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No switching off for riders in the gruppetto

By:
Daniel Simms
Published:
July 14, 2010, 9:50 BST,
Updated:
July 14, 2010, 9:33 BST
Race:
Tour de France

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

Steven Cummings (Sky) signs some autographs

Steven Cummings (Sky) signs some autographs

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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!

Author
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.

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