During the 2022 Tour de France the Trek Segafredo rider Toms Skujiņš has been writing an exclusive blog for VeloNews.com. The Latvian time trial champion is taking part in his fifth Tour and has been sharing his insight as the race travels from Denmark on July 1 towards Paris this Sunday.
Rest is key to winning the Tour de France.
That’s what they always say, right? “Don’t stand when you can sit, don’t sit when you can lay down.” Or, “if you get even just 30min extra sleep each night, that’s more than a full night’s sleep over three weeks.”
I tell you, boy did I need this rest day. Denmark seems like it was such a long time ago. Actually it really was just two weeks ago, but that’s enough time for many ups and downs, both literally and figuratively.
We had some sprints, we had some cobbles, we had mountains. And just when everyone was thinking the GC was close to done, people got reminded that we were not even into the final week. That’s not to mention the drama on stage 15 when, just before the rest day, the leader’s team lost two key support guys.
Roglič left the race to recover from his injuries and just hours later, Kruijswijk crashed and could not finish the stage. But Pogačar’s team has also shown some weakness and had already lost already a few of its riders. It seems like the days of Team Sky dominance and a seemingly-invincible yellow jersey train ride through the mountains to Paris are long gone. I have the feeling we are in for quite the third week of racing.
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I’ve jumped way ahead here, but only because I finally feel like I have gotten back some of my energy. If you read my first two pieces I was pretty pumped and happy on how things are going and was looking forward to the racing. And, if I tell you the truth, it was all going very well in the first part. The team was riding well, I was always there to help out whenever I could and was just biding my time for some stages that would suit my capabilities.
Our day on the cobbles went well enough and even though we didn’t win, we got close. On the first mountaintop of the race I just kept my tempo to the summit and by the end of stage 8 I somehow found myself still sitting in the top 20 GC. It’s not like that it was something I was aiming for, but it just showed how good the form was and how well I was riding.
Then, just like that, I had a fever overnight. I’d no appetite in the morning and no capability to eat anything on the bike during stage 9. I survived that day on a few cans of coke and water. That’s not the ride fuel you’d want for almost a 200km day in the mountains. I was happy to make it to the finish line inside the time cut.
After the stage and the following morning I could barely swallow anything without feeling like my stomach was about to blow up. This was, of course, not ideal heading into the Alps; to say I was worried would be an understatement.
Stage 10 was another day where I was saved by a few cans of coke. At the start line of stage 11 all my optimism had run out. I wasn’t getting any better. It was another big day in the mountains, and it felt like this was a challenge I could not complete.
Things started in a hard way. While the fight was going on for the break I could just about hold the wheel of the peloton in the flats. Luck was on my side that the break went before the first climb, because I had to give it everything just to survive the “easy” tempo of the peloton.
We had three climbs left, all over 10km long. I really thought that this was the day I was going home. At the bottom of the first of those three big climbs I didn’t even try to follow the peloton, but took my own tempo as that was all I could do. Luckily a few kilometers later I CAUGHT up with a group of dropped riders. That gave me hope. Well, for the next half hour, because closing into the top of Col du Galibier my energy levels were so low I was actually worried about the downhill too. I couldn’t even drink a coke anymore: it was a dark, dark place to be.
By a miracle I managed to get to the top, was actually able to eat a gel and then suddenly found enough energy on the final climb to catch up to the group in front and finish safely inside the time limit.
Then on to the 14th of July. Bastille day in France. It’s the big one. There is always a big battle for the break and I knew it was going to be this year, especially as the finish was on top of the famous Alpe d’Huez. The previous evening another miracle had happened. I had eaten an actual dinner cooked by our chef Mirko and, thanks to the headwind on the first climb of the day, I actually managed to pass the climb with the main peloton. The morale was high.
Not for too long, though, as on the next climb I of course got dropped and rode the whole Alpe solo all the way to the top. However this time I could look up from my handlebars. That was partly because I was actually able to eat something on the bike, and partly because the atmosphere on the Alpe is so incredible.
Tired but happy, I survived the days in the Alps and I ate dinner. Again. An actual dinner. I knew the next day as a team we had a good shot at a stage result and was determined to help as much as I could. I knew the dinner would get me through the first hour, so I would give my all to cover every move that we were not in.
Luckily for me, Mads was on a mission. There were not many moves he was not part of and once a group of seven including him and Quinn was off the front, I knew there was little chance we’d see those boys before the finish line. As a mad, mad Mads on a mission, the legend pulled it off!
It’s been such a good Tour for Denmark, and he added another stage win to it. Just incredible. I was over the moon. Even if I didn’t win, the suffering I had gone through was worth it to be there on the bus when he got back from the podium.
Things were on an up after that. The legs were coming back, the stomach was digesting most of the food and we were on a high. So on stage 15 we decided to go for it again. Cover moves, make sure it was break we could control and put the pressure on the sprinters on the final climb before railing the downhill and putting Mads into a position to win the sprint from a reduced peloton. Sure, he didn’t quite get the win, but another third place sprint is still solid.
I’m proud of the way we took the race on and showed our strength. Of course, we also just wanted to get to the finish sooner, so we can get to the rest day. Especially me, as my daughter and wife were there and it had been four weeks since I had seen them.
Let’s now hope the batteries have been recharged as the Pyrenees await. I am sure the battle will be exciting and my only tip to spectators be on the lookout for Ineos going all in. If Jumbo Visma and UAE are down to six riders, then Ineos have all eight cards to play and three of those still in the top 10 on GC.