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By Magnus Bäckstedt, Alessio-Bianchi professional cycling team
My responsibilities have changed.
We’re in the mountains, so my job has changed from trying to win a stage to slipping down into “suffer mode,” grind it through and make sure I don’t miss the time cut. These are the days that my director gives me something of a free hand.
The other guys have responsibilities themselves, of course. The big job is to do as much as possible to protect and help Pietro Caucchioli and Andrea Noe’.
It was a much tougher day than I had feared. The first days into the mountains are always a struggle for me. It takes time for my legs to get used to the stiff climbing. On top of that, the weather was – for the first time in this Tour – fairly warm, so I felt like I was suffering right off the bat, today.
I had hoped to make it a little farther, but I found myself struggling a bit on Col de Neronne, a Category 2, and then really had a tough time on that Category 1 today, the Col du Pas de Peyrol. I slipped back, chased on the descent, reconnected and then found myself in a little groupetto with Robbie McEwen, Thor Hushovd and a few other guys. We worked to catch a bigger group ahead of us, then that group teamed up and chased on to another bigger one and so forth.
Robbie was looking good today. He, too, is sort of on damage-control right now. Robbie and I used to spend a lot of time together in the groupetto back when I was riding for Crédit Agricole. So things haven’t changed much… except that these days a lot of the English-speaking guys we used have back there with us – guys like Stuey and such – are now up front. That’s the only thing that’s changed.
At one point, our group was about three or four minutes behind the big groupetto on the last Category 2 climb (the Col de Prat de Bouc) and we chased fairly hard, but it was fine, because I can usually make up three or four minutes on these guys on the descent.
It was hard work today, but there was no real stress about it. The time limit is so big on a long hard stage like this one, we really were never in any danger of missing it, so the pace was fairly relaxed and we came across around 25 minutes after Virenque… who, by the way, knocked me out of fourth place on GC with that performance of his.
After days of being in the top-five on GC, the inevitable happened and I will start the day solidly in 72nd place, 25:32 behind Thomas Voeckler. Of course, I knew all along that was gonna happen sooner or later. As much as I might enjoy it, let’s just say that I have no illusions of being on the podium in Paris. I do have goals and there a couple of flat days left. I am going to do my best to win a stage on one of those days.
The team is doing well. Our two GC came in well today. Pietro fininshed 10th, alongside Voeckler and Armstrong and those guys. He’s going really well and he was climbing with all of the top guys and felt comfortable and strong.
It’s a good bunch we have on this team and the guys are all getting along real well. Even though the team is sort of divided along this Scandinavian part and the Italian part, everyone gets along quite well and we all speak a bit of each others’ languages. When it comes to communication, we have a few guys that speak a bit of English, a few guys that speak a bit of French and the Scandinavians who speak a bit of Italian…. It’s a good bunch of guys out there.
The one thing that hit us all was Martin’s departure from the race. Of course, we’re now a man down, but it hasn’t really changed anyone’s role on the team. The primary job now is to protect Caucchioli and Noe’ now. But like I said, when it comes to the mountains, I get a free role and do whatever I want. My only goal is to finish the stage as fresh as I can and not to go through too much pain. The other guys are there to look after the team leaders and they’ve done a good job all around and the boss seems pretty happy with the whole crew.
My big goal is to take things day-by-day and go with the flow.
We’ll see how tomorrow goes, okay?
Good night and cheers!