I was just standing there, looking down the empty avenue.
The hugs and high-fives distributed among teammates and staff members, I rolled a bit farther from the finish. I emptied my bottle and lobbed it into the crowd, still five-deep along the fence, then shed my gloves and tossed them into a sea of eager hands. Unlike all the other stages, the roads remained closed to spectators after we finished, which meant that my view was unobstructed as I gazed down the cobbled Champs-Élysées toward the towering Arc de Triomphe.
I could feel hundreds of eyes looking at me as I looked down the road, trying to process the emotions of the moment, but I didn't mind. I was awash with pride, relief, disbelief, happiness, and sadness.
I was immensely proud of my team. It had not been a perfect race, but we never let the bad moments linger, always focusing on what lay ahead and not behind, determined to learn from mistakes and do better next time. I couldn't be more proud of Tom [Dumoulin] and his ability to refocus after a trying Giro d'Italia that almost went as well as we'd hoped, to again compete at the highest level at the pinnacle of the sport, and to again land on the podium. I'm proud that I could contribute in some way to his successes.
I was relieved to be standing there at all, on the good side of the finish line. There were days in the second week that I doubted my ability to finish. I was in new territory with back-to-back Grand Tours and uncertain how I would fare. My legs were good but not great in the last week, but I'd finished the race, the only grand tour missing from my collection, putting an emphatic check mark in a very big box.
I had trouble believing that the race was over, that I wasn't about to shower in the bus and eat my recovery meal on the way to the next hotel and do it again the next day. Leaving the Grand Tour vortex is disorienting, and my mind was afraid to latch onto the hope that it had finally ended. But it was truly finished, and "it" was the Tour de France, which sent me into another spiral of disbelief.
I was happy that my wife was there to share the experience with me and that we could be tourists in Paris, and that I could finally get some mental rest after months without a chance to switch off.
And I was sad that my father never got the chance to share in the joy of the moment, but comforted knowing that he had a pretty great view in the heavenly grandstands.
So there I stood, processing all of it, before finally turning toward the bus and rolling as slowly as I could to soak it in. Tom was ushered past me to the podium, and I was snagged for a final interview before I could give my wife a big, sweaty hug and kiss. Soon I found my hands filled with a beer and a slice of pizza, and a smile on my face.
The next time I'm asked whether I've raced the Tour de France, I'm sure to pause a moment as countless memories come flooding back before smiling and answering, "Yes."
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