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Brent Bookwalter’s Tour de France Diary: A race like no other

2010 Tour de France prologue, Brent Bookwalter
Bookwalter in action Saturday

Editor’s note: This is the second of the regular diaries that Brent Bookwalter will be writing for VeloNews.com during the Tour de France. This is the BMC rider’s first Tour.

With the prologue and two days on the open roads in the books, I don’t think it can be argued that the Tour de France has lived up to all the pre-race hype and expectation. I’m quickly learning why this is a race unlike any other.

All of the things I’ve heard about the first week of the Tour are really hitting home. Astronomical amounts of people, a stress-filled peloton and crashes have made the past couple days ones I won’t soon forget.

The longest-lasting impact of day one was the sad news that we would have to begin day two a man down after we lost Mattias Frank, who broke his thumb in the prologue.

It’s the harsh reality of this sport, but as I said, everything at the Tour seems bigger. That includes the disappointment of watching your friend and teammate head for home. Mattias and I were the two guys on BMC’s Tour team who were also on the team for the past two seasons. He will be missed in the coming days and weeks for more than just his ability on the bike.

As for the crowds, on Sunday they were off the hook.

We raced over 230km of roads and all but maybe 10 of those kilometers were covered with people who came out to see the Tour off into the roads of Holland. It’s tough enough to maintain the intense focus required to safely navigate the peloton. Throw in the constant echoing sound and the rainbow of colors whizzing by and you have a serious challenge on your hands.

Throw in a stray dog, a few overly eager photographers and a lawn chair here or there, and we all had our hands full staying off the pavement.

The crashes at the finish get the big media attention, but yesterday they were just a fraction of the chaos. For every guy who hits the ground, there are probably 20 guys who escape crashing by the skin of their teeth.

On Monday it was more of the same — stressful, nervous racing. I’ve never been in a race in which so many riders want to be at the front for the entire portion of the stage.

Usually in the early to middle portions of a 200km-plus day, you will find a handful of the “contenders” calmly tucked in mid-pack, saving their legs. It appears there is none of that at the Tour — all the GC guys, and thus their teams, see it as a must to ride up front, all day.

Simple tasks like taking a nature break or even eating and drinking are all amplified and made more difficult by the increased stress and nervous energy radiating throughout the pack.

The carnage and resulting controversy that ensued after the mass pileups on the descent of the Stockeu during stage two were the talk of the town Monday night.

Many were frustrated or critical of the riders in the main bunch for neutralizing the race in the closing kilometers.

I’m not against the call that was made. So many riders were already battered and bruised (I heard 72 was the final tally). If we are going to race all the way to Paris it makes sense to say “enough is enough” and live to fight another day.

Yes, it’s bike racing. And yes, crashes happen. But riders have few occasions to have their collective voice be heard when it comes to the safety of courses and the conditions under which we race.

Monday was one of those occasions. I hope it will help us all take a step towards being more unified and vocal about the courses and conditions to which we are subjected.

After all, we are all human — even if some appear to be less human than others.

(Related: All Brent Bookwalter Tour de France diaries)

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