So here we go, the Tour de France 2011. The biggest bike race in the world is about to kick off. I will be lining up with one of my best mates, Ben Swift, which will be weird to say the least! We grew up together racing in parks and on pavements all over the UK.
I’m really looking forward to the racing now though. There’s been a lot of talk and build-up to this year’s race and so it will be great to just get going.
For me, the Team Time Trial is the stage I am most excited about. I love them, they are very similar to the Team Pursuit on the track, albeit quite a bit longer. Obviously the TTT is a ‘big hit’ for a lot of teams as the yellow jersey could be on the line.
Basically, if there is a bunch sprint the day before (stage 1) then most of the riders will be on the same time.
This means whichever team wins the TTT will also take the jersey. Exciting stuff, no?!
Especially because we are in with a real chance. Usually the team leader would cross the line first, so wear the yellow jersey.
I am still young enough to qualify for the young rider's jersey which I wore last year. It isn’t something that I’m thinking about though. I will have the same approach as last year, if it happens, it will be great and a massive bonus. It was amazing wearing that white jersey last year! Stepping onto the podium after each stage was something I had only dreamt of before. Just putting the jersey on in the morning would make me feel good. Then I’d start each stage at the front next to Fabien who was in yellow as we rolled away.
As I said though, I am not thinking of myself. The team has a massive opportunity to do great things in the overall competition so I will be saving all my energy to help achieve this. At the start of each stage we will all have our individual jobs. On the flat days I will probably have to sit with Brad all day, probably with one other.
I will be there to shelter him from the wind and keep him in a good position, in case the race splits in crosswinds. I will also stop when he stops, ie, with a puncture or a ‘call of nature’. Other guys will then be on bottle runs to and from the car. Others will be on ‘early doors’, which means they will either be trying to get in the breakaway or making sure the ‘right’ break goes with only a couple of riders there. It all depends on the tactics for the day i.e. if a sprint is likely or not. Basically we want to get Brad to the finish as fresh as possible, so he saves himself for the selection in the mountains.
I’m actually kind of looking forward to the mountains as well. There’s always a great atmosphere, and a few crazy outfits to keep the gruppetto amused. The Dutch and the Basques stand out as being the loudest and most enthusiastic, or maybe just the most drunk. However, the Brits and Norwegians are catching up!
There’s a different approach to mountain stages. Each rider will have their own ‘finish line’ on the stage. Basically, we take turns to set the pace for Brad up the hill - then drop back when we've reached our personal 'finish line.'
The better the climber, the longer they will have to stay near Brad. Once we’ve completed our job, we’ll find a group to ride with and take it as easy as possible. Conserving energy is important, especially over a 3 week race around France!
I also enjoy the time trial days. They usually start later in the afternoon than the normal road stages meaning a bit of a lie-in which is always nice. A lot of guys use it as a rest day and ride around making sure they make the time cut, which is usually around 15% of the winner's time. Time trialling is something that I want to continue to improve in, so the more I do ‘flat out’ the better, no rest day for me then…
Although it's going to be a busy few weeks, I'll do my best to answer as many of your comments and questions as possible.