GIRONA- Being home during the month of July for the first time in nine years felt a little strange to say the least. Watching theTour on television was something I had hoped would be reserved for retirement.
But life throws you a curveball every so often. The trick is making the catch and hucking the ball back where it came from. I’m getting ready to do just that. Give me another week or so to mend.
My wife and I traveled north to Paris to see the finish of the Tour.I stopped in my tracks when Haven informed me that I would need a “pass” to get near the finish line. I had never been a spectator on the Champs Elysees before. So I had some learning to do as her sidekick.
But it was good to be there and cheer the guys onto the cobblestones.We sat in the grand stand for the first couple of laps and then I motioned to my wife that we needed to hit the road. We headed over to the area where the team cars await the riders after the finish. This spot also serves as the pick up and drop off point for VIPs who want to take a trip around the Champs in a team car.
I jumped in with Alvaro Pino, our head director. We had two guys in the breakaway that lasted until the final lap or so. I spent most of the ride shouting over the radio in my broken Spanish and French. In an instant I had become that crazy man in the earpiece that drives every rider nuts during the races. But it was half in jest and all good fun, although I doubt my Tour-tired teammates thought it was nearly as entertaining as I did.
We celebrated the team’s first Tour de France with a big dinner that night. Over 150 Phonak employees from all over the world came to see the finish, so it was good to be able to thank them in person for all their support of the team. We do after all, “race for better hearing”.
There’s a special motivation behind this team that’s great to be a part of. Reducing the stigma of hearing loss is a big challenge. And increasing the quality of life of those who suffer from hearing loss is a mission I’m honored to be a part of. Recently, my cousin Charlie who has been hearing impaired his whole life, was outfitted with the latest Phonak equipment.
He sent me an email telling me how great it was to be able to be out in a noisy restaurant and hear his wife speaking clearly. Hearing his story made me realize how important this equipment is, and what a difference it can make in people’s lives.
I think in light of all the challenges we faced at the Tour de France this year, the Phonak team has a lot to reflect on and be proud of. Oscar Pierero finished 10th overall, which was a huge accomplishment considering he lost over three minutes in the team time trial due to a mechanical, and did an unbelievable amount of work for me in the first ten days of the race. The team finished sixth out of 21 teams, which was also impressive. And watching Nicolas Jalabert duke it out for second place in stage 14 was a highlight as well. We still consider ourselves a growing and developing team, so I hope everyone can use the 2004 Tour as a springboard for the future.
My back is on the mend. I’ve started riding again which feels good.The heat has been cranked up to high here in Spain, which is just what the doctor ordered. I’m seeing a number of specialists to design a good recovery program. So far the MRIs and X-Rays have been negative for fractures and tears. Damage can be a little difficult to detect when there is as much swelling as I have, so we are keeping a close eye on things, and will do follow up scans next week to confirm what we hope is true.
Many thanks to everyone who has written, called, emailed and stopped us to extend their condolences regarding Tugboat. Being home in Girona has forced reality to set in a little sooner than it would have. We sure do miss him around the house. But every day we get a little less sad, and a little more grateful for the time we shared with him. He was a great dog.
And finally, as if July wasn’t a tough enough month for me personally,I just want to make something clear.
I arrived home from Paris on Monday afternoon to read the story on the Internet some of you have referenced in the guest book on my website. A former part-time team physician has made derogatory public statements about my former U.S. Postal teammates and me. This is not the first time this man has done this. (reference: Gorski incensed about drug allegations against Postal team).
It has always been my policy to try to take the high road and keep some thoughts to myself. But I also realize there are a lot of young cyclists who follow my career, so it is on their behalf that I will finally respond.
The claim that I, along with another teammate, approached a team doctor and asked him questions about doping products back in 1996 is absolutely false. I swear on my wife’s life and the grave of my dog that I never asked that man about anything of the sort. If you know anything about me, you know this is as emphatic as I can be. I’m truly saddened to have to respond publicly to such an accusation.
Thanks for reading.