GRENOBLE, France (VN) — Welcome to the Big Show, Matthew Busche.
Matthew Busche, 29, is riding his first Tour de France this year, and so far he’s had a proper French racing baptism: crashing, riding the breaks, getting moved out of the way, and soaking up a Tour rest day.
VeloNews caught up with the former United States road race national champion and Trek Factory racer at the team’s hotel.
VeloNews: First off, how’s it going? How are you doing?
Busche: Hanging in there. Had a few crashes, but I mean I got in the breakaway twice so that’s been exciting. It’s been an experience.
VN: It’s hard to contextualize what’s so different about it because you’ve done 1,000 bike races, but none quite like this. So what feels different?
MB: it just feels harder. I mean, for whatever reason, the tension is higher, and the race is harder. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if the speed is higher or what, but overall, just mentally and physically it’s harder. Long days. It’s harder to relax I think.
VN: Is it what you thought it’d be?
MB: I don’t think I had any preconceived notions of what the race would be like. I’ve heard about all the stress of the first week and I had my share of taking that on, but I made it here and hopefully now from here it’s less and going to Paris won’t be such a feat. But, these first 10 days have been pretty hard obviously outside of the crashes, just the race itself. The parcours hasn’t been easy, and the weather. It’s been difficult, so I’ll definitely remember it.
VN: Was there a moment where you out there rethinking the race? As in, ‘this isn’t for me?’
MB: There are definitely moments where I’ve been wondering what the heck I’m doing here — ‘I don’t deserve to be here. Why am I turning myself inside out to just try to hang on? How are these guys so much better than me? Are they not suffering?’ All of those thoughts are going through my head at some point, but I know everyone is suffering, so it’s just trying to fight it and make me stronger physically and mentally. A lot of these guys, they’ve done more than one Tour, so they know what to expect a bit more. It seasons you and weathers you mentally and physically, I think. I think when I come back for a few more of these I’ll be able to understand what I’m getting myself into a little more. I don’t know if I’ll enjoy it but it’ll still be a good experience.
VN: Has there been any hazing that’s been going on within your team or in the race itself?
MB: No, nothing here. I don’t know if guys really know who is on their first Tour since partly most of these guys are on their first year Tour. I guess if, on one hand, they don’t know who you are they haze you, but maybe in general it’s just the fact of the peloton. A guy like Fabian Cancellara maybe gets respect from anyone and can go wherever he wants, whereas a guy like me has to fight every position I have, so that’s probably amplified at the Tour because everyone wants to be at the front. So unless you’re a well-respected rider, it’s just unfortunately the pecking order.
VN: Do you feel like, because you get to ride the Tour de France, people back home will feel like, ‘This guy made it?’
MB: The public response has been incredible. I mean, I never realized how many people … knew what I was doing, but when this all came out that I was doing the Tour, everyone came out of the woodwork, and I’m very thankful and appreciative of everyone saying congratulations and offering words of support and encouragement. In one way, you could say, ‘Yeah, now that I’ve made the Tour its legitimized that I’ve made it,’ but on the other hand maybe it’s just the Tour is the moment where everyone was like, ‘This one deserves the extra support,’ or something.
VN: Guys define success differently depending who they are and what their ambitions are. For you, what’s a successful Tour?
MB: For the first Tour it’s making it to Paris. Coming here, my job and ambitions were to make it to Paris. Help Fränk, Haimar, and get in some breakaways and try to get a stage win. So far, I’ve been in all of those roles. There’s still 11 days of racing left — TT isn’t my day, Paris isn’t my day, so that would mean nine days of racing where there’s some opportunities for me. We’ll see.
VN: Is it fun?
MB: There are moments. In the race there’s a lot of tension and stress so that’s hard to be fun. But at the end of the day, being around the spectacle and getting to have the opportunity for sure is fun.
VN: How have you spent the rest day?
MB: Doing a lot of media stuff, catching up with people, interviews back home, trying to talk to my wife and parents, which I haven’t done either of those yet today, but that will be after dinner. Just trying to relax and rejuvenate a little bit and enjoy not having to ride, or not having to ride in the rain. If we had been able to ride in the sun today I think I would have been okay, but I was happy to give my butt a rest.
VN: Is it hard to stay connected? Wife, parents — is there a mental strain you go through because you’re so far away?
MB: Definitely. I mean, thankfully technology makes it a lot easier. Having iMessage or text message or whatever you have, Skype, that definitely makes it easier to stay in touch. It’s hard to even find time to call my wife five minutes a day. We message a lot but it’s not the same thing. She’s busy at home, I’m busy here.
VN: So not such a glamorous life outside of a suitcase, even if it is in Europe?
MB: No, not at all. I mean, I definitely will take it over an office job, but there are days where it’s hard being away from home so much and yeah. But you only do it while you’re younger and whatnot so it’s an experience I’ll have the rest of my life.