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Steve Cummings

Steve Cummings finishes in the gruppetto on stage 13, where there wasn’t as much banter as there was tired and grumpy riders.

Tired tensions rise in the gruppetto

Cycling News
July 22, 2010, 5:56 BST,
July 22, 2010, 9:18 BST

Cummings never so happy to have a kettle, regrets Giro-Tour double

I was dreading Tuesday’s stage, but it was okay in the end. I got over the first climb, the Peyresourde, in a decent group, and felt I wasn’t on the back foot. Then we caught some guys, while some other guys got up to our group, and it ended up being 80-odd riders.

But no one really spoke in the gruppetto, and it’s been like that for a few days. Sometimes there is a bit of banter and conversation, but a lot of guys are a bit short; tempers are fraying. It’s not very nice, to be honest, but it’s because everyone is so tired.

I’m looking forward to getting to Paris, though the Tour’s not over till then, and we still have objectives as a team. For example, we’re looking forward to helping Edvald Boasson Hagen in the Bordeaux and Paris stages, by trying to put him in the best position with as little effort for him as possible.

Geraint Thomas and Brad Wiggins are both looking forward to the time trial on Saturday; one of the great positives of this Tour has been seeing Geraint develop as he has.

I’ve felt from the start, though, that I’ve been on the back foot, without the form I had at the Giro. Not being as good as you wanted to be, or as good as you know you can be, is frustrating and not much fun. But the number of Team Sky jerseys, and the British flags and general support from the public has been overwhelming, and I really want to say ‘thank you’ to all those people.

In hindsight, I think the Giro-Tour programme was too hard this year - but you couldn’t really have predicted that, because it worked well for some guys, including Brad, last year. The one guy it’s worked for this year, I think, is Thomas Voeckler, but he’s doing different things, going for stages.

I mentioned at the start that Tuesday’s stage wasn’t as bad as I expected - but last Friday’s, to Mende, was far worse. It was the toughest stage of the race, I think.

It was hard up the first climb, then the big group of 18 went away, with Ryder Hesjedal, Andreas Klöden and Alexandre Vinokourov. It never let up all day after that; the terrain was constantly up and down, and it was windy.

We had a nightmare. Geraint crashed early on, and then Brad went back because he had a sore leg, and Michael Barry went with him. But because it was so full on they ended up being out the back for quite a while, and it was touch and go for a little bit as to whether they’d get back on. It was a grim day!

As I said, there are a few days to go and we’ve still got ambitions as a team in this Tour, but there are already things we’ve been talking about - things we’ve learned for the future. That’s the thing about being in a new team - you find yourself on a massively steep learning curve.

As we get near the end you find consolation in small things - three nights in the same hotel in Pau, for example...I've also got my own room, and a kettle! It all helps.

Steven Cummings (Sky) signs some autographs

No switching off for riders in the gruppetto

Daniel Simms
July 14, 2010, 9:50 BST,
July 14, 2010, 9:33 BST

Steve Cummings talks about mountain stage duties, and the battle to make the time cut

I'm not a big fan of rest days. I prefer to keep rolling, otherwise I find that the body thinks the race is over and starts to shut down. So I always do a decent ride on a rest day, otherwise I can be really bad for two or three days after.

And, considering the stage we all faced on Tuesday, I didn't fancy starting it when my body might be thinking the race was over... That would be a cruel, cruel trick.

On our rest day, on Monday in Morzine, we did quite a long ride - close to three hours, with one reasonably hard climb, about 5km long.

Even so, I expected to struggle on Tuesday. It was such a hard stage, right from the start, and with the Col de la Madeleine, which I knew from a recce we did in mid-June, and which I knew to be so bloody long that the only way to contemplate it was to split it into sections.

Before that, though, there was a nice reception in Morzine, where the stage started. There were a lot of British fans there, and I got a bit of a cheer as I stepped out of the bus, the first Team Sky rider to do so (I think they thought I was Bradley Wiggins).

I think there's a perception that for riders like me, who often finish in the gruppetto on stages like these, that we kind of switch off, and that we don't have jobs to do in the high mountains.

That's not really true. Certainly on Tuesday's stage the serious climbing came early, but on Saturday and Sunday I was busy with the tasks I've been doing from the start of this Tour - commuting from team car to peloton with supplies of bottles and ice.

On Sunday it was around 100km before the first big climb, and I was backwards and forwards to the car every five minutes - or that's what it felt like. As well as the drinking bottles I collected musettes filled with ice, then I'd go round handing out little cold bags to our riders.

