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By Michael Rogers, Quickstep-Davitamon professional cycling team
We’re 18 stages down and still racing at break-neck speed.
After near on three weeks and there’s no let up. I couldn’t believe it today when I looked at my computer after the first hour of racing in the third last stage to see we had flown over nearly 53kph.
You’d reckon that riders who were not there at the Tour start in Paris were joining the race fresh, sneaking into the bunch rather than dropping like flies as the result sheets shows. You can imagine my shock when a little over four hours later when we sped into the finish the stage average was 49.938kmh – the second-fastest stage in Tour history.
Then, as if that was not enough, what a crowd to ride into at the finish today. It may not have been seen on television, but the mass of humanity that was in the road after the finish line was incredible. There they were: jammed chest first, back to back and 10 deep into the sides of our team buses. There we were, once moment flying into the finish and then, meters after the finish, weaving our way through a thin tunnel of humanity and towards our buses. It never ceases to amaze how much people love their cycling here.
With the Quickstep-Davitamon bus, I’ve learned another lesson. Having Richard Virenque on the team is bad for one thing: he being there absolutely ensures that there is always a wall of people is always outside the bus door you have to walk through.
Still, to be fair, while they are crying out: “Richard … Richard …” all the time, they do respect your space fairly when you come out. Hey … a team would rather have fans than not!
One who deserved to get their cheer today was Spanish teammate David Cañada. From ONCE and then with Mapei, he is a gutsy rider, and a good time triallist. That was a big effort to get away like he did. Not that I was surprised he had it in him. But then, to get caught so close to the finish. Watching the replay on television … you hurt for him.
Another surprise was hearing that Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich went head-to-head in the intermediate sprint. I didn’t even see that, nor did I know until I was told after the stage. Boy, they are really going at it. They are going to stretch this Tour out to the bloody end. But then how they go tomorrow in the time trial will obviously have a big bearing on that.
Their battle will bring the crowds out, I’m sure. Speaking of fans. I am sure there will be a lot of them at the Champs Elysees finish on Sunday too. Still … I can see Paris now. Two days away and with tomorrow’s time trial out there for me to out myself through the ringers again. It’s hard to know how I will go. The important thing will be to get a measure of how strong I can be at the tail end of a three-week race. It will be good information to put into the bank for next year’s Tour.
One thing I don’t plan on doing in the stage though is suffering the hunger flat I got in the stage 12 time trial to Cap’Decouverte. It really hit me in that stage, but at least I am conscious of how it can hit you when you least expect it, especially in a race as long as this. You just have to keep fuelling up, so I’ll make sure I eat an extra bowl of pasta tonight!