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In the blink of an eye the Tour de France is over. A week and a half ago I rolled into Paris and finished my first Tour de France. We moved Ilnur Zakarin into the top 10 overall in the last week (he finished 9th) and, as a team, we set the race up for a very exciting and dynamic stage 19. You might have spotted me on the front there, right as the fireworks started. But more on that later.
It’s been a bit over a week now and I’ve had the time to reflect on what a journey it really was and what it truly meant to me. Like all fairytales, there is an end. It’s not a slow burn, either. The light just goes out.
For months, I diligently trained and looked after my health and diet. Then, with the flip of a switch that all turns off. I am done. I drink a beer or three and eat a pastry and the only time I spend pedaling is on a city bike for an hour.
The combination of necessary physical and mental relaxation after three hard weeks of racing in my legs throws my body into shock.
On the Monday evening following the Tour, I found myself out on Paris’s Velib town bikes with my fiancée Gretchen, my good friend Marshall, and one of CyclingTips’ writers, Caley Fretz, with a smile on my face… and legs so swollen and sore they felt like they were about to explode. As we rolled along the North bank of the Seine where families and friends gathered in the setting sun, I was purely there to soak up the sights, sounds and flavors of Paris.
We rounded our town bikes back up toward the Champs-Elysees. It took me a second to recognize where we were. Less than 24 hours after the completion of the Tour de France, and I couldn’t have felt further from the race. There I was, on the same road where hundreds of thousands of people gathered just the day before to see us, to see me, race. How quickly the world around us changes. Or moves on.
The Champs was re-opened to its daily hustle and I rode a city bike on the exact street where I had just finished racing. The very same corner where I finished my first Tour de France. No one knew me, no one asked for a photo. Like the switch that flips inside me when the race has finished, a switch had also flipped for an entire city. The Tour is over. For 300 days, the hype of the Tour de France lays dormant until the next year.
My season didn’t end at the Tour though. Wednesday I flew to Biarritz to return to training and to flip on the switch of focus again. Saturday I raced in the Classica San Sebastian before returning to Nice to prepare of the Vuelta a Espana.
The job, obsession, and drive never ends. I take breaks and let loose, and then before I know it, it all starts up again. For the last two weeks of the Tour, I was looking forward to unwinding and having a little vacation. Two days into the little vacation and I am eager to get back on my pony and chase the never-ending sunset.
About that last week of the Tour, though.
What a majestic and rough range of mountains the Pyrenees are. While wooden chalets pepper the Alps, homes made of stone embody the Pyrenees. The 65km stage 17 was exciting but never really kicked off like the promoters anticipated. At 200km with 4800meters of climbing, stage 19 was packed with action.
That action was undeniably initiated by us four riders at Katusha Alpecin.
Shorthanded and with something to prove, we took the race by the horns and set out a plan to send Zak on a long-range attack to climb the GC ladder and finish in the top 10. Nils and Pavel were to work early and keep the breakaway at around 3 minutes until the base of the Tourmalet. My role was to then string out the already tired bunch at the base of the climb and set up Zak to attack from the main group and ride across to a strong breakaway that had established up the road. The plan went off like clockwork, and at the end of the day Zak was up to 10th place. It’s stage I’ll save to watch during some winter indoor training.
Zak proved again on the stage 20 Time Trial is Grand Tour pedigree, finishing 7th on the stage and moving up another spot overall to 9th where he finished in Paris. It was a team performance, and I’m proud of it.
We came to the Tour wanting more, yet we left with something more valuable than any result. We left with full hearts. And we will be back at the Tour in 2019 with more perspective, more experience, more motivation to race.
And I will be back with more to prove as a new veteran of the Tour de France.