The ice musette isn't too heavy - in fact, it's quite nice as the ice melts on your back. But it's hard work - there are two of us assigned to fulfil this role, and it's just constant, dropping back, then making a big effort to get around the bunch again. And as anyone who's ridden a bike knows, it's those repeated efforts that really take a toll.

On Sunday I actually came off in the Lance Armstrong crash, on the roundabout, a few kilometres before the Col de la Ramaz. It happened right in front of me and I just hit someone and went down.

I was sliding down the road on my chest, thinking, ‘oh god, there'll be nothing left of me,' but I was lucky. I couldn't believe it, but I was fine. But it gave me a hard chase, and I was panicking a bit because I was on my own.

I got back just in time to make it into the group that formed on the climb, and which ended up being the gruppetto. Everyone pretty much knows what to do in the gruppetto - the goal is to finish within the time limit - but Robbie McEwen and Thor Hushovd are good at making sure we're okay.

Once you're in the gruppetto it's true that the work is done - well, other than the small matter of staying with them over the mountains, and making the time limit (it was actually a close call on Saturday, which I only realised when we started riding really hard on the final climb).

On Tuesday I was really struggling, big time, for the first three hours - but I wasn't alone. The gruppetto formed on the Columbiere, so it was a very long day, but HTC-Columbia did a great job on the descents! Very fast, but always in control.

I'm glad to see the back of the Alps. Now for the Pyrenees!

Steven Cummings (Team Sky)

Controlling the chaos

Cycling News
July 07, 2010, 11:16 BST,
July 07, 2010, 12:30 BST

Steve Cummings on a good for day for Sky on the cobbles

In the team bus in the morning before Tuesday’s third stage over the cobbles we discussed our plan, and were all given jobs. Mine was to get in the break, with Simon Gerrans and Serge Pauwels to help me.

The idea was that if I made a big effort to get in a move, and then it was brought back, Simon and Serge could help keep the race together while I got my breath back. I made one effort and was pretty gassed. It took two gos - the second time, we were away.

You try to be smart in choosing which move to follow. I look for combinations. Obviously the French teams were keen to do something. And on a stage like Tuesday’s, you also look at Quick Step and try to work out how many guys they want to let go.

Maybe it’s luck, or maybe some people have a nose for it - I don’t know. But seven of us got away, and it proved to be a good mix of teams and riders. We settled down and worked well together, everyone pulling through, and I felt really good.

But I was in the break not to try and win the stage - though that would be nice - but to be in a position to help the team, in particular Bradley Wiggins. We knew there’d be chaos over the cobbles, and so the best place for me to be was in front of Brad and the rest, so I could drop back and help out in case of any kind of problem.

Just before we were caught, I attacked, because I sensed that the other guys, except for Ryder Hesjedal, were finished, and they had started going too slow. Also, when the group came up from behind - and it was approaching pretty rapidly by now - I wanted to be able to join it. I didn’t want it to be messy, as it might have been if we’d all been together.

When ‘G’ - Geraint Thomas - came up with Fabian Cancellara and Andy Schleck and the others I gave him my bottle. Was I surprised to see G in that sort of company? Not really, no. Everyone on our team knows his ability - he belongs up there.

As it happened, the team’s plan - which was to have me in front so I’d be able to help out in these crucial stages - came into its own at this point. G told me his radio wasn’t working, and he wasn’t too sure what to do. Should he go back to the next group, which had Brad in it, and help him?

I radioed Sean Yates, our sports director, and asked him what G should do. “Stay there,” was the message. I passed it on to G and then dropped back to help Brad.

It didn’t take long for that group, which Brad was really driving, to swallow me up. I asked Brad how he was; he said he was alright. Then I tried to ride as hard as I could for as long as I could. But Alexandre Vinokourov attacked, and that put me out the back.

Why Vino attacked, I really don’t know. I think it would’ve been better to roll through until the next section, but I couldn’t go with them when they speeded up. When you’ve been in the break all day, riding steadily through and off, you lose the ability to make those accelerations.

So that was me in no man’s land again, though not for long, because Thomas Lofkvist was in a group behind. Again, I tried to pull in there too - we were on the last section of pave by now - but I was really at my limit by now. With a kilometre to go I sat up and rolled in. Job done.

At the end of it we could reflect on a good day for the team. We lost our cobbles specialist, Juan Antonio Flecha, to a puncture, but other than that it all went pretty much according to plan.

