Editor’s note: This is the third of the regular diaries that Brent Bookwalter will be writing for VeloNews.com during the Tour de France. This is the BMC rider’s first Tour.
We’ve made it through the first nine days of this year’s Tour and I think everyone is breathing a sigh of relief. It’s clear the notorious first week, as well as the first couple days in the mountains, have taken their toll on the riders. The peloton is littered with bandage-covered limbs, and the grupettos have been made up of more than a few champions of the sport. After the especially intense and dramatic nature of yesterday’s stage, the rest day has arrived just in time. Our bodies are all tired and many of us are bruised, but it’s hard to dwell on that too long when you see your teammate pull on the yellow jersey.
Out on the open roads the past few days, it’s been easy to lose sight of where I’m at and what is the big picture of the sport. What I mean by that is that it doesn’t always feel like “The Tour.” After all, it’s still a bike race. More particularly it’s a bike race in which all the challenging elements of any other race are amplified (speed, nervousness, crowds, media, suffering), so it’s easy to get lost in this intensity. I began to think the main difference between the Tour and any other race was its capacity to crush your mind and your legs in a way like no other.
Then yesterday, I saw my teammate pull on yellow. The same jersey, the same color and same mystique that I’ve watched and wondered at over the years is now with our team.
In the past 24 hours that the yellow has been with the BMC Racing Team and on the shoulders of Cadel Evans, I’m learning more and more how special it is and how unique of an opportunity it is to be at the Tour de France, on a team with Yellow. My roommate for the Tour, Karston Kroon, has done this race no fewer than four times, with some very stacked teams, and has never had the experience to help a teammate defend the jersey. To think that in my first Tour de France I have the chance be part of a team with the jersey is something incredible.
Off the bike, I can’t imagine what Cadel goes through on a rest day while wearing yellow. The media and fan interest has been nothing short of mind-blowing throughout the past week, but yellow seems to take it to another level. Before we even got going on our ride, the team bus and truck were surrounded with eager reporters and fans who wanted to get a chance to see and talk to the man who is currently not only the world champion, but also now leading the Tour de France. Once on our ride it was more of the same as for the first 30 minutes. We were surrounded by motor bikes with photographers risking life and limb while riding in the lane of oncoming traffic to get a shot of the new Mr. Yellow. Add in a couple dozen cyclists tagging along who saw this rest day as a chance to “race the pros” and we were kept busy keeping it upright and getting out of town. Fortunately, our director called the masses off before long and we were on our way for a few mellow miles.
There’s no denying tomorrow is gonna be tough. We have our work cut out for us, but there couldn’t be a better inspiration than having your team leader at the top of the standings in the biggest bike race in the world. It’s been nice to have this day to sort of wrap my head around the idea. I can count the races I’ve done where the team had a overall lead on one hand. At the Giro, Cadel had pink for a day, but it was so early in the race.Riding early tempo on a flat stage in the first week I’m sure is different than trying to control things over a course like tomorrow with massive climbs such as the Columbiere and Madeleine. Having a guy like George Hincapie on the team, who has plenty of experience with such a task, is super encouraging and although I know it’s gonna hurt, I’m excited to get the next phase of this Tour on the road and see what we can do.