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Fred’s Diary: Gruppetto days

Today's uphill time trial was just a day for me to get to the finish fast enough to secure a spot in the remaining stages of the Tour. You never know when you're going to have tired legs, and after yesterday's stage up L'Alpe d'Huez, I wasn't too excited about the time trial...but you don't want to miss the time cut. The stage was somewhat rolling, leading up to an Above Category climb. My plan was to arrive at the climb fresh and ride steady -- but quickly -- to the top of the mountain. Waking up to see rain -- again -- this morning was a bit tiring. The weather is amazing. Not just the

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By Fred RodriguezDomo-Farm Frites Rider

Today’s uphill time trial was just a day for me to get to the finish fast enough to secure a spot in the remaining stages of the Tour. You never know when you’re going to have tired legs, and after yesterday’s stage up L’Alpe d’Huez, I wasn’t too excited about the time trial…but you don’t want to miss the time cut.

The stage was somewhat rolling, leading up to an Above Category climb. My plan was to arrive at the climb fresh and ride steady — but quickly — to the top of the mountain.

Waking up to see rain — again — this morning was a bit tiring. The weather is amazing. Not just the Tour, but it’s been wet across Europe this season. From the Classics to the Tour, I bet half of my races have been in the rain. The early guys today went off in the rain, or at least on wet roads. But it wasn’t too cold. Luckily it wasn’t raining yesterday on L’Alpe d’Huez. That wouldn’t have been fun.

Yesterday was a really grueling day for everyone, especially those looking for a GC placing. It didn’t look like Lance was too tired…but everyone else was.

Race fans pay a lot of attention to the front of the peloton, but there’s action at the back too. There was a group of 70 to 80 riders yesterday — the gruppetto — that finished together. The gruppetto formed on the first climb and rolled together for the rest of the day, toward the finish with a goal of making the time cut. Stuart (O’Grady) was with us for a bit, but then attacked us. I guess he was seeing if he could make up some time to keep the yellow jersey.

There’s a temperature gauge in the gruppetto: When it’s quiet, it’s a comfortable pace. When the Italian riders start yelling (“piano, piano”) then it’s going too fast. Sometimes I don’t know where guys get the energy to yell. I just keep quiet and ride. But yesterday, I did find the energy to speak up.

Jacky Durand is known by fans for his constant breakaways. With riders, he’s also known for grabbing on to cars in the caravan after he’s been dropped when the course goes uphill. I don’t understand why he never gets caught. He’ll hang on to a vehicle, then let go as soon as a juror (race official) rolls through. He’s dropped before the gruppetto is even made, and yet he always gets back on.

Yesterday guys (mostly from Italian squads) were yelling at him, “You get dropped on every climb, then you’re always attacking us.” Jacky didn’t take it long before he shouted back, “In the Giro, everyone grabs the motos.”

Then a little later I looked up and saw that he had grabbed on to a caravan car moving past the gruppetto. I had to give him a piece of my mind.

At the finish of yesterday’s stage, I turned around at the summit and backtracked 100 meters to our hotel. That’s easily the closest our hotel has been to the finish anywhere on the Tour. At that point, after climbing all day, you’re soaking wet and freezing, so I got to my room for a quick shower. The first hour is critical for recovery, and I got a carbo-protein mix to drink. And within 45 minutes, I was getting a massage from our team soigneur (actually, we’ve got five at the Tour; each one does two massages a day). That massage usually goes for 45 minutes.

Then around 8 or 8:30 it’s time for dinner. At this point in the Tour, you’re eating as much as you can. Everyone is eating until you can’t eat anymore, yet your appetite is diminished by the fatigue. You want to eat some “bad” stuff. Like at breakfast, I’ll look at the eggs or the cereals and say, “nah.” Nutella, spread thick on bread, is the first thing that my brain thinks is edible when I get up.

Back to the schedule: Dinner lasts about an hour, with several courses and maybe a cup of coffee. Of course, some of my Italian teammates will rehash the stage: “Oh, do you remember this break…. Oh, I was suffering … and then….” Then it’s back upstairs, get your suitcase packed, so it’s ready for the staff to handle in the morning. Eat, pack, get ready for the next day, and it’s 11 p.m., and you need to go to sleep at 11:30.

In that sliver of time, I might read a bit, or we turn on the TV, and every channel is the Tour Someone shouts, “the race is on” and we’re suddenly watching ourselves. This half hour is also used to analyze the next day’s stage; have a look at the profile, talk about the climbs. Like last night, we looked at the maps and knew that Lance would be flying again today. So we tried to figure out how fast Lance would ride, calculate 33 percent of his time, and figure out what we had to ride to make the day’s time cut. Doing things like that just makes the next day easier for you.

Tomorrow’s the first rest day of the Tour, and it will be half on, half off as far as a working day. We’ll travel in the morning, and my goal is not to worry about it. To not think that you’re travelling. It’s easy to get stressed out on the rest days, thinking “why do we have to travel like this? Why can’t the Tour figure out less travel when they plan the route?” Or dealing with the plane: It’s late… No, it’s early. Like I said, the best thing is not to worry.

I live in Northern Spain, and my girlfriend will have about a 45-minute drive to Perpignan to see me in the afternoon, and then we’ll go out for dinner. I will do a ride with teammates before dinner; Perpignan is so close to the Mediterranean that we’ve been looking at a route where we can ride to the beach, stop for a coffee at a cafe, then do an easy ride back to the hotel.

My ride won’t be longer than two hours, though some will do three. Not me, especially with the next four days in the mountains. I need to make sure that I make the time cuts. Other than Axel (Merckx), we really don’t have anyone in contention for GC. We’re a team for the flat stages…and we want some fresh bodies for the finale races.