Brent Bookwalter’s Tour de France Diary: Stranded in the Sahara

The middle of a grand tour is like 'being halfway in crossing the Sahara Desert ... stranded in the middle of a giant abyss that has already consumed you.'
Brent Bookwalter, Team BMC

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

In my limited grand tour experience, the transition from the second to the third week is a little bit like how I imagine it to feel being halfway in crossing the Sahara Desert. You are stranded in the middle of a giant abyss that has already consumed you, but at the same time given you no glimpse of relief on the other side. We’ve already been racing longer than just about any non-grand tour race on the calander, long enough for all the days to be blurred together.

Our time spent in Holland seems like a distant, foggy memory that almost took place in another life time. We’ve come so far, yet there is still such a long ways to go. The end is not yet in sight. Obstructing the view are another thousand-plus kilometers and a few bumps in the road which I have yet to experience, known as the Pyrenees, beginning Sunday.

The time since the Alps has been anything but easy sailing. Yes, we had a couple headwind days which provided slightly less stressful and intense battling, but the intensity has till been Tour-tastic. All the peripheral stress of the tour such as the crowds, media, camera motor-bikes and authentic French hotels, just to name a few, have been a unique drain on my energy supply which seems to be getting to a near fume level. On top of that, the pure hours and output on the bike are really starting to add up.

Often called “transition stages,” these days between the Alps and Pyrenees are more demanding on some than others. In my opinion, its days like these that really set up for the big distinguishing blows that are sure to come between the contenders and the pretenders once we hit the big mountains in the coming days. Yes, the pack has for the most part stayed together the past few days, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t serious suffering going on.

The field at the Tour seems to be deeper than any other, and when you put such a field over terrain like the past few days, the collective depth of the field acts like a glue to hold the pack together. Some riders in this glued together chain are completely on the limit, holding the wheel in front out of sheer will power, while others are operating at a lower percentage of their max (the contenders). From what I can tell, these stages are no cakewalk for anyone, but a
cumulative hour less spent at or above threshold over a given day, added up over a few days, is sure to pay huge dividends in the coming stages. It will be no secret who those riders are as the roads tilt up to the skies.

It feels good to have made it into the third week of my first Tour, but I have no visions of grandeur of what is on the Horizon. I’ve never raced through the Pyrenees, so i’ts exciting to tick off yet another career-first, which this season seems to be chalked full of.

I’ve been filling up page after page of mental notes from the Tour-vets on the team. My room mate Karsten Kroon has been keeping me motivated with plenty of stories from his first forays into the grand tour world. Its nice to hear from a guy with his experience and palmares that the struggles I’m encountering are all part of the game.

Experience counts for a lot in this sport and the Tour hasn’t disappointed in that department with healthy doses every day. There will be plenty to talk about and hopefully some more to write about to. Thanks for reading and for all the support.