Counting down the days till the 66th Vuelta

My first entry from our hotel in southern Spain

Hello Cyclingnews readers,

I'm writing this first blog entry to you from our team hotel in Alicante, just outside of Benidorm. It's hot and dry out here in the south of Spain, as it should be for the start of the Vuelta. Today's 100km of training felt like I had a hair dryer in my face the whole time!

It's the third time I race the Vuelta. I remember when I wore the golden jersey here in 2008 it had been the first time for a Frenchman to take it since Jalabert - it was special. I also remember my 16th overall placing in 2007, which I achieved with a broken rib. I still felt discomfort from that in November of that year!

I'm very motivated for the race this year. It was my choice to come here instead of the Canadian races [Quebec and Montreal] (which I also like) to better prepare for the Worlds. Two Grand Tours give you a big motor for the Worlds, so that is what I needed to do. But I've also come here for the race itself. My objective is always the same: give the best of myself. I want to hang in there during the first stages and then see if I can take some risks to go for a stage win. Tuesday, the first summit finish will already take us above 2000m. We'll see how I go there and then set my objectives.

I feel good, my sensations are pleasant. I can't say that I'm fully recovered from my crash at the Tour, because I still have some muscular pain in my shoulder sometimes. But there is always something isn't there!

I've been carrying a small hernia in my back since 2008. My back is quite a construction site... But I won't complain, I'm used to pain. And in a way, you need such bad times like the one I had at the Tour in order to bounce back!

Regarding the team, I've been given total freedom, and I have no pressure, which is great. I'm rooming with Kevin De Weert, who placed 13th at the Tour this year. Tom Boonen is also with us; he will go for some sprints I'm sure. I saw that there are many Spanish sprinters in the peloton, so there should be some fast finishes in store for us. But then, many teams will also be interested in breakaways. We won't be the only squad to be opportunistic. I just hope we'll have more success than our rivals.

Respect for the Monuments

The Vuelta may be less prestigious than the Tour - and quite different in a number of aspects - but it's still one of the three Grand Tours. They are part of cycling's historic monuments with the Classics. This season, my biggest regret is of course to have finished second at the Tour of Flanders. I don't like to talk about it now, it's the past. But certainly, that day I had the legs to win, and I tell myself that if I had won it as well as the French Championships, it would have made an enormous difference looking at my season. Still, the French champion's jersey was something I wanted to have for a long time - it's more than a great victory. It was really important to get it at least once in my career, and I did.

So even if I have "only" one victory so far this season, I consider myself very happy with it. Other riders have to make do with placings of honour all their careers, they have to be content with that. These days, you have to be Philppe Gilbert to win every week-end... What he does is just beyond competition.

Until now, I've worn the leader's jersey at the Tour and at the Vuelta. I won stages at the Tour, too, so now I still need a stage win here in Spain. I want to finish the season in style. With the tricolore jersey on my shoulders, I won't hide in the pack - that you can be sure of!

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