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Rogers’ Road: The learning curve

The learning curve that is the Tour de France steepens dramatically after tomorrow’s seventh stage - literally and metaphorically – when we hit the mountains of the Alps. A lot of people have been asking how I hope to go. I can see why there are some expectations after I defended my lead at the Route du Sud in the last Pyreneen stage. To be honest, how I hope to go and how I actually do go could be two completely different things. All I have been told after talking to the likes of teammate Richard Virenque is that racing in the long and twisting mountain roads of the Tour is a totally

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By Michael Rogers, Quick Step-Davitamon professional cycling team

The learning curve that is the Tour de France steepens dramatically after tomorrow’s seventh stage – literally and metaphorically – when we hit the mountains of the Alps.

A lot of people have been asking how I hope to go. I can see why there are some expectations after I defended my lead at the Route du Sud in the last Pyreneen stage.

To be honest, how I hope to go and how I actually do go could be two completely different things. All I have been told after talking to the likes of teammate Richard Virenque is that racing in the long and twisting mountain roads of the Tour is a totally different kettle of fish.

So I am not hiding any cards up my sleeve when I say I really, really don’t know how I will go.

Don’t get me wrong. My results and form this season have helped to instill self-confidence. I am not the type person who lacks it. I am just respectful of a challenge.

There is also much I can take from my wins in the Tours of Belgium and Germany and in that final stage of the Route du Sud into the Alps this weekend.

It’s great knowing that after five stages I am feeling better than I did when we began in Paris last Saturday. Today’s fifth stage to Nevers was the best I felt the whole race.

Your don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that if you are going to have any chance of riding strongly in the mountains, good form, health and strong mind is a must.

So hopefully I can just continue on and rest by hiding in the bunch as much as possible and the see what I can do in the mountains. I just don’t know.

I plan to use a standard 39 x 23 gearing, I’ll just follow and if they go to hard I’ll just try and hang on. Then I’ll just try and go at my own pace and see what come out of it.

The Pyrenean stage of the Route du Sud also taught me to have confidence in my own ability, and not to measure how I race off the way others may do.

In that stage two danger men attacked on the final climb. It would have been easy to try and go with them (although harder to stay with them). But instead I stuck by my game plan and rode my own tempo. In the end, the overall victory was still mine.

The lesson learned was that I am not the king of rider to accelerate, accelerate; but better at keeping my one speed and milking my strength and turn of pace to the maximum.

That my plan worked like clockwork provided a major boost in my self-confidence.I am still learning about my limits in these kinds of races. And by Saturday I am sure I will have learned more. But I have so far been able to be competitive and I win.

Still, when it comes to the mountains of the Tour, I am going to try and follow the big names … there’s no tactics involved there. I am willing to try and follow them. It is the only way to find out what my limits are. But if I can’t, I won’t be shattered mentally. I’ll go back to riding at my pace to minimize the time loss and perhaps gain near the end.

Italian Luca Paolini is the only rider on the Tour who was with me at the Route du Sud, as most of that team were Belgians. On the Tour where we have a cosmopolitan mix of riders from seven countries, Luke Van de Wouwer is the only Belgian riding with us.

But, there is still much experience to draw on for advice and support. As I said, I have been talking to Virenque quite a bit. He’s been telling me quite a bit about the mountains we will pass in the Alps on Saturday, Sunday and Monday as I haven’t ridden any of them – even though I have trained on other climbs in the region.

Another big difference I’m sure will be the intensity of the crowds and in-race traffic around us in the Tour peloton. In race like the Route du Sud there may be a few cars and motorbikes following you and a sprinkling of fans. But I’ve seen enough television images of crowds on Tour to suspect it can either be a suffocating or lifting experience.

So far the crowds have been fantastic. In the past I have always found they spur you. Having seen so many Aussie flags out there on the road this year has also been fantastic

I’m sure they’ll be there in the Alps and Pyrenees. My vision of them may be blurred by the sweat dripping into my eyes; but don’t think their influence will be any less for it.

I may regret saying it: but talking about it gets my blood pumping – even after finishing another hot and fiery four hours in the saddle at an average speed of 47kmh on stage five.