I didn't grow up around cycling. My parents could barely get me off my bike long enough to come inside for dinner, but I knew nothing of the sport that now pervades every area of my life. It wasn't until the Texan who had grown up just a few miles away was counting his victories with two hands that I even heard of the Tour de France.
The race would come to define my and my brother's summer breaks from school. Every other month of the year we would marvel at our dad's ability to get up at 5 a.m. so he could go to work, but in July we would be up just as early to catch the extended live broadcast. It didn't take too long before we drifted off again, struggling to see the chateaus and fields of yellow through drooping eyelids while Phil and Paul spoke of a race we didn't really understand. We would wake up in time for the sprint finish, then fuel up for a day spent hitting sweet jumps in the street or mowing lawns.
When I first started dreaming of one day racing professionally, it was the Tour de France that I imagined myself racing. As the pinnacle of the sport, the race became the de facto definition of "professional". The road to get there was longer than I expected, like a tunnel in which the light is growing ever closer but seems to never arrive, but I never lost the faith.
Once I became professional and reached the highest level of the sport, I felt that my goal had been achieved. That is, until I spoke to anyone outside of the sport, in which case the conversation played out as follows:
Them: "So what do you do?"
Me: "I'm a professional cyclist."
Them: "Oh, have you raced the Tour de France?"
I can't fault them for it. Until I was inextricably immersed in the sport, the Tour was the only race that existed. I could explain until the sun went down that, effectively, the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana were the same thing, but even I didn't fully believe it. So, after spending the better part of a decade racing full-time, completing seven Grand Tours in the process among countless other races, tomorrow I become a real bike racer.
If I'm honest, I'm still asking myself how I got here. Most guys racing here have been focused on it since training began last winter, but when my schedule was laid out, the Tour was not even mentioned as a possibility. It wasn't until the last stage of the Giro that my coach gave me the heads up that a call may be coming soon.
The Tour de France is the only race that could wreck my summer plans without upsetting me, so I and my wife pivoted and made it work. Because, the Tour!
After recovering from the Giro, we flew back to the US, packed up all our belongings, bought a house, moved, and then drove across the country so I could take a crack at Nationals. They went almost as well as I'd hoped, but any disappointment was tempered by the knowledge that I was flying straight back to Europe to race the Tour.
I'm not really sure what to expect. From everything I've heard from teammates and colleagues, I have a decent idea. The peloton is filled with the best of the best and then elevated to the highest stage of the sport, which is why the Tour is the Tour. Aside from being my first Tour de France, this will also be my first time racing back-to-back Grand Tours, so I am treading into unknown waters. My legs are great now, but three weeks is a long time to race a bike and anything can happen between here and Paris.
I've lately gained a lot of popularity on Twitter for specializing in brevity, but I'm happy to say that Cyclingnews is giving me a platform to share my story in a more traditional way, so I welcome you to come along for the ride.
To everyone who helped me get here and cheered along the way, thank you. Tomorrow I'm starting Le Tour de France, realizing a dream!