Smashes, crashes and the start of mountain passes.
As cyclists we often get berated by the media for giving the answer, ‘I’m just taking it day-by-day’, but when you see what we’ve been through these last nine days of racing, it’s hard to be able to take the race any other way. On one of the crash-filled stages, I can’t remember exactly which one, there feels like there have been so many. I was sat at the back of the bunch, and I was chatting with another rider, and we just looked at each other and said, “What the f**k just happened?”.
The first few days of the Tour is like being inside a pressure cooker, you’re just waiting for it to blow. Everyone is fresh and there’s this window of opportunity for a number of different riders to pull on the yellow jersey, everyone knows that with each day that window of opportunity rapidly begins to close. Tie this scenario in with windy narrow roads and fans holding signs, it can sometimes feel like a disaster waiting to happen.
But, even though it can be dangerous with the fans there, it’s so nice to have them back. Their commitment to come and stand in the rain for hours does not go unappreciated, especially when I’m trying to haul myself over an alpine climb in the latter part of a stage, and everyone is thinking about the time cut, especially when you know Pogaçar is absolutely smashing it off the front. It’s surprising how hearing a fan shout your name can give you an extra couple of watts when you’ve been riding in the rain for hours.
Whilst we’re on the subject of Pogaçar, I mean, what can you really say apart from, chapeau. His ride on stage eight was something special. I didn’t really know what he had done until I got back to the bus, and then you realise how impressive it is what he did. You have just a few guys who are so talented, and above the rest. There are moments during this Tour where I’ve looked at myself and I think I’m doing alright, then you see them come flying past on climbs and you think, woah, I’m still a bit off that level.
I’m also impressed with the efforts of Van der Poel, my fellow Dutchman. What he did on stage two on the Mur de Bretagne was incredible. Everyone was thinking the same. Then also the way that Cavendish is getting back on the level he was before, that’s also pretty cool to see.
What has been hard to see, this last week, is our teammate suffering, like G has been. When he crashed it was a strange moment. We were kinda relaxed in the bunch, sitting there moving along, then all of a sudden we hit the speed bump, you go over it, then the next minute you hear bikes crashing behind you, and you just hope that it wasn’t one of us. When I looked back and saw one of our guys on the floor, that was definitely another, “what the f**k” moment.
When Castro and I waited for him to help him and Luke come back to the bunch, those moments you feel that camaraderie of working together, you just wish that it wasn’t for that reason. It’s tough seeing a teammate suffer, you do as much as you can to help, but I know that when I’ve had crashes you’re just busy taking care of yourself, you try to recover as much as possible, and in moments like that it’s hard to help them.
The rest day is welcome, that’s for sure. Basically, I always look forward to the rest day beforehand, then the day after the rest day, starting again is always hard. You have to get the motor running again, for some guys it’s easier than others, I’m the kind of guy who prefers to keep on going. It’s like when you’ve had a coffee stop on a ride, and you start going again, your legs feel dead, and that’s only 30 minutes. Imagine if you’ve had a whole day off, your body goes into sleep mode and trying to wake it up can be a challenge.
During the rest day it’s a moment where you have a bit of time to think ahead, and that means what is the best way to support Richie, a.k.a Billy. His racing is super inspiring, the way he loves to attack, to watch him race that way motivates me to go out there over the next two weeks and give as much as I can to help him. I feel like he’s only going to get stronger.
In the coming week there is another thing on my mind, the Mont Ventoux stage. Something to “look forward” to. It’s going to be a tough one, twice up Ventoux is never going to be easy. I’ve never ridden to the top of it, only twice halfway up to Chalet Reynard. The year that Froomey crashed and was running up it, the stage was shortened because of the wind, and the other time was in Paris-Nice and we finished halfway up. Hopefully they won’t shorten the stage again, it’s about time I made it to the top. Although, let’s not sugarcoat it, it's going to be horrible, but you know when you’re back on the bus you’ll think, “Ah it wasn’t that bad.”