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Into the second rest day of this Tour de France and I have to say some fatigue is starting to settle in my body. I don’t believe I am the only one, either. The Tour is surrounded by such intense energy and excitement, which adds a whole other dimension of exhaustion I’ve never experienced.
I am still loving life on the Tour. In the last week we had three beautiful stages in the Alps. Something about mountain air just feels right to me. Maybe it’s growing up near the Cascade Mountains in Bend. The Alps feel a little like home to me.
The first two climbing days were refreshing. I found myself in the front group of select climbers until late in the race and was deep into the final to help Zak [Ilnur Zakarin]. They were stages I’ll go back and watch again this winter when I am inside on my trainer in Vermont. Then came Stage 12 and the 16,000 feet [4,800 metres] of climbing finishing on the famous Alpe d’Huez. With two strong rides behind me, I was eager to once again show myself late into the race on the renowned climb.
My first time racing up l’Alpe didn’t live up to my dreams. It’s romantic to see photos or to watch the iconic climb from the comfort of home – and not quite as charming to be there. I was dropped on the penultimate climb and by the time my group arrived at the base of l’Alpe d’Huez, I was ready for the day to be over. I did my best to embody the energy of the fans lining the road, yet both my mood and body were fading.
I finished Stage 12 with aches and pains I could barely isolate. My feet hurt from my shoes. My hands hurt from gripping the bars. My face hurt from the grimace I put on to push up the climb. I returned to the hotel, and something in my left bicep was twitching in spasms of confusion — am I still riding my bike?
I have to add that I was impressed by the boys at the front who still had it in them to race up the Alpe at the end of such a savage day.
Through the three stages in the Alps we lost two more teammates, Marcel Kittel and Rick Zabel, to the time cut. Being down to four riders — Zakarin, Pavel Kochetkov, Nils Politt, and myself — has made for a very condensed and tight-knit group. If anything, riding on with only half our starting team has made us closer. The four of us feel a bit like a band of brothers, left to fight on against the odds, and fight we will. It always amazes me how humans rise to the occasion when in a tough situation. So here we are as four.
We are still working for Ilnur, believing that he can finish inside the top 10. We all have our own chance at a stage win if it shakes out that way.
Days seem to pass ever quicker as I get deeper into the race with an engrained daily routine. Twenty-one days doesn’t sound like much, yet it’s amazing how quickly one can fall into a rhythm for that relatively short time. I know every day that I will be riding my bike with my team and some of the best riders in cycling; it’s simple. Wake up, crack the knees, a quick stretch/yoga series, personal business, start the electric Bialetti, Marshall shows up: Breakfast with Boz! Oatmeal and omelette for breakfast. No pasta, thanks. I don’t understand how the Italians (or anyone) can eat pasta for breakfast. Then I make my way to the bus, sign on at the start, race, shower, eat, massage, eat again and read myself to sleep.
The beauty of Stage 14 made me miss summers of old. Passing through the Gorge d’Ardeche, fans cheered us on from kayak and campsites on the cool river below. July for most of the northern hemisphere is for just that: camping, traveling, and relaxing. I have taken joy in seeing all the enthusiastic spectators enjoying their summers and cheering the Tour. When was the last time a rider in the Tour stopped for quick dip?
I have seen some parts of France that I probably never would have seen — places I want to come back to and visit. Down the road, maybe I’ll be back at the Tour as a spectator, cheering from a kayak as I hold a beer in my hand and soak up the sun. I’ve just whetted my appetite though; that may not be for a bit, time will tell.
For now, though, it’s on to the Pyrenees and Paris. I still have ambition here to try and make a breakaway when we hit the high mountains again. I am looking forward to arriving in Paris, a city I have never actually visited. I’ve been to lots of airports around the world, but don’t always have the time to truly enjoy many of the places where I race.
It’s a win for me, to arrive in Paris riding strong – despite expected fatigue – to complete my first Tour de France. I’ll ride for that, for a kiss from my fiancée, Gretchen, and a tall, cold beer post Champs-Elysées.