It's been a long time since I last raced 10 consecutive days, and I'm sure I'm not alone in my relief that we get to take today easy. The last "week" at the Tour de France has been extra long, and also full of long stages. Today we have enjoyed reminding each other that we are actually past the halfway point of the Tour in terms of distance already. Add in a time trial, another rest day, and the final stage into Paris and it starts to seem like we're nearly done…
The Tour has started well, and I mean that in a few ways for a few different reasons. The weather has been great—well, sunny, at least—which helped to calm the peloton's nerves a bit. Good course design also minimized the stress somewhat, and as a result there have been fewer crashes than expected. The team time trial and mountaintop finish also spread the race out a bit early on, which also had a calming effect. Even the "boring" sprint stages haven't always been so, as yesterday's wind certainly livened things up.
Team Sunweb is holding up well—we still have eight strong, healthy riders and our resolve to win a stage has only strengthened after a handful of close calls. Our first big goal was the team time trial, which we performed well in but were blown away by Jumbo-Visma. The tight grouping of teams in the top-10 is a great indicator of how much work teams are putting into the discipline lately. In the past, it seemed that only a few teams would be within a minute of the winners, but now the margins are always quite small.
Then we started focusing on stages that Michael Matthews could win, which also entailed my own contributions at the front of the bunch a couple of times. Most recently, I was tasked with chasing back the breakaway filled with the heavy-hitters of the breakaway world, most notably Thomas De Gendt. In a cruel twist of the cycling world, my friend and fellow American was also in that breakaway destined for success. His success could have directly benefitted me, as American UCI points affect our nation's allocation of starters in the World Championships and Olympics. But my job that day was to bring it back. That's the sport, sometimes.
Monday was an eventful day. A mountain biker jumped the peloton, and shortly thereafter I got in a small dust-up with George Bennett and Yves Lampaert as I tried to attack on the gravel shoulder, and we did a bit of bumping as I ultimately failed to get past them. I thought the aggression was unnecessary, but part of the road-block game.
It's tough to explain, but I'll try: the breakaway only gets away when there are more people at the front who don't want to attack than those who do. On days where it could be a sprint or a chance for the break, the sprinters' teams can sway the decision by overwhelming the front of the peloton in the neutral section, leaving only a small handful of guys even in a position to attack. With the road blocked, the attacking is done for the day.
If it's a long fight for the breakaway, it only ends when the leaders' teams have demonstrated that they have sufficient control of things, if not outright filling the road up. That said, often times the road gets blocked, but one guy manages to slip through and kick the hornet's nest again, which is what I was attempting to do yesterday. A harder stage would benefit Matthews, so to stir the pot again would only help us. But sometimes guys get a bit too enthusiastic with blocking the road, trying to exert more control than they really have, a practice I refuse to engage in when it's my job to block the road. Anyway, no harm ultimately came from it and I'm not angry at them, and they got penalized by the jury, so I consider it settled.
Off the bike, the Tour has also been going well. Our chef has hit his stride, and we've been eating well while also eating healthy. This morning was our standard rest day weigh-in and body fat measurement, and I was pleased to learn that I'm holding steady and don't require any recalibration of my diet. In my first several Grand Tours, I always put on weight out of fear of eating too little, but now I've got it dialed in.
My own personal revelation here is the app-timer I started using on my phone to limit my Twitter time to 30 minutes each day. It seems silly, but Twitter lately (as you might imagine) is nothing but frustrating politics and the Tour de France, which either upsets me or keeps me in race mode. Instead, I've been reading as much as I always wish I would, and it has helped keep me mentally refreshed each day.
I'm especially excited to see what I can do in the time trial—the circumstances will be very different from those that resulted in my win in the Giro, but I believe I can do very well nonetheless. We also will hit the mountains for real, a welcome change after all these sprint days. Now that the blog is done, it's time to finally start relaxing and relish every moment as this rest day winds to an end. The good news is that it's only a five-day "week" until we get to do it again!