Girona Notes: No Tour for Some

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The Tour de France is the focus of the cycling world in July but naturally every professional rider wants a chance to ride the world’s best-known race. Those on the sidelines in Girona, Spain, watch with interest or continue preparing for other events in the calendar.

It’s like not being invited to the party everyone’s talking about; the media hype, the team press releases and meetings and the banter of colleagues all make the Tour de France the ‘place to be’ in July, and not competing in the event can get some riders down whilst others kick on with the business of being a pro.

Whilst some Girona’s residents, such as Christian Vande Velde and David Zabriskie of Garmin-Cervélo, RadioShack’s Levi Leipheimer and HTC-Highroad veteran Danny Pate are battling a nervous peloton, massive crowds and searing temperatures throughout France, their colleagues are cheering them on from the air conditioning of McKiernan’s, the city’s Irish pub…

Remembering my penchant for the haunt from my previous post, it’s needless to say I’ve spent some time in that establishment during this year’s Tour de France with Philippe the Belgian, who plans the travel arrangements for Garmin-Cervélo’s riders and staff and doesn’t mind the odd pint or three.

One of the guys ‘on the sidelines’ is Chris Sutton, who wasn’t included in Team Sky’s roster for the Tour but instead rode the Tour of Austria in the first week of July. After that he’s been supporting his boys as they battle the elements and the madness in France.

“Sometimes we’ll all try and catch up and watch a stage of the Tour if it’s an interesting one in the mountains,” Sutton told me before heading off to Austria.

“It was going to be a great Tour for Wiggo – he had pretty good form for a while and he just kept getting better,” added the Australian sprinter. “He’d been training hard and working closely with Shane Sutton [Chris’ uncle – ed.], who is good for him because he’s the kind of coach who’ll be on your case.”

Wiggins, another Girona resident, enjoyed a stellar start to the Tour, finishing high in the rankings on the opening day before backing it up with third in the team time trial in Les Essarts. Luck evaded him just days later when he crashed and broke his collarbone, although it had seemed that the Briton was destined for a possible podium place in the year’s biggest race.

Sutton said that while he’d love to be competing in France, the focus was on Wiggins and that means his prowess in a sprint finish isn’t a priority.

It meant that the likes of Kiwi teammate Greg Henderson and experienced Australian Mat Hayman weren’t selected to ride the Tour; whilst not all take Sutton’s philosophical approach to non-selection, he says that in general most realise that a 25-man roster doesn’t always fit into a nine-rider Tour squad very well.

“I wouldn’t say anyone’s pissed off [about not riding the Tour] because you have a look at the calibre of riders in our team and they put the best ones in the squad for that race. They knew what their job was – to support Wiggo,” Sutton explained.

“With Wiggo [riding well before the Tour] they had a few GC riders – climbers and the like to protect him in the mountains – so it was always going to be tough to break into the team.”

“You have a look at his [Wiggins’] form in the Dauphiné… The guy’s a phenomenal athlete and he’s having a lot more fun this year, you can see it. After last year, when he felt the pressure after getting to the Tour, there’s been a massive change in Brad this season. He’s so much more relaxed and enjoying the racing.”

After Wiggins’ departure Rigaberto Uran stepped into the team’s GC leadership and proved himself more than useful in the three stages throughout the Pyrenees; just like the riders left back home, there are times when sleeves need to be rolled up and work continue.

Regardless, the disappointment of missing a place in their team’s roster for the race is more accentuated for some as the race takes centre stage in the cycling calendar. Most of the professionals in Girona tune in to the coverage each day from France when they’re not preparing for events such as Brixia Tour in Italy or the Tour de Wallonie in Belgium, however.

Or there are some such as Rabobank Dutch duo Steven Kruijswijk and Dennis Van Winden, who travelled to an altitude camp in Switzerland during the Tour in preparation for the Vuelta a España, the year’s third grand tour. So while all the excitement and hype may be focused on France this July, the business of being a bike rider continues for those in the cycling haven of Girona.

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