Another Day, Another Epic. Yesterday’s stage was a 204km monster through hot weather over a series of significant climbs, totalling about 4.5km (vertical) of climbing all up. The climbs were spread at the start and end of the race, with a relatively flat section through the middle of the day. Enormous by any standards.
The pre-start ritual of sunscreen, strapping tape, DZ Nuts application, etc was added to by a Dave Zabriskie play list from great movies of the 1980s, particularly Top Gun, Karate Kid and Beverly Hills Cop. To hear “You’re the best around” for the first time in decades was golden!
The race itself kicked off, with Quody (team physiologist) and I once again up the road to give out bottles to the boys. The hardest part of that job is finding somewhere to buy ice — the hotels we stay in often have two or three teams in the same place, all wanting 20kg of ice in the morning.
There is a limit to how much we can get at the start of the day, and it also melts in the seven or eight hours between picking it up and using it. Thus if we can find somewhere to pick up more, we jump at the chance.
The first such “chance” came about a little earlier in the race than we expected, and so we dutifully pulled over ready to get a stash of ice, but had to wait in quite a long queue. We were shifting from foot to foot, glancing at our watches, and just as we reached the front of the line saw an official car with a flashing light on top drive past.
We knew that meant the boys were only a couple of minutes away, and so had to run back to the car without ice. We thought it would be faintly embarrassing to be standing on the side of the road about 120km earlier than planned with ice in hand as the boys sailed past!
Once we did make it to our station on the Madeleine (a 25km mountain climb), having collected ice at a safer point in front of the race, we got to settle in and chat to the fans standing about waiting for the show to roll by. It’s incredible how many nationalities make an effort to come and watch the Tour.
As the race passed, we were able to see things starting to unfold — the break of the day was shelling riders, the peloton of big hitters was doing the same, with lesser lights starting to attack it. Our man Ryder was still going strong, mixing it with the best in the world, and then the boys who had been designated to help him rolled through a little later.
Our sprinter posse came through with the grupetto (a smaller bunch of riders who work together to make it through the mountain stages within the time cut). The whole grupetto looked to be hurting, what with the heat and amount of climbing they were doing. Anyone who thinks the grupetto is where the sprinters take a holiday on the stages they can not win doesn’t realise how hard those blokes have to work to stay on the safe side of the time cut.
Our final man on the road was David Millar, who was in a fair bit of trouble early in the stage, but had worked out the right tempo to continue on and get through the day.
To ride as far as he did on a day like that with no one else for company but the cars of our team director Lionel and the race officials was a feat of mental strength that I don’t have the words to describe adequately.
There was a worry that he wouldn’t get to the line inside the time cut, but being the wily old pro that he is, Millar timed things to perfection, squeaking in with a couple of minutes to spare.
That ride was yet another courageous performance in a race littered with them.