Cyclingnews reporter John Trevorrow was in Challans where he caught up with most of the record 10 Australian riders competing in this year's Tour de France, the strongest representation of any English-speaking countries. Most of the riders are looking forward to another Tour, but for some it's their first.
Simon Gerrans (Ag2r-Prevoyance)
CN: Congratulations on your first Tour de France. How has the week been?
SG: I didn't really know what to expect. I only saw my first Tour stage last year but it's a lot different when you are actually a part of it. It's all still sinking in. It is huge a real surprise.
Just got in so I'm still coming to terms with it all. I found out on Monday and I came here on Tuesday, so it's all happened really fast. I feel pretty good, I've come of a couple of stage races in the last couple of months and recovered well so we will just wait and see.
CN: What is your specific role?
SG: Basically I'll just be doing my best to look after Nazon, especially in the early stages. Then when we hit the mountains I will look after Mikel Astarloza for GC and I will have a bit of a go at some of the transfer stages and the small mountain days and try and get in one of those breaks. That's the aim anyway, I suppose we'll see.
Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis)
CN: 10 Aussies on the start line is pretty special?
SO'G: It's not quite like the Bay Crits but it's getting there. No it's fantastic, it's showing the depth of Australian cycling and the riders that are here are real quality. Mick Rogers, World TT Champion, Brad McGee and Cadel for the overall. Another Olympic Champion in Luke Roberts, then Robbie, Cookie and Alby for the sprints. It is just such a wide variety in Australian cycling.
CN: You left yourself out of that mix. You showed good form in the Giro after a month off. How is the form now?
SO'G: The Giro was good for me and I got some good racing and subsequently rode into some form. The Dauphine was a very hard race, probably too hard for me but it has brought me up. I feel like I'm coming in to top condition and am really looking forward to the Tour.
CN: The same old question must be asked, what about the green jersey this year?
SO'G: Nothing is impossible. Obviously Robbie is the faster sprinter but plenty of things can happen in a three week race so I'll just take it as it comes and keep alert.
Matt White (Cofidis)
CN: Matty, you have almost been here on several occasions and of course last year's tragic first day must be on your mind?
MW: Yeah, I can't get away from it cause everyone keeps reminding me. But you can't worry too much about things in the past. With the hustle and bustle of the medicals and media presentations etc, it's going to be good to get under way.
I prefer the longer race in the prologue. It can be pretty nervous with a short dangerous prologue whereas this 19km race is pretty straight forward. It is a real test for the guys in good form and you will see some big time gaps.
Obviously I'll be looking after Stuey for the sprints but it's going to be very different with Petacchi and Zabel not here, their teams won't be controlling the breaks. Especially after the team TT. So there will always be good opportunities for me to get up the road as well. I'm really happy with my form, the Giro was great preparation.
Luke Roberts (CSC)
CN: How does it feel to line up in the biggest race in the world?
LR: It is just awesome. It really has been an unreal year. To get into a world-class team like CSC was fantastic and I just wanted to get a ride in some of the one day classics such as Paris Roubaix and Tour of Flanders. When that happened and I rode well I thought I might get a ride in the Giro, but I missed out. They then told me they were looking at me for the Tour. I didn't really think that it would happen.
CN: What will be your main role?
LR: To look after Ivan in the early stages and keep him out of harms way in the hectic sprint finishes. And then of course the team TT, which I think is the main reason I am in.
CN: Are you looking forward to the Alps?
LR: Not looking forward but I am excited about the challenge. Recently my climbing has improved and I have been able to get into a good rhythm in the last few mountain stages I rode. But I am just looking at enjoying this great experience and taking it all in.
Baden Cooke (Francaise des Jeux)
CN: Where did that haircut come from (full mohawk)
BC: Went into my hairdresser in Monaco for a trim and said I'm off to the Tour, do what ever you want. He said 'really?' and then paced up and down the salon for about 10 minutes and then away he went. The ladies were all laughing but he was quite happy with it. Pretty impressive isn't it?
CN: Your form was very good in the Giro until your crash.
BC: I have had really good form this year but it hasn't been reflected in any wins. The one big win that was about to happen was when I collected the barrier. But as far as form goes, I'm in the best of my whole life. I think once I get the monkey off my back and get that first win, it will all happen.
The training crash I had after the Giro hasn't affected me too badly and now I feel spot on.
CN: What bout the green jersey this year?
BC: That's why I'm here.
CN: You obviously have great form and after last year's top ten in the Giro you must be confident for your best showing in the Tour.
BM: After the Giro last year I finished the season and went home and put together a plan, a package, and put my hand up and said I want to come and do the Tour with a serious challenge for the GC. There has been some ups and downs but I've just kept on that line.
I'm really happy with my form. I just finished the Tour of Switzerland where I got in the top ten and although I did slip back a little on the last day and lost few positions, I wasn't too far of the pace. But it showed I still had some work to do. This race is a circus as we all know. It is different to every other race on the planet All I can do is get myself into the best possible shape, physically and mentally and that is what I have done.
In Switzerland I put it all on the line in the time trial and only lost 15 seconds to Ullrich. In the climbs I didn't have the form to attack, plus I hadn't planned to do so, I just wanted to follow. The last day I just couldn't go with those little Spanish mountain goats but I'm not going to lose my head over that.
CN: The time trial should suit you down to the ground?
BM: Yes it does. It fall in pretty well. This year I haven't concentrated so much on short efforts needed for total power for prologues and lead-outs, I've concentrated on efforts of 30 minutes to an hour which is better for longer time trials and climbing. This year I'm happy that it's 19 km.
CN: So Cookie won't be getting any more of your super lead outs?
BM: I'll still be there but maybe more in spirit.