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Tour de France

Will Frischkorn’s Tour de France diary, stage 6

Today was the first stage in this year's race where we hit some hills. After traversing Brittany we're now down into the heart of France and the mountains of the Massif Centrale.

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By Will Frischkorn

2008 Tour de France: Frischkorn is nearly a week into his first Tour

2008 Tour de France: Frischkorn is nearly a week into his first Tour

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Today was the first stage in this year’s race where we hit some hills. After traversing Brittany we’re now down into the heart of France and the mountains of the Massif Centrale.

For cheese lovers out there you might know this as the heart of the Auvergne region. We were actually on the “route touriste de Auvergne” for a bit near the end of the stage with small fromageries marked every few Ks. The small producers here with their farmstand bleu d’Auvergnes are workin with some truly happy cows. The hills are for the most part rolling, lush, and with 360 degree views. Not even a week in and I’m already starting to crave the food and wine that will follow this puppy. But first, another 15 stages…

So, about today’s race: After another relatively quick battle the break of the day rolled up the road. Euskatel wasn’t happy at first and tried in vain a couple of times with some suicide digs to stir up the bunch, but the rest of the field was content with the three and they eventually were given their wiggle room. Gerolstiener set up on the front, everybody else filed in behind and so it was for the next 130k.

While we cruised through the rolling hills in the early part of today, it was the first time so far this Tour where we had to deal with a bit of heat out there. Along with most of us breaking out the summer jerseys, mostly a mesh material, we used ice socks a bit as well. We’ve been devoting some serious attention to core temp and hydration here, with weigh-in pre and post-stage and a number of different cooling units to play with back at the hotel. Out on the bike however ice socks are one of the few things you can use to actually combat rising core temps. Placed right up between the shoulder blades it both cools some key heat sensors and slowly drips down your back as well. So along with bottles from the car today I was stuffing the jersey with these puppies and getting some inquisitive looks from a few of the other riders. Like the aero road bikes we’ve been using, and now seeing other teams start to play with, it wouldn’t surprise me to see more and more teams carting around a few more bags of ice at the start area here soon.

After a few relatively relaxed hours the climbs loomed on the horizon and speeds started to rise. The first was a Category 2, really just a long drag, and while the climbers cruised up front, by half way up the sprinters and those with tired legs started the ”Gruppetto!” calls. It took a few minutes, but a good mass ease-off was welcomed by a pretty big crew and we rolled it in to the line, listening on our radios trying to figure out what was happening up front. While I say “rolled in,” the gruppetto still has to keep a fairly steady pace most days to stay safely within the time cut. For people familiar with power numbers, on the last two climbs, at 70kgs, that was in the 320-340 watt range for me most of the time.

As a three-week rookie and an only decent climber I’ll be spending some solid time with this crew of guys. Matt White, our head director here, said it well before the race began: “if there’s a gruppetto and you’re in the second group, you’ve gone a group too hard. Save every ounce of effort because there’ll be a time when ya need it down the road.”

That’s advice I’ll be living by for these next few days and then again in the Alps for sure. Just now looking at the race book for tomorrow and seeing the first 15k all uphill, I think I’m already grateful for the effort I saved today.