Hey all my friends at Cyclingnews.
Well, it's finally over and I'm back in Spain and getting some rest in after a tough three weeks at Le Tour.
The last time I did my diary, it was on the second rest day in Pau. We were staying at a Novotel and the kitchen there was beat. The food was lousy; the pasta was like soup and the bread was like rocks. And I got sick. When I woke up Tuesday morning before Stage 16 from Mourenx to Pau, I just had a stomach bug. I was nauseated and just couldn't eat, which isn't very good after two weeks of the Tour. You have to be able to put in the calories.
I got in a break on Stage 16 and I still couldn't put down any food that whole day. All I was able to eat that day was two gels and half an apple. We got over the first two climbs and at the foot of the big climb of the day, the Col d'Aubisque, I just had nothing left. I was empty. Whatever sugar I had left was already used up. Cadel Evans attacked on the climb and blew the break apart and I just got caught by the chasers at the top. I had to dig deep there because I knew they were coming up fast and if they caught me before the top, I wasn't going over the top with anybody! I managed to finish the stage with 80km to go and I was just barely able to roll through with the field.
The next day was Stage 17, a really long 240k stage to Revel and I was still having some trouble eating that day. The break went early so for the rest of the stage, the pace went slow enough with Discovery controlling that I could force some food in me. It was as much of a recovery day as you could get out of 240km stage. By the third day after the after the second rest day, Stage 18 to Mende, I was finally feeling a little bit better and tried to get in a break, and I got into one but it was just too big. Everyone was attacking for 20k and Discovery ended up pulling us back, then the next break was the good one and I ended up finishing with the field. Friday and Saturday came and went, along with the time trial day. I decided to give it a go in the TT, if nothing else but for practice, maybe 95 percent on that stage.
The last day of the Tour de France finally came and I made it to Paris. Not everyone gets to experience that feeling. There are only so many people who even make it to the Tour, and then you've got to make it all the way to Paris. You still have to avoid crashing, getting sick... our Saunier-Duval Prodir team lost three guys for various reasons so there are a lot of obstacles in your way.
That last stage into Paris is really something you want to be a part of; you don't just want to start the Tour de France, you want to finish it. It was a fantastic feeling racing on the Champs Elysées, just incredible. We had an easy ride there because it was wet and so slippery, guys were just crashing even though we weren't racing. When we came to the final circuits, it was still wet. We had a lot of crashes there too, but eventually we got a gift because the sun came out and the cobbles got dry. So the race was on and we could put on a great show for the huge crowd there. I was super-motivated to get in a break and got away with a guy from Quick.Step. We stayed away for two laps and were caught with about a lap and a half to go. I heard a lot of people yelling my name and it was a fantastic feeling. I still tried to hang in there to do the sprint, but Vinokourov was just so strong, he rode away at the end.
I've been racing 17 years and at the Tour, it's not really about tactics. You either have the legs to go with the best guys or you don't. I realized pretty quickly that my original goal to be top 10 would have to change to a stage win. I realized that I was capable of being top 20, but not top 10, and that wasn't a goal for me. This year, besides Lance winning number Seven and retiring was this was the year for breakaways in the Tour de France. On the flatter stages, Petacchi's team wasn't there to control things, Boonen abandoned and his team was not keeping it together, Thor Hushovd's Credit Agricole team didn't want a sprint because they already had the points jersey, so that just left McEwen's team to work for a sprint. They were tired so that wasn't going to happen either, so on the flat stages all the breaks were making it to the line, except the break I was in on Stage 13. In the mountain stages, a lot of the Spanish teams like Euskaltel-Euskadi just didn't have strong climbers who could win stages. So they weren't going to pull a break back on the mountain stages. Valverde dropped out, so Illes Baleares wasn't going to pull back breaks either. So if you got in a good break early on, that break was going to the line. No doubt about it.
Since I was a kid, I always wanted to do the Tour de France. It was a great addition to my career and had I never done the Tour, it would have been a like a huge hole. That's what this year has been all about for me; getting to do the Tour de France. Being at the highest level of the sport was important and I also wanted to win something at that level, too. I came close two or three times and either I just didn't have the luck, or things just didn't work out that way. I certainly had the form to win a stage. So far, 2005 is a 100 percent success for me.
And Lance, what a incredible finish to his career. To think that for seven years, he never had any real problems in the Tour and not only made it to the finish, but won seven straight Tours is unreal. He has an amazing amount of determination. And his luck over those seven Tours is truly amazing, but it's not just luck. Lance is a rider who knows the Tour so well he always manages to stay out of danger, always managed to give himself that extra second worth of space that might take more energy but keeps you safer. And Armstrong can do that because he is just so strong. Congratulations for a great career, Lance. Looks like I'll ride the Vuelta a España and then probably the World's in Madrid. That's why I'm hanging out in Spain for August.
Thanks for reading my Tour de France Diary on Cyclingnews!