AIX EN PROVENCE, France (VN) — We made it off the island. I’m pretty sure if you were listening closely on Monday evening, you would have heard a collective sigh of relief from the entire Tour de France peloton.
No one knew exactly what fortunes starting on an island full of twisty, technical roads would bring, but we all knew that by the end of three days of racing there would be some surprises. When it was all said and done, it actually seemed that starting on Corsica, with stages 2 and 3 whittling the group down to less than 100 riders at the finish, made the racing safer.
Stage 3 was the day that everyone knew could cause problems for GC contenders, so it was raced like a one-day classic, constant fighting for position, countless close calls, small, twisting roads the entire day, save for the final few kilometers, and a lot more climbing than is typically seen in the first days of the Tour de France. While it caused a lot of stress for all of us racing, I’m told that the television images were second to none and I’m hoping that at the very least all of you at home enjoyed watching.
The moment stage 3 ended, everyone on my team instantly turned their focus to stage 4, the TTT in Nice. It was a stage we had targeted, and a day that we truly thought we could win. Our team puts a lot of time and energy into the event, and with the lineup we have here, we thought we might be able to pull it off.
I’ll be honest; the first three stages of the race felt big, bigger than any race I have done. However, I was still waiting for that feeling of “I’m in the Tour de France.”
Standing on the start ramp in Nice, looking at my eight teammates beside me, staring straight ahead through a wall of people on each side, the helicopters buzzing around above us, I finally felt like I was in the Tour.
I always find extra motivation for time trials and standing up there on the start ramp, it really hit me, just seconds before we took off, that I am here. The Tour is no longer a dream I am striving to turn into reality, but it’s here right in front of me and I will grasp every day the best I can.
There’s no perfect way to describe the experience of a TTT. It is a true test of a team and one of the few opportunities for spectators, especially the casual observer, to clearly see why this is a team sport. We fly along at 55-60 kph, inches behind our teammates, putting complete trust in the person in front of us. We dive into corners not seeing where we will come out, knowing that whoever is on the front will guide us through.
As the lactate builds in our legs, and the thoughts in our mind fade away, all that is left is an overwhelming urge to suffer. We know that suffering will equal speed, and speed might equal the win. Every member of the team knows that they have to finish spent. Domestiques and GC riders are equal; we all have to do the same job on this day.
At the end, we came up short. One of our directors said it best when he told us after the race, “I didn’t see 16 seconds worth of mistakes”. What he meant was, we were beaten by a better, stronger team. That is something we can accept and move forward from. We gave everything we had and it wasn’t good enough for the win on that day.
Yesterday, I think riders and spectators alike could feel that the madness of the Tour was back in full effect. Whether it was everyone having a day to recharge from the stress of racing in a nearly 200-rider peloton, or that everyone simply has extremely short-term memory and forgets the near misses of the first three days, I’m not sure. What I do know is that we have a lot of people here who take unnecessary risks and put us all in danger. Sometimes accidents are just that; other times, often times, they are avoidable. You could feel the nervousness on Wednesday. The fighting for position started early and didn’t let up. Ironically, the easiest part of the entire day as far as positioning was concerned was the final five kilometers.
With 15km remaining, the sound of carbon hitting the ground was clearly audible. It’s a terrible feeling, looking around, searching for your teammates, trying to figure out who’s there and who’s not, all while continuing to fly along at over 50 kph. The race waits for no one. It doesn’t matter if you are a potential winner or a rider no one has ever heard of, the ground treats all the riders the same, and the peloton shows no mercy. It’s a brutal sport and at times like that, I feel like we are gladiators and it’s survival of the fittest, or luckiest in many cases. We are thrown out there to battle with each other day after day until wills or bodies are broken and a hierarchy establishes itself. The mountains will sort that out, but we have to get to them first.
This race really is unlike any other. People know, and fear, the danger of the first week, and in order to contend for the overall, you have to make it through relatively unscathed. Personally, I like to take a moment to appreciate each day done, each box ticked off on the way to Paris, and remember to be thankful when I make it through a day without incident. Riders spend entire seasons preparing for these three weeks and it can all be taken away in an instant.
That is the beauty, and the curse, of this sport: the moment one day or one race is done, it is on to the next one. Very few people, even the winners, spend much time dwelling on what went right or wrong. The past is the past and here at the Tour, we’re more concerned with what’s to come.