If I had to use one word to describe this last week, it's hectic.
The lead in to the Tour de France is nearly as exhausting as riding it. In my last blog before the Dauphiné I mentioned that I was hopeful of hitting top form about this time after a bit of illness and I'm pleased to say that I've got there.
My run into the Dauphiné was nowhere near ideal. To come away and be second at a race like that, for me this time while last year or even two years ago, that would have been absolutely incredible. But after the season I've had, winning Paris-Nice, and the two seasons Sky has had, second is a good result but you just roll on to the next one. What it's really done is given me a bit more confidence going into the Tour. There was a lot of guys there being touted for the podium at the Tour and I guess they've got a lot of tweaks to do too but Chris and I had just as much to improve on as they did. I don't think Alberto would have been super-chuffed losing 2:17 or whatever it was to me in a time trial. The key thing is that we're not being complacent. We've seen what Alberto can do, take last year's Vuelta for example or pretty much his whole career, but we're expecting a fight. It's not just Alberto, there's a lot of other guys out there gunning for us.
While the Tour has been drawing closer, it doesn't really change the way we train. We haven't done a massive taper after the Dauphiné. Five of us from the Tour team went to Châtel, so we had a little bit of recon and generally tried to keep healthy. With a few last minute adjustments, everyone tries to lose a couple of kilos and now everyone's turned up with new haircuts which makes you instantly look leaner.
The mechanics really earn their cash at this time of year, too. We've recently got new time trial bikes. I got mine almost a month ago and there's been little things to tweak – the handle bar set up for example. My right handle bar has only just arrived. The Pinarello Bolide is a big improvement on the last bike we got but just before the Tour, it makes it hectic. The mechanics are out there building up nine brand new bikes and anyone that's seen a time trial bike being built knows that it's not easy. There are cables going everywhere! You only need to look at it to see that it's a much cleaner, more aerodynamic bike. To ride it, it's ten times different. It's stiffer, it corners better and generally feels like a much better time trial bike.
I've had a few sleep-ins cut short as well. In the last three weeks, with the Dauphiné I've been tested nine times – three or four of those have been out-of-competition. People said at the start of the year that there wasn't a hell of a lot of testing out-of-competition but we were still getting it at races. In the lead-up to the Tour, the stakes are just that much higher so the testers have been busy. Now, people will probably suggest 'oh, he's being target-tested,' but you know what? Stuff it. If you're doing the Tour, this is normal; there's a lot more testing.
So, what to expect at the 2013 Tour de France?
I've seen people having their two bobs worth saying that last year was a boring Tour, but that's their opinion and they love to voice it. This year will be different. You look at Contador, Valverde, Rodriguez and some of the other guys – they're quite explosive climbers so I guess that's how they're going to take it up to us. We've got our style of riding, people say it's boring or robotic or whatever but if you want a clean sport then it comes with the territory. I love it when the armchair experts say that Chris rides off an SRM. Cycling's not mathematical. Some of the times that he's been criticised for doing that, he doesn't even have an SRM on. For example, that last stage of the Dauphiné he'd swapped bikes and he still rode away from everyone. I'm sure I'm going to get slaughtered for saying that, but I really don't care.
The first week of racing is always stressful but this time around, probably more so without a prologue. Corsica in itself is not exactly ideal for a peloton of this size in such a big race, but it's just how it is. It's going to be exciting to watch on television anyway. We've been here before; we did the Critérium International and we rode basically the whole course in March – where we were able to, it was snowing – so some of it we did in the car. There's some pretty technical roads to contend with in the first few days so someone will be losing time, we've just got to hope that it is not us.
If things go to plan and I don't have to sacrifice too early in the climbs for Chris, looking at the Dauphiné and every other race that we've done this season, it is possible for us both to be there at the finish. However, the main goal is to support Chris and to put him on the top stop come Paris. I'm just going to do my job and see what happens.
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