By Andrew Hood
When Fred Rodriguez needs a lift at the end of a long day in the trenches of the Tour de France, he reaches into the back pocket of his Davitamon-Lotto jersey and pulls out a little cup of coffee.
No, he doesn’t have a coffee-maker back there. Instead, he grabs an energy gel bearing a shot of his own band of “Fast Freddy” coffee.
“I can’t carry a cup of coffee in the race, so now I have something to take in the last part of the race to give me a last boost of energy,” Rodriguez said. “I usually have one or two near the end of a stage.”
Rodriguez said he met with Clif Bar officials to develop the special Tour de France energy gel.
“It mimics a shot of espresso. It’s the same effect as a cup of coffee,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a really strong combination of sugar and coffee, so one or two is all I need. I gave some to George and Zabriskie, so everyone is taking a shot at it.”
Horner waiting for chance
Chris Horner is enjoying his first appearance in the Tour de France. The 33-year-old is like a kid in a candy store and he can’t wait for his chance to grab some goodies.
“I’m just holding tight, waiting for the mountains to get here,” Horner said before the start of Wednesday’s stage. “It’s great so far in the Tour. The legs are good, so I’m just hoping to get a chance.”
Horner was one of the big engines for Saunier Duval in Tuesday’s team time trial, though he quickly added the team wasn’t going full blast. The team finished second to last at just over five minutes off the pace, but only lost 2:55 based on the Tour’s controversial scoring system.
‘The team time trial, we were just taking it easy and take the three-minute hit,” he said. “Under the best-case scenario, we go full blast and the best we’re going to do is go 2:30.”
Horner said he’s looking forward to trying to go on the attack in the mountains. Two stages looming in the Vosges could be ideal hunting terrain.
So far the biggest surprise for Horner has been fighting for position in the peloton.
“It’s like the like the last five laps of a criterium but for 200km,” he said. “This is nothing like the big World Cup races, and I thought those were hard.”
Tour ‘novato’ hopes to shine
Alejandro Valverde has had a conspicuously low-profile so far in his much-vaunted Tour de France debut.
The Spanish phenomenon sits 47th overall at 3:32 back, hardly indicative of his ambitious goals for the second half of the race.
“We have our objectives, but they lie in the mountains,” Valverde said before the start of Thursday’s stage. “Right now all we’ve been doing is following the wheels. At least once we get to the hills, we’ll be able to see how we are.”
According to Illes Balears officials, Valverde isn’t expected to figure in the overall standings. Those responsibilities lie with Francisco Mancebo, the top Spanish rider in 2004 with sixth, and Vladimir Karpets, the enigmatic Russian who won best-young-rider honors last year.
Valverde, meanwhile, will play the joker, helping Mancebo as best he can while sniffing out chances to go on the attack. The Vosges could be a good platform for Valverde to try to get away. A solid climber with a fast finish, Valverde’s strengths will best be used if he can work into a breakaway.
“So far, so good,” he said. “I’d like to try something. I can already see it’s going to be difficult because everyone in the peloton is strong. But I have the motivation to try something. The legs are feeling good, but you can’t make conclusions too early.”
Valverde is impressed with the scale and grandeur of the Tour. After racing almost exclusively on Spanish roads, racking up 23 wins the past two seasons with Comunidad Valenciana, Valverde seems inspired one week into the Tour.
“The Tour de France is beautiful,” he said. “The ambiance, the