PARIS, France (VN) — It’s finally all over. The barricades are long gone and the riders are off to various parts of the world before the next big thing.
But for three weeks in July, the riders knock into one another every single day, gentle, or not, reminders of a line, a wheel. And who better to ask about the experience of a Tour de France than an eyes-wide-open rookie?
VeloNews talked to Garmin-Sharp’s Alex Howes as he warmed up before the stage 20 time trial. He was about to do what he’d set out to do.
VeloNews: How are you?
Alex Howes: Good. I’ve actually come around in the third week. Feeling good.
VN: Physically, what’s it felt like?
AH: I think more than anything it’s mental. You know doing anything for three weeks is a long time. And you know, I feel like 17 days, you get up, you have your oatmeal, put your shorts on. And you say, “We’re still doing this. Still doin’ it.” So OK.
VN: It’s a bit like Groundhog Day.
AH: It’s very much like Groundhog Day. Just the same routine every day. Dialed in like that. It wears on you a little bit. But physically it’s been pretty trying. To be honest, when you go back and you look at the numbers from all of it, you don’t really comprehend that you did that. It’s like, “Did I do that?” I guess I did.
VN: What’s your routine? You wake up in the morning, etc. Take me through it.
AH: Get up. Throw your bag out, because you’re usually switching hotels. Then you stumble around. Get some water. Use the bathroom. Get out. Go get some food. Usually end up eating about 10 times as much as you want to. And then, maybe you have a minute or two to drink some coffee. Maybe you jump on the bus. If it’s a long transfer, try and take a nap. If it’s not super long, try and wrap your head around doing some bike racing. Then show up, get the music going. Have some more coffee. And clean your shoes off. Clean your glasses and helmet for the next day from the day before. Get some food. Go sign in. And get ready to go to war.
VN: Is that what it feels like — the brutality of the mountains. Is there a point when you say, “This is not for me. I’m going to go become an English teacher?”
AH: You definitely have your moments. There’s times when you think that this is the best thing on earth. And there’s nothing I’d rather be doing. And then there’s times when you’re like, “This is so stupid. This is so hard. This makes no sense. I’m flying down this mountain. I got spit all over my face. I’ve just like been digging so deep over that last climb. Flying down this hill totally naked. I’m freezing cold. I hate this.” And then there’s times you’re just like, “This is great, I’m the man. This is rad.”
AH: It’s almost like a hard Tour stage packs in an entire spectrum of emotions in one day, one ride.
AH: 100 percent. Just yesterday [stage 19], big example. We start the stage. I was gung-ho to be in the breakaway. And we’re sniffing, sniffing, sniffing. Tom [-Jelte Slagter] drew the card and I didn’t. I was pretty pissed. Really wanted to be up there. So that kind of put a damper on my morning. Then the rain shows up and I’m like “Ugh.” … Then it starts dumping rain. Riding along in the crosswinds in the rain. Can’t see anything. “Why do I even want Tom to finish the Tour de France? This is stupid, this sucks.” Then we turn it on for the final, get all the boys together. Like, “All right, we’re one unit and this is cool.” And then we win the stage and it’s like, “Ahhhh this is amazing. You totally forget about that hour and 20 minutes and it’s like, “I’m just going to get off my bike, get in some car, and go back to America.”
VN: Do you feel famous? You rode the Tour. People notice.
AH: I don’t feel famous.
VN: You look famous with that hair.
AH: Well, yeah. You certainly get some recognition. But I think I’m a long ways from being a celebrity. I’m no Ramunas Navardauskas.
VN: Is this race more nuanced than we can see on TV? We can only know so much without being in it.
AH: Yeah. There’s a lot of subtleties out there. There’s a lot of old grudges. There’s a lot of new grudges. And I think especially at the Tour. You really go no friends out there. This race more than any other I’ve noticed is kind of kill or be killed.