Together with 15 of his team-mates, Bradley McGee has currently based himself at one of cycling's great monuments, L'Alpe d'Huez, where he and his La Française des Jeux team shall spend a week of intense training, and where team selections are made for the Dauphiné Libéré, Tour de Suisse - and even the Tour itself.
"It's not spoken, but everyone knows it is often during these camps that selections are made between riders," wrote McGee on his personal website, bradleymcgee.com. "Friendly rivalry is what it is and often the rotating 15 minute turns on the front of the group can get heated. Another side of cycling not often known to any one but us idiots.
"I find myself enjoying this 'stage' in the mountains. It's a time to breathe deep and reflect on where I am for this season 2005. From the intentions I have programmed as far back as November 2004, the early season and snow of February, battling through early stage races of March and finally to some solid form, exiting Tour de Romandie with a second place in the final TT that followed on with a win, a much treasured win at Villers Cotterets."
McGee added his victory two weeks ago was very much needed; not so much for himself, but more to reaffirm the trust team manager Marc Madiot has placed in him as a leader.
"As a leader of my team and putting my hand up for top Tour performances has pushed pressure to levels I have never known," wrote McGee. "Remaining focused through good and bad has been a battle. I constantly revert back to my 20-week countdown program that was drawn up over the pre-season and only slightly modified since. It has been my guide.
Always one to relish and thrive under pressure, McGee welcomes being in the heat of battle against proven Grand Tour performances in the bigger races, and describes preparing for a high overall classification at the Tour de France as "fighting a new animal".
Wrote McGee: "[The] Tour build-up is a long and turbulent process. It is not a one day battle. No way can you release the valve with a huge surge and violent effort, all though Villers Cotterets was certainly just that. But even with this win, there was no sense of relief, just a smile before returning to the grindstone with July in mind. The very next day I was across to the Tour's prologue course, near Nantes, with my TT bike and video camera on recon. A few days later I was up in the mountains behind Monaco gasping through my first of three planned altitude camps."
Although buoyed by the challenge, the 29 year-old from Sydney's western suburbs says handling this new approach to his training and racing has had its ups and downs. He notices a physical change, now much lighter "with veins crossing my legs, stomach and back", but feels more powerful on his time trial bike than ever before, and now knows how to eat properly to avoid hunger flat problems.
And mentally? "It's new, a different game and it is right now with just over five weeks to go, the inner voice of positive affirmation needs to rise up and fight off thoughts of negativity and desire to change the course of action."
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