DOL DE BRETAGNE, France — The last time you all heard from me, the team time trial had just ended and we were getting ready for the first mountain stages of this year’s Tour. Now, the Pyrénées have come and gone, the first rest day has passed, and Wednesday’s individual time trial provided a clear indication (if it wasn’t clear already) of who the potential winner of this year’s Tour might very well be.
There’s so much that happened in those days so I will take you through what I, perhaps with an obvious bias, consider the highlight: Sunday’s explosive stage in the Pyrénées. That day saw my teammate Dan Martin take the win and it gave me a firsthand view of why the Tour de France is really the greatest, and most difficult, sporting event in the world.
It all started with a plan. A seemingly crazy, semi-delusional plan that was based on the belief that our team could single handedly turn the world’s biggest race upside down. It had been pitched to us by Jonathan Vaughters several days prior and to be honest, we all laughed a little bit. After Saturday’s stage, where we witnessed a dominating performance from Chris Froome and his Sky team, we weren’t laughing anymore.
We don’t have a clear favorite here and after Ax 3 we were all silenced, by the simple fact that Chris Froome is the best stage racer in the world. It became clear that it wouldn’t be possible to beat him whenever the road went up unless we did things in a rather unorthodox matter.
I’m of the personal opinion that when the Tour de France directors came up with Stage 9 in the Pyrénées, they were hoping and praying that the race would play out as it did. Which is to say, they were hoping for carnage. I still haven’t seen the stage in its entirety, but I am told it was some of the best bike racing seen in years, and thankfully they showed the entire stage in the U.S.
It could have been a boring death march, with teams resigned to the strength of Sky and afraid to attack. Instead, the mentality of one team, our team, changed everything. From the moment the white flag dropped, every single one of my teammates laid themselves out on the line, without fear of missing the time cut, without a single thought for their own well being, all with the blind belief that something good would come of it.
While I suffered a small bit of personal hell when I started to come unraveled on the fourth, and penultimate, climb of the day, Dan was looking fine. As I came completely unglued on the fifth and final ascent before the downhill run-in to the finish, I could hear everything happening at the front over the radio delivered by the voice of Charly Wegelius, blow by blow.
It’s an interesting experience, dragging myself up a mountain at the end of a day that saw me produce power numbers I have never before seen in my life. This race is once again helping me to expand my own pre-conceived limits. We place limitations on ourselves from past experience, from what we think we are capable of, and sometimes we need to see those limits smashed to pieces before we can grow and move forward. That was Sunday for me.
It was a wonderful bit of solace hearing Dan attack, listening as Charly told him the gap was growing, hearing some crackling over the radio and then crossing the line and finding out that Dan did what he does best, which is to say, win big.
I say win big, not simply win, because there is a difference. Lots of riders win races, and lots of them are forgotten. I mean no disrespect by that, but the manner in which a rider wins is just as important as the win itself. Few do so in the manner that Dan does on a regular basis.
Every time he delivers, it is never in a traditional way. He never waits for the uphill finish and simply tries to hang on. It’s not in his nature. Sunday he showed the world the same class and panache he has on multiple occasions this year. First winning Catalunya with a daring breakaway, then Liege in dominant fashion, and now a stage at the Tour. I love racing with Dan for the simple fact that you always know something exciting will happen.
Garmin-Sharp has never been a traditional team. From the beginning, they wanted to be different, and I think it is safe to say they have succeeded, on all levels. I say “they” because while I now get to reap the benefits of being part of this team, I cannot pretend to be responsible for what the senior riders on our squad have created. They wanted to change the culture of this sport, and while there is still work to be done, I would say they have succeeded. From our often argyle-clad leader, Jonathan, down to the very last rider and staff member, we all take pride in being a part of this organization.
In my first entry, I told you that I hoped bringing you inside my own race would help to restore your belief in cycling. When Dan Martin won on Sunday, there was no clearer demonstration that this sport has changed. It was a victory not only for our team, but for all of you, the fans. Any of you looking for a reason to believe in what we are doing out here in the French countryside need look no further. Over the next 10 stages, into the Alps, up the climbs that I dreamed of racing up just a few years ago, we will all do our best to continue giving you something incredible to watch.