In fact, it was one of those days when almost everything that was said in the bus in the morning worked out. It’s good to have a plan, and everyone’s happier when they’ve got a job to do - so we were all quite satisfied. There was some discussion over the dinner table about whether it would’ve been better for G to wait for Brad - but you never know. He was fighting it out for the stage win, he’s up to second overall, and he’s in the white jersey. That's good for the team, too.

It’s a day I’ll certainly never forget. I’ve ridden Paris-Roubaix once, and I’ve raced over the cobbles before, but to be out in front for most of the day, and to experience those crowds when you're at the sharp end of the race, was an incredible feeling.

Steven Cummings (Team Sky)

Looking after Wiggo

Cycling News
July 03, 2010, 17:40 BST,
July 04, 2010, 0:19 BST

Steve Cummings talks about his special job at the Tour de France

I was told after the Giro that I'd be riding my first Tour de France, which, as for most bike riders, is a dream.

I can't remember the first Tour I saw on TV, but it was during the Indurain era, and I was hooked and glued to it every year after that. But although it was always a dream to ride the Tour, it didn't seem very realistic.

Coming from the Wirral, everyone dreams of being a footballer with Liverpool or Everton, and that seemed more realistic. There weren't too many pro bike riders, other than Chris Boardman, who was obviously a very special rider.

But there wasn't a clear path to becoming a pro bike rider. In fact, there was no path, full stop - which isn't the case any more.

Once I got into cycling, and became involved with the British track team, it was my dream to be world champion. Again, it just seemed more realistic. Then my dream was to become a pro; then it was to ride the Tour.

Now I am here, it's difficult to appreciate the enormity of it. We've been staying in a hotel on the outskirts of Rotterdam for a few days now, with a recce of the third stage on Wednesday, the team presentation on Thursday, and a recce of the time trial course on Friday morning.

It’s when you see the Tour logo that it hits you that you're here, but otherwise you feel on the edge of things, really.

The team presentation gave me a taste of the atmosphere. There was quite a bit of hanging around beforehand, when all the teams had to sit and wait on wooden benches, so Brad [Wiggins] and I went off in search of more comfortable seats.

I've known Brad a long time - there’s only a year between us - and we get on well but I hadn't been around him for a while, until this year when we both joined Team Sky. If I think back to when we were young lads the one big change in Brad that I see now, is that he’s a lot more professional. He’s super organised, and he’s turned into a good leader.

He’s the kind of rider who leads by example rather than shouting at people. You don't ever see him get too flustered or stress. Which is good: you start the race in the morning thinking about your own job, without worrying about Brad. He also has good presence in the peloton - partly because he’s so tall, maybe, but also because he’s able to move up and down: he’s just a very good bike rider.

For the next three weeks, my role here is mainly to keep Brad in position in the peloton and make sure he’s there for the key moments of the race. Obviously I rode the Giro with him, when he was in the pink jersey in those early, hectic stages. I don't know if the Tour’s stages - which are similar in terms of the roads and terrain - will be as hectic.

At the Giro there were a lot of people out on the roads, actually crowding on to the roads and creating an extra obstacle. Perhaps the Tour will be more tightly controlled in that sense. But I really don't know. It’s the Tour, so I expect everything to be at least as hectic - it’s a war, and of course it’s dangerous, but you really don't think about it.

I've spent five or six years as a pro now, and ridden three Grand Tours, finishing them all. But I don't feel like an experienced Grand Tour rider. I do feel a bit apprehensive because I haven't raced since the Giro, and I've never done two Grand Tours in one season. I'll just approach it as I always do: day by day.

The first big test will be Tuesday’s stage over the pavé. The recce of that stage went smoothly - though perhaps ‘smoothly’ is the wrong word. But we're looking forward to it. We think it’s potentially a good stage for our team; Brad can ride on pavé, while, with some of the other GC, we don't know.

Of course I have personal dreams too. I'd love to get in a break and win a stage in a Grand Tour, and I think it’s possible, but there are a lot of riders like me who could win if all the circumstances were right. I'm not thinking about that just now, anyway - it’s all about helping Brad.

Steve Cummings

Steve Cumming is making his debut at the Tour de France just like his new squad Team Sky. 29 year-old and from the Wirral, close to Liverpool, Cummings is an Olympic silver medalist and world champion on the track. He has successfully made the transition to road and will ride in support of compatriot Bradley Wiggins. Cummings will share a room with Wiggins during the Tour de France and share his unique insight from the race with Cyclingnews.