I had plans on the rest day to write this blog—and even opened my laptop a few times to start—but couldn’t do it. I felt that I was mentally on the verge of breaking, and putting the words down would increase its likelihood.
Last week was tough. With the arrival of the first mountains of the Tour de France, all the energy that everyone had saved during the first week came bursting forth. Rather than spreading it out, though, we raced each day in the Alps like it was the last, which wouldn’t have been such a problem if the Alps weren’t such energy-hungry beasts. Finishing a hard mountain stage a bit cracked, on the edge of bonking (or past it), isn’t an uncommon thing, but back-to-back-to-back occurrences are pretty rare, especially at the start of the week. I was grabbed for interviews after each stage, and I’ve decided that sugar is the core ingredient of coherence. It seemed that none of my sentences truly ended, simply trailing off like my thousand-yard stare as my trains of thought failed to make their junctions.
My hope for stage 12 was to reach L’Alpe d’Huez in a condition that I could enjoy the giant mountain party—a mark I missed by a long shot, the highlight of the climb coming when a spectator gave me a cold bottle of water, which I dumped right into my shoes to quiet my barking dogs, if only for the time it took to reach the next switchback.
If the stages in the second half of the week were a bit lacking in excitement for you, it’s because we were trying to claw our way out of the hole the Alps put us in. My stomach had been off during the week—not sick, but not liking anything I was putting in, so I was having difficulty eating as much as needed, starting the next day without ever fully topping off the tanks.
And that’s how I found myself in a chase group in the first 10 kilometres of stage 15, along with 40 fellow sufferers. Referring to my #oversimpLeTour tweet series, Sep Vanmarcke turned to me in the chase group and asked, “What are you gonna say now?” I was stumped, too focused on trying to hold the wheel in the crosswinds to be witty.
I’ve been dropped before, and I’ll be dropped again, but I was mentally unprepared for the drastic turn in my form. Certain that the Giro had finally caught up with me and that my Tour was only going to get worse, I was in a pretty low place, only reaching the rest day through the camaraderie of the gruppetto and the knowledge of what—or rather, who—was waiting on the other side of the finish.
Part of my mental struggle this Tour has been the time apart from my wife. Due to the late call-up, we couldn’t totally reshuffle her summer as we had mine, which meant that we flew opposite directions following the conclusion of the national championships a month ago, and our daily calls had been frequently cut short by time differences and the never-slow-down schedule of the Tour. But there she was just metres past the finish of stage 15, fresh off her trans-Atlantic travel and the drive up from Girona, and suddenly I had something to smile about.
I spent the rest day eating as much as I could, determined to enter the final week with full energy stores. The morning fat measurement showed that my dietary struggles had been costly, so I needn’t worry too much about what went in. The recovery ride was short and very easy, as I could not believe that even a single effort would help me in any way.
While my body was recovering, so was my morale. Every spare moment was spent with Kate, walking the quiet roads behind the hotel or just lounging around, watching Brooklyn-99 on Netflix. Anything but thinking about the race (or writing about it).
I rolled to the start line of stage 16 with cautious optimism that I just might be able to reach Paris and contribute to Tom’s pursuit of yellow along the way. I could follow moves and participate in the hours-long fight for the breakaway, which took so long partly because of the pepper-spray break, a fine opportunity to refuel for a prolonged fight. With a handful of teammates up the road as relay men for Tom, should anything wacky happen, we were prepared for all situations. As Sky set their tempo on the first climbs, I found myself following along without suffering. When we reached the base of the final climb, I peeled off to save my energy for the coming stages, my confidence buoyed by the resurgence of my legs.
There is sure to be plenty of suffering in the stages to come (especially today!), but I’m prepared for it and once again confident and even looking forward to the challenge.
What a difference a rest day makes.