By Tyler Hamilton, U.S. Postal Service Rider
I was having flashbacks today as we rode toward the finish at Aix-les-Bains. It felt like 1998 all over again. That year I had been fighting an intestinal bacteria throughout the season and the battle came to a head during stage 8 of the Tour. It was unbelievably warm — over 100 degrees. I lost 18 minutes that day finishing well after the main field. Our team doctor was asking me every so often if I wanted to stop. But it was the Tour de France and quitting was out of the question.
In a word, today was — grim. My stomach was giving me trouble from the start. Things began getting hairy on Friday and have been pretty difficult ever since. I’ve tried to have a good attitude about my situation by attempting to convince myself it would all pass but today was by far the worst. And the mind over matter thing wasn’t working for me anymore. When I started throwing up I knew it was going to be a hard day. I kept trying to eat because I knew I had to finish the stage. But nothing would settle in my stomach.
And so, I rode most of the day in no-man’s land. All by myself. And finished well behind the peloton. Just like ’98.
Upon arriving in my hotel room I was immediately surrounded by fifteen concerned staff members and personnel each suggesting a culprit and a cure. The truth is we don’t really know what’s causing the indigestion — the primary suspect however, is the dosage of anti-inflammatories I was given to treat my elbow injury. These things can reap havoc on a stomach and even cause infections in the intestinal track. Now I know. Not exactly great timing.
The Tour can be a humbling thing if you aren’t at your best — and it’s safe to say I’ve taken a fair pummeling during the first week of this year’s edition. Today was cruel and unusual, however. There’s nothing worse than losing contact with the peloton and slipping back through the caravan of team cars. Having every team director looking at you with dismay about your performance is pretty demoralizing. And it’s hardly an opportune time to explain yourself. The worst part of today was winding up alone and having a French television camera pointed at me all the way to the finish. As if to document every second of my misery.
The Tour de France is a long race. One that you have to take in stride. As of today, I will be taking things day by day, hour by hour and minute by minute. The goal right now is to hang on long enough to recover so I can be a help to my teammates down the road. It’s going to be a challenge. But I know if my head tells me to stop my heart won’t listen. I guess you could say the only thing we don’t know is what my stomach will have to say.
Thanks for reading.