The storm has finally passed and I'm back where I started, staring out of the window at my parents' home in Luxembourg. Just like that day in February when I outlined all my hopes for the season, it's a cool, crisp morning. It's as if the season hasn't even happened.
My parents' garden hasn't changed. The bushes and grass seem no different. A bit of paint has faded on the garage door and a few dead leaves sit on the window ledge but that's it.
For me, though, it's been a huge experience and a breakthrough season. From the Classics to the Tour to the Vuelta and Worlds; there have been so many emotions and experiences. I'll save them all for another month's blog.
I've been kept busy since my abortive ride at the Worlds. The last few days have been spent in Madrid at Specialized's - our team's bike sponsor - expense. They flew me and Burry Stander out and had us compete in a kind of cycling celebrity death match. Okay, maybe that's a bit extreme, but for anyone who isn't familiar with Burry, he's the World Under-23 mountain bike champion and most importantly, he's quick. Very quick.
For a laugh - and I use that term lightly - Specialized had us ride up a 12-kilometre climb with me taking the road path and Burry fighting his way up the off-road trail to the top of the climb before swapping bikes and giving each other's sport a go. As you would expect we both dominated our disciplines but I had a great time on the mountain bike. I do a bit of it during the winter here in Luxembourg but it's been a while since I've been on a mountain bike. It was a lot of fun.
Of course, no corporate event would be complete without a night's hospitality and in the evening we went to watch the Champions League match between Real Madrid FC and AC Milan FC, from Italy. It was a great match that ended in defeat for Real but we had a good time nevertheless. I'd never been to the magnificent Estadio Santiago Bernabéu before, but seeing the players perform on a stage totally different to mine was fun.
Tour de France wardrobe malfunction
And speaking of stages, I was on one myself at the recent Tour de France route presentation in Paris. I've already talked about the route itself in the press, I'll reiterate that I like it. It seems like a tough parcours and one that will be selective. The only aspect I don't like the look of are the cobbled sections in the first few days. They're dangerous and a contender could easily lose the race there or crash. Is that necessary in a Grand Tour? I'm not so sure. I think guys like me and the Belgians will be fine, we're used to riding cobbles, but some of the Spanish riders will be pretty nervous.
The presentation itself was a lot of fun and you'll have all seen my wardrobe malfunction when I was seated between a suited and booted Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador in what I can say was more relaxed attire. Why the casual look, Andy, I hear you ask. Well, I went last year and a suit didn't seem necessary and to be honest I don't really like them. But when I walked in this year everyone was wearing them; from the riders to the press. Even the people taking coats were dressed to impress.
So there I am, seated between the Tour winner and a Tour legend and what's the first thing Lance says to me? "Hey Andy, where's your suit man?" "It's okay, Lance. Riders under twenty-five don't need them." My fashion sense might not be that slick but my quick-fire responses are.
Lots of people have asked what it was like sitting between Lance and Alberto that day. Did they have a quick thumb war as they shook hands? Was Lance wearing a hand buzzer to shock his Spanish rival? Did Alberto slip kryptonite into Lance's pocket? Of course none of those situations transpired. We chatted freely in fact, about the route and what we'd been up to since we last met.
That might be hard to imagine but rivals on the bike aren't always sworn enemies off the bike. They chat and text each other from time to time and it was nice to actually see them. Of course some riders get on better with others but everything was kept cordial. Of course next July I'd like us to be standing in those same positions, with me in the middle and Lance and Alberto on either side of me on the podium in Paris.
So what's my plan for the rest of 2009? I'm going to take a bit of time off the bike to relax and take a vacation. As you all know I love America and in a few days I'll fly out to Miami with my best friend from back home, before heading to Curacao for 10 days. I want to enjoy my time off but I would be lying if I hadn't thought about next year's goals and how I'm going to achieve them.
Perhaps one of my biggest goals will be to finally have my new house completed. The building process was started from scratch but it has been going on for too long. Right now they're working on the fittings in the bathroom and kitchen. The upside of building from scratch is that I can decide on every detail, like having a television in my bathroom. Don't laugh, I'm serious. It's a necessity that all bathrooms should have.
After I get home from training the first thing I do is stick on MTV. Now I can do that and watch it while I shower. Makes perfect sense, doesn't it? The builders didn't see it that way, though. They looked at me like I was crazy when I explained this to them. But it's my casa and I want things done right.
Farewell to a friend
Just like last month I'll end by saying goodbye to someone on the team who is leaving for pastures new. Last month it was my good friend Karsten Kroon and this time it's another amigo, Brian Nygaard. Some of you may know him while others may not be familiar with him. For those who aren't, Brian is our Saxo Bank press relations manager. He's been with us for a long time and shared in many great wins and stressful moments.
Throughout that time he's been a gent, a total professional and always someone I could seek out and talk to. He's off to Sky next year, in search of new challenges and new goals. It might be a little weird seeing him around a different bus in 2010 but one thing that won't change is our friendship. Good luck, Brian.