Sorry it’s been a while since I’ve written but in races like the Tour de France it’s hard to find time to do anything but eat, sleep and race. You might think there’s 18 hours left in the day to do stuff while we’re not racing our bikes, but we’re constantly on the clock going from one place to another.
First up, let’s talk about the fans who run alongside us on the road during the big climbs of the TdF. I love their enthusiasm but seriously, when you’ve got a million people on Alpe d’Huez and many of them fuelled up with alcohol and running beside you waving a flag in a big superman costume, it’s just a matter of time before someone gets hurt.
It might look funny on TV, but when you have someone yelling obscenities (they’re not always cheering us on) then it’s not an easy thing to take. I think 90% of the fans are respectful and use their brains, but mix in a bit of alcohol and hate (yes, some of them actually seem to hate us for some reason), I’m genuinely worried for my safety sometimes. There are a lot of crazies out there and when you get hundreds of thousands of people on a hill, there’s bound to be a time when somebody tries to harm one of us.
We all think that at one time or another. There need to be more gendarmes controlling these guys. I feel like a circus animal getting poked just for laughs sometimes. It’s the last thing you need when climbing after 200km — even trying to stay in the groupetto is far from being easy.
But I do love the energy the fans bring to the race. Having them along the roadside is electric, and when I stop to think about it it’s quite humbling that they make the enormous effort to be there.
It seems that the media theme of this year’s Tour was all the commotion about the performance calculations and analysis of the top riders and the climbs. The whole thing about performance analysis and Froome not being clean was only a media driven story. I haven’t heard one guy in the peloton say a negative thing about Froome, and I haven’t heard a single person in the peloton suggest Froome isn’t clean. From the interactions I’ve had with him over the years he’s been a complete gentleman and his performances certainly haven’t come from nowhere.
Of course, somebody had to be the media whipping boy this Tour, and if it wasn’t Froome, it would have been someone else. I’m not sure anyone else would have done as good a job as him in handling it as he did.
In terms of this being a clean Tour, one thing I can say is that the style of racing has changed, even in the past five years. The previous generation of riders, who we all now know were dopers, would put in five or six attacks and then ride to the top of the HC mountain without even being out of breath. Now, you’ll only see a couple attacks and that’s it. Riders are coming past the finish line cross-eyed and completely destroyed now.
It’s important to keep this in mind when comparing this Tour to the ’90s and early 2000s. It’s much different to be riding a climb at threshold with only a couple attacks or responses in your legs versus what Armstrong and Pantani did. If you’ve ever ridden a bike and looked at your power meter to see what those types of efforts take out of your legs versus riding at constant threshold, you’ll know what I’m talking about. This is likely why some of the top climbers are setting times up the climbs that rival some of the fastest.
I’m no Team Sky fanboy but they sure copped it this Tour. They didn’t have the same Tour team as they did last year and we saw them $hit the bed on stage 9 trying to chase down everything that moved. They looked like a bunch of Labradors on a beach playing fetch with a tennis ball. That’s how they were riding it and they paid for it. Fortunately for them Froome was so strong or else they would have lost the Tour right then and there for being so impatient.
A lot of the stress and tactics at the Tour come from the politics of the peloton. If someone has a grudge from a previous race, that can affect how they race. For example the French teams don’t like to see Europcar doing well, others don’t like Garmin, some don’t like Sky and so on. And then there are the GC teams mixing it up in the sprints and the sprinters getting in the way at the base of the climbs. Grudges do carry on from one race to the next.
A good example during the Tour was Movistar and Belkin in the Vuelta. They were bashing team cars against each other during stage 13 after Valverde was dropped with the puncture and Mollema and Ten Dam were working the echelons in the crosswinds against him. That’ll be repaid with interest in coming races, so watch for that.
You could also see the Spanish Armada ganging up on Contador in the final stages. They’ve been living in the shadow of Contador for their whole careers and they finally had their chance to put the hurt on him.
The finish of this year’s Tour was quite the spectacle, even more so on TV from what I’m told. But let me tell you, hitting those cobbles at 50km/hr at dusk is not the “ceremonial parade” they make it out to be. It’s damn tough already and made even more difficult by barely being able to see in front of you with the sun going down.
However, after all the Grand Tours I’ve done it was the best atmosphere I’ve ever witnessed on the Champs-Élysées. Without a lap of honour this time it did seem a little anticlimactic though. After the podium presentations it was all done and everyone just seemed to leave abruptly without much of a celebration. Let me tell you though, we made up for it at the team dinner (which started at 1am because of the late finish) and party afterwards.
After spending over three weeks in the Tour de France bubble getting taken care of and sometimes treated like royalty (and not), I’m at home, picking up the mess I leave behind, mowing my lawn, doing the dishes and paying the bills. If those real-life things don’t bring you down to Earth straight after a Grand Tour, my wife certainly will. You have to change your attitude and habits quickly after coming out of that world!
Most of the riders headed directly to post-Tour crits the day after the Tour finished. Personally, the idea of spending another 10 days on the road after the Tour is the last thing I’d want. But I’ve done it before and it’s excellent start money — almost too good to say no to. Average riders get paid a couple thousand Euro for starting a race and someone like Chris Froome would be on €35,000 for a race start. Not bad for a couple hours of work.
These crits have a different vibe than the Tour and are obviously a lot less stressful. The organisers look after the riders quite well with good hotels, meals and go out of their way to make the riders feel welcome. We don’t travel with the team as such. Each of the riders usually go their own ways and do the crits that they’re invited to. Therefore there’s no team bus and entourage. Usually we just have one soigneur with us who gets our stuff ready and helps us get everything done so we just need to ride our bikes.
There are far fewer media requests at these crits but the fans are quite demanding — which is okay, because that’s the reason we’re being paid to be there. But having some drunk old man putting his arm around you with booze and cigarette breath and kids constantly stealing your bidons can get a little tiresome.
You’ll know this already but the post-Tour crits are completely fixed. That doesn’t mean they’re easy though. We still do our best to put on a show for the crowd. Part of the show is the fact that the organiser tells us before the race what the finishing order will be, who gets the sprint primes, who leads out who, who gets in breaks, and generally how the race will play out. But the day after Paris is always the funny one. Every last rider is hung over from the party on the Champs-Élysées and we always make a mess of it. It’s tough to get right even without a hangover!
In more recent matters, I was just reading about the French Senate report into the ’98 Tour doping that came out yesterday. I haven’t had a chance to completely digest it, but right now I think it’s a pointless exercise to be naming names. Everyone knows that most of the riders were on the gear back in the ’90s but the tests were far and few between and only a small portion of the riders were tested.
So what’s the use in digging this stuff out and naming names when all the riders weren’t tested? In saying that, I think it’s absolutely necessary to expose how widespread doping was in the 90s and early 2000s. Hopefully this information goes towards transforming the culture within cycling, which is why these investigations need to happen.
For you Australians, I see that Stuart O’Grady’s results from the 1998 Tour were labelled as suspicious and he promptly retired a year ahead of schedule. And now he’s admitted that he doped before that Tour. I don’t defend dopers, but I think you need to think about the times these guys were riding in before passing judgement. Is there any difference between him and Santambrogio? In a word, yes. Doing stuff like that nowadays is just not acceptable.
Speaking of past performance-enhancing methods, there are a lot of guys in the peloton who aren’t the riders they used to be only a few years ago. I won’t name names, but there’s a few elephants in the peloton who I’m sure you’re aware of. It astounds me that some are even Grand Tour winners. Should these guys be applauded for changing their ways now that we see they’re not the riders they once were? Well, I don’t think it was their choice really.
They’ve gained much of their success, money, and notoriety through doping, but now have a lot to lose if caught. Applauded — definitely not. I do find it interesting how the media were putting all the tough questions on Froome, who was winning, and no tough questions were being asked about some of the other riders who aren’t smashing the field like they used to. I guess that doesn’t make as good a headline for all those journalists who say they want to clean up cycling.
Of course we in the peloton suspect certain riders are doping. We see each other day in and day out, and when some unnamed French team who had some issues in the Dauphine takes the piss out of the rest of the peloton in previous years then is back to normal this Tour and riding with a little less panache, we have to ask the question.
We all 100% suspected Santambrogio and Mustafa Sayar (Tour of Turkey winner), but what are we going to do, call the UCI anti-doping hotline? Of course not. You might say that this means the omertà still exists, but where else do you see people dob each other in based on gut feel? How many of you have ever made a citizens arrest before, or even known someone who has?
Of course I want to compete on a level playing field, but I have confidence that the testing is doing its job when it catches guys like Contador and Schleck (Frank) for minute amounts of banned substances. These things don’t just happen by accident, and I trust that the testing is working.
It crushes me to to read the stuff anonymous commenters on forums write about me or my teammates, but I can see the irony of me hiding behind an anonymous pseudonym and talking about drug cheats. The difference is that I need this anonymity to have the freedom give you some insight into our world without repercussion. I hope you get that.
Until next time, thanks for reading. I’m going to have a few days off, enjoy my break, and then get back out on the bike. I hope you’re able to do the same this weekend.