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By Michael Rogers, Quick Step-Davitamon professional cycling team
What a day the seventh stage into the Alps turned out to be.
To finish with my Quickstep-Davitamon teammate Richard Virenque winning the first mountain stage and taking the yellow jersey – and me “passing” my first test in the Alps – it couldn’t have been better.
Firstly, a few words about Richard. I said the other day he has given me a fair bit of advice and inside knowledge about the mountains. He proved today that his word is good.
He told me this morning at breakfast that he was going to go for the stage win. He said he was going to attack on the first kilometer of the first climb, the Col de Portes. And that is exactly what he did. He was pretty keen all right. And he soon showed everyone else how.
I think it will be pretty hard for him to win the Tour but a stage never goes astray. But you can expect that he’ll still try; also that for the next few days we’ll being doing a fair bit of overtime defending the yellow jersey.
Now it will be our turn at the front of the bunch. What is sure though is it will be great for Richard, France and our Quickstep-Davitamon team if he can wear it on Monday – Bastille Day, the French national holiday.
Today also showed we can be effective in not only the one-day races and smaller stage events where we have made our name as a team this year, but also in the major tours.
My Italian teammate Paolo Bettini, who won Milan-San Remo, did a terrific job getting into that early break before Virenque went away to chase them. He rode his heart out for Richard. But the two of them … they rode like animals. It was really inspirational.
As for me? Well, fourth place at 4:03 to Richard on my first Alpine stage was a really pleasing result to start with. As I’ve said, I have never raced in the Alps and today I only had recent good form and the advice of teammates like Richard to go on.
For me, they were big climbs too. But I kept to my goal of trying to stick with the main group led by Lance Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Service team, which I succeeded in doing until just before the top of the second last climb, the Col de la Ramaz.
I have to admit it was pretty tough for me. It was hard at the start. They fired, fired, and fired (with the pace) and while I was riding a 39 x 23 gear they eventually dropped me. But as I did in the Route du Sud stage in the Pyrénées, I just settled into my own pace and after losing 30 seconds at the summit managed to get back on to the group on the descent.
After the descent, Armstrong’s team was still driving. But for me the pace was good, comfortable in fact. It also stopped all the attacks. But as I was no threat to his overall plans, I knew he wouldn’t chase me if I had a go and attacked. There was no benefit in chasing me. That I got fourth place after Richard’s success gave the team a double boost, as we have the lead in the team competition besides the yellow jersey.
So where do I go from here? Tomorrow is another hard day in the mountains. I’ve heard all about L’Alpe d’Huez and realize that that may be an even tougher stage.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t starting to feel the effects of what has already been a hard season. Mentally I’m a bit tired; but I managed to push myself today and still got a good result. It is good for the morale to know I can do that. So while I spent a lot of cookies today, I just hope I can recover well tonight and hold on for another effort tomorrow.
If circumstances allow, I’d love to try and go for the white jersey as best young rider. It is in the back of my mind. Well, maybe now it a little closer to the front now that I am only eight seconds behind Russian Denis Menchov. He was 14th today, at 4:06 and in the group of 40 riders three seconds behind me. Obviously he’s got talent.
Saying that, with the yellow jersey now on Richard’s shoulders, we will have a fair bit of work to do. So for now, I’ll just focus on what the team wants and take in the experience.