.
Take a closer look at Matt’s performance on stage 3 through Garmin Connect: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/153716062