Hi to all my diary readers at Cyclingnews,
Last weekend, we hit the Pyrenees Mountains. Stage 14 to Ax-3-Domaines came the day after I was in the break all day so I just ended up using it as a rest day...well, as much of a rest day as you can get in a 220km Tour stage!
I was in a break with five guys for 160km the day before, so the legs were extremely tired. That first day in the Pyrenees was really hot, so when we hit the climb I pretty much rode in the gruppetto all the way to the finish. My original plan was to recover on the flat day and try to do something on the first mountain stage, but if you get in a break the day before, you can't just sit up and save it for the next day. You gotta go and we came up two seconds short, so I had to use the next day as recovery.
After the stage to Briançon that Vino won, where I lost another 5 minutes on GC, I decided to shift gears and go for a stage win instead of trying for a top 10 Tour finish. I believe that if you are in the top 10 in the Tour De France, it means something, but outside of that it's so much more important to win a stage than saying you were 15th or 20th.
On Stage 15 (Sunday), we had six mountain passes. It was really hot again. My team director Machine [Matxin] came up to me and said take it easy on the climbs, but my legs felt good and I knew I could help my teammate Leo Piepoli. I felt really strong and at one point on the Col de Val Louron, the Yellow Jersey group was down to 15 guys but I wasn't at my limit. I stayed there and helped Leo for as long as I could. I knew on the final climb to Pla d'Adet that there was no reason for me to go to my limit. I stayed with Piepoli and then just rode in and believe me, but that time I was pretty tired. It was nice that I didn't have to go 100% up the climb.
It's my first Tour and I'm having a lot of fun; in the peloton, I'm talking to the guys I know. Lance is friendly and I talked to him Sunday because it was a long stage and the pace was pretty easy at least before the Col de Peyresourde. Lance looked good, he said he's feeling good and aside from that, we were just chatting about bike racing in general. I know Floyd Landis well because he was my teammate on Mercury, and we say hi every day, and the same with Levi Leipheimer. Both guys are having great Tours and sitting top 10. Sunday was hard on everyone, with the exception of Lance and Basso, who are just above everyone else.
After the stage Sunday, it took us forever to get back to the hotel. It was unbelievable. It took at least an hour and a half after the race before the team cars that were caravaned up there got moving, and then it took another hour to get to the autoroute and then another hour to get to the hotel. So from the time the last rider finished to get to our hotel it was four hours! Then when we got to the hotel at 10 pm, we had the worst dinner ever! That's what makes it the Tour. I don't see how difficult it could be for the Tour to have some big helicopters up there to fly the riders down to the bottom of the mountain.
We had a nice rest day on Monday in Pau. I've been talking to the media enough, but not too much. I slept until 9:30, took a shower and shaved my legs. Then I went for an hour ride and came back to the hotel. Then I went to McDonalds for lunch...it was great! I had a Big Mac, a hamburger, fries, a large Coke and a McFlurry for dessert. My teammates are used to my hamburger desires. On Saturday night, we were staying in a funky Balladins hotel in Foix without a restaurant. We were eating in a Buffalo Grill, like a chain steakhouse in America.
It was funny story; we had a set menu of pasta and chicken, but I also wanted a hamburger. It was on the menu, so I asked, but the waiter said "it is not possible". I said "what do you mean? This is a Buffalo Grill, isn't it? You've got hamburgers, don't you?" That went on for a while, and then the manager came out and she said "it is not possible". I told them of course you can, this is Buffalo Grill and I would pay for it, but they weren't having it. Anyway, it took me four times, but eventually got my hamburger but always in France, it's "no you can't" not, "ok, you can but it will cost you this." So eventually I had my hamburger and fries and had a great race the next day!
Our team morale is good; we've had a good Tour, we've been in a lot of the moves but we just haven't gotten any breaks. Everyone has had opportunities to win, but we just haven't gotten the right situations at the end of the stages to win. Saunier Duval Prodir didn't come here expecting to win the Tour De France, but we got good exposure for our sponsor. Unfortunately, we've has three guys get sick or injured so we're down to six guys, but we're still racing strong.
Over last week, I'm going to put in the efforts early to get in a break, but the stages that look good to me are Stages 18 on Thursday to Mende and Stage 19 on Friday to Le Puy-en-Velay. So that's where I'm going to put most of my energy on these hard stages. Stage 18 has a pretty hard Cat 2 climb at the finish, which could be good for me if I am in a small break. I want to avoid a sprint if I can; stage 19 looks really good too since it starts climbing right away. It will be easier for me to get into a break on a stage like that than a day that starts flat. Plus, stage 19 isn't that long, so it's a stage you can ride at 100% most of the day. This Tour isn't over yet!
Thanks for reading,