The only days of a Grand Tour in which time moves faster than on rest days are the days before the race, and nowhere is that truer than at the Tour de France. It's now the middle of the afternoon on the last day before the race, and it's the first time I've stopped moving in three days. For that matter, last night was the first since the trip began that we got a full night of sleep.
Owing to the fact that this is not my first time here, none of this comes as any surprise. The Tour de France is The Big Show, after all. Between training, interviews, photo shoots, dialling in new equipment and team presentations, there isn't a lot of time left to relax. Throw in a couple of early mornings to drive to a decent location for team time trial practice, and the pre-race anti-doping controls, and we're tired before the race even starts! Thankfully the schedule was front-loaded, so we could take today easier.
I'm getting a bit ahead of myself, though: how did I even come to be at the Tour de France?
I've known for quite some time that the Tour was a possibility. I managed to finish the Giro-Tour combo last year in support of Tom Dumoulin, and the team time trial here would take on extra importance this year, given the lack of individual time trial kilometres. So when Tom abandoned the Giro after his crash and I went all-in for the final time trial, I also had in the back of my mind that an easier Giro would pay dividends in France, should my services be needed here.
By now you have seen how that final time trial went for me. The victory was one that resonated with viewers around the world, and the response was overwhelming, as I wrote in my last blog. I needed to get away and unplug for a bit, so my wife and I took a mini-vacation to Mallorca, where I could ride new roads as I dived back into training, and then relax with her at the beach afterwards.
I was still on the bubble for Tour selection, but I needed to train as if I was going. It's a state of mind that I did not enjoy, if I'm honest. To be half-way through a set of intervals and asking myself, "Am I a sweaty mess so that I can take the form of my life into summer break?" is not productive, so I pushed those doubts away. I have friends that did as well, working their hardest to be at this race, and who are now on vacation with great form. Cycling can be cruel sometimes.
As I saw at the Giro, however, 100 per cent commitment to a goal is rewarded, so my flight to Knoxville never got booked. As much as I wanted to upgrade last year's national championships silver medal, it wouldn't happen this year. Then everything got turned on its head as we learned that Tom would not be ready in time for the Tour, and the team had to re-tool its goals, as well as how to reach them. At last, the call came that I would spend my July racing around France, and the intervals suddenly became easier, while my descending became even more cautious as the race neared.
We have had a busy few days here in Belgium, but we're feeling good and looking forward to seizing our opportunities over the next few weeks. I'm excited for all of my friends and family to see me race, and to see what Team Sunweb can accomplish. I know that the next few weeks will be full of challenges and difficult moments, as well as plenty of stress, but I hope that in those moments I can remind myself that the Tour de France is the race that got me on a road bike, and now I'm here – again!