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By Magnus Bäckstedt, Alessio-Bianchi professional cycling team
I told you I was feeling better.
I had a good day today. I knew I was feeling okay after yesterday’s time trial and this morning circumstance had it so that I managed to take advantage of that and get into one of those rare little breaks that actually manages to stay away. Sure, I am disappointed I didn’t win today, but at the same time, I am really happy that my legs are feeling good.
There were attacks from the gun. We all knew there would be, especially after we saw Armstrong speaking last night about how he and the team really had no reason to defend the jersey at this stage of the Tour, because it was going to cost his riders too much energy. With that in mind, you just knew there would be a lot of attacks early on, so I did my best to stay near the front from the start.
One group got off the front at maybe 2km and it was just too big, with too many good climbers in the mix, so the Postal team was not going to let them go and sure enough, that group was pulled back quickly.
At about 10 or 11 kilometers, the four guys who I ended up in the break with, got away. Now this was the one time in the Tour where I was both close to the front and felt like I had good legs, so I gave it a shot, bridging the little gap. It actually was quite easy, so that put a positive spin on my outlook for the day. When I joined up, we all started working together quite nicely.
We worked really well together as a group. In fact, it didn’t take all that long for us to start building up a nice gap. There was no question about anyone not taking his share of pulls.
I have to tell you, one of the guys, Thomas Voeckler, has had an incredible month now. He’s French national champion, has been winning race-after-race and now is in the yellow jersey. He’s got a heck of a future in the sport, I’d say.
Anyway, we were out there and the gap was getting bigger and bigger, all of us working well together and it started becoming clear that we stood a real chance of holding it off. You never know with those things. Back in 2001 Stuart was in a break that made 35 minutes on the peloton and then last year he was out there, getting caught in the final kilometer after having been on the attack all day. You never know, but that’s the Tour de France.
Still with about 50k to go, we still had 16 minutes and it looked like we were good to go. Postal surely wasn’t interested in chasing and when my director came up and said that it was only Postal at the front of the peloton, I was sure there wasn’t going to be any chase. It was a good thing for us.
So heading toward the finish, we were sure that the race was going to come down to the five of us. Coming into Chartres, that was all that was on all of our minds. We just eyed each other and then the attacks started. Voeckler, especially, was aggressive, but Stuart was the most experienced and he still looked like he had plenty of kick in him, too.
Honestly, those last five or six kilometers were just done on pure willpower, because I was totally spent after being out there for 188km. I kept trying and trying mostly because I held out hope that I could maybe pull something off. Coming into Chartres, there were three or four times there that I was convinced that it was more-or-less over for me, but I figured that, having come this far, I should give it my best. I would get dropped and then I kept trying to come back and come back… but it took a lot out of me.
At about 1.5km, I got dropped and thought “well, that’s it,” but then the guys up front slowed down and I managed to reconnect at about 500 meters from the line. I figured with the four guys stopped up there, I would give one last desperate try coming up on them. I figured my best bet then would be to swing out to the right and launch attack while they were busy looking at each other.
I figured that if I got a gap of 20 or 30 meters, I might get the stage. Unfortunately, just as I was making the jump, Stuart sort of looked over at Sandy Casar and I came into his field of vision right then. So he did exactly the right thing and got straight onto my wheel. I figured at that point, I would just try to ride it out and see if one of the four of them was even more spent than I was, but, as you can see, the guys were really strong and they all eventually got past me on the way to the line. So, unfortunately, I ended up fifth. Still, I have to be happy with it.
So here I am, fourth overall in the Tour de France. We’ll see how long that lasts, but I do have to say that I’m a much happier man than I was a few days ago. My legs feel so much better than they have been, though it may take a few k to work the kinks out tomorrow morning, but we’ll see how things develop.
So it’s off to dinner, a massage and good night’s rest.
We’ll talk tomorrow. Cheers!