Looking after Wiggo

I was told after the Giro that I'd be riding my first Tour de France, which, as for most bike riders, is a dream.

I can't remember the first Tour I saw on TV, but it was during the Indurain era, and I was hooked and glued to it every year after that. But although it was always a dream to ride the Tour, it didn't seem very realistic.

Coming from the Wirral, everyone dreams of being a footballer with Liverpool or Everton, and that seemed more realistic. There weren't too many pro bike riders, other than Chris Boardman, who was obviously a very special rider.

But there wasn't a clear path to becoming a pro bike rider. In fact, there was no path, full stop - which isn't the case any more.

Once I got into cycling, and became involved with the British track team, it was my dream to be world champion. Again, it just seemed more realistic. Then my dream was to become a pro; then it was to ride the Tour.

Now I am here, it's difficult to appreciate the enormity of it. We've been staying in a hotel on the outskirts of Rotterdam for a few days now, with a recce of the third stage on Wednesday, the team presentation on Thursday, and a recce of the time trial course on Friday morning.

It’s when you see the Tour logo that it hits you that you're here, but otherwise you feel on the edge of things, really.

The team presentation gave me a taste of the atmosphere. There was quite a bit of hanging around beforehand, when all the teams had to sit and wait on wooden benches, so Brad [Wiggins] and I went off in search of more comfortable seats.

I've known Brad a long time - there’s only a year between us - and we get on well but I hadn't been around him for a while, until this year when we both joined Team Sky. If I think back to when we were young lads the one big change in Brad that I see now, is that he’s a lot more professional. He’s super organised, and he’s turned into a good leader.

He’s the kind of rider who leads by example rather than shouting at people. You don't ever see him get too flustered or stress. Which is good: you start the race in the morning thinking about your own job, without worrying about Brad. He also has good presence in the peloton - partly because he’s so tall, maybe, but also because he’s able to move up and down: he’s just a very good bike rider.

For the next three weeks, my role here is mainly to keep Brad in position in the peloton and make sure he’s there for the key moments of the race. Obviously I rode the Giro with him, when he was in the pink jersey in those early, hectic stages. I don't know if the Tour’s stages - which are similar in terms of the roads and terrain - will be as hectic.

At the Giro there were a lot of people out on the roads, actually crowding on to the roads and creating an extra obstacle. Perhaps the Tour will be more tightly controlled in that sense. But I really don't know. It’s the Tour, so I expect everything to be at least as hectic - it’s a war, and of course it’s dangerous, but you really don't think about it.

I've spent five or six years as a pro now, and ridden three Grand Tours, finishing them all. But I don't feel like an experienced Grand Tour rider. I do feel a bit apprehensive because I haven't raced since the Giro, and I've never done two Grand Tours in one season. I'll just approach it as I always do: day by day.

The first big test will be Tuesday’s stage over the pavé. The recce of that stage went smoothly - though perhaps ‘smoothly’ is the wrong word. But we're looking forward to it. We think it’s potentially a good stage for our team; Brad can ride on pavé, while, with some of the other GC, we don't know.

Of course I have personal dreams too. I'd love to get in a break and win a stage in a Grand Tour, and I think it’s possible, but there are a lot of riders like me who could win if all the circumstances were right. I'm not thinking about that just now, anyway - it’s all about helping Brad.

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