As summer draws to a close and autumn sweeps in, I've noticed a few changes develop in me over the last few weeks. Whether it's welling up at pictures of newborn children or saying farewell to teammates as they leave for new pastures, it's certainly been another rollercoaster month of emotions and experiences. Last time we caught up, I was about to start training for the Vuelta - my second Grand Tour of the year - but unfortunately, as you're probably aware, that race didn't go to plan and I was forced to abandon.
I turned up with a little bit of form, but in all honesty I was riding into the unknown and unsure of my fitness. In the prologue, I had really bad legs, but as the race went on I started to feel better and by the time Vaconsoleil's Borut Bozic won his stage, I was felling stronger.
However, the day after the time trial, I'd come down with stomach cramps and a fever. During the stage I was throwing up and I had no energy at all. I knew the writing was on the wall when I came down to breakfast that morning, but even so, I didn't want to give up. I struggled through the stage as far as I could but in the end when you're sick you're sick and it's better to stop than carry on and harm your body.
Mind you, the Vuelta wasn't all doom and gloom that day. In fact it was one of the happiest days I've had with the team. On the eve of the race we all knew that Stuart O'Grady's wife was expecting the couple's third child and at 3:00 am, the night before I pulled out, Stuey got the call from his wife: she was going into labour. That morning we came down to breakfast and were greeted to Stuey grinning from ear-to-ear and staring at a picture of mother and baby on his camera phone.
We all crowded rounded, patted him on the back and gave him our warm congratulations. It was all really emotional. Cyclists spend so many days on our bikes, suffering and away from our families and when moments like that come around, they really knock you for six. Fränk and I had tears in our eyes. The latest addition to the O'Grady clan is Taylor Grace and she's a beautiful, bouncing baby girl.
People always ask me what I dream of, what my greatest desire is. It's not winning the Tour de France, it's not even wining the Worlds or Olympics. It's hoping someday that I'm still healthy, that I'll have a nice wife and healthy children in my life. Okay, cycling is a part of my life, it's a job and of course I like it; it's a passion that burns deeply and drives me, but in reality it's just a small part of my life. As we crowded around Stuey that morning everyone shared that feeling. Maybe it's our bond as cyclists or just homesick men. I don't know.
But of course it wasn't long before we started to make jokes. We bought a robotic parrot and took it on the bus that morning. It records anything you say and had us in stitches as we listed to the director give his talk for the day. "I like" or "Stuey is a daddy again," came the robotic heckles as the directeur sportif looked around to see us cramping with laughter as he tried to give his instructions. At the end of the stage we gave the parrot to Stuey, who'll give it to his little girl when he sees her. It was great atmosphere in the team that day and it was a shame to leave.
I'm home now and resting up, hoping that I can still start training in a few days and kick start my Worlds preparation. I'm willing to race there but if it's not possible and I'm not 100 percent, then I won't travel. If I do go, it will be hard to beat guys like Damiano Cunego, Samuel Sánchez and Alejandro Valverde, who by then will have had three weeks of racing in their legs. Of course, they didn't do the Tour de France either, so they could also be a little fresher than me too.
But Luxembourg could have a really strong team in Switzerland this year. The only problem is that the three potential leaders are all out of form or recovering from illness. Fränk, my brother, is at the Vuelta and is soldering on with a dodgy knee, I'm at home sick and Kim Kirchen is recovering from illness, too. I heard last week that Kim has moved to Katusha. I hope that he has a great year next season. He's 31 now and with so many strong riders at Columbia, maybe it will be good for him to go to Katusha. Personally, I wish him all the best.
But the transfer mill has been in full swing now for a while now and riders have been moving teams for some time now. On the downside it's meant that we've lost one of our most liked and respected riders in Karsten Kroon, who has joined the ever-improving BMC squad for 2010. He let me know a few weeks ago that he'd signed for them and it came as a big blow for me personally.
Karsten is a great friend but at the end of the day money talks and there wasn't enough budget for him to stay with us. Over the years, he's worked his arse off for our team and been a tremendous ally in the Classics. Of course, at Amstel Gold I was there to try and help him win but in races like Liege, he was a real warrior for us. We'll definitely keep in touch, but Karsten, if you're reading this, thanks and best of luck. We'll all miss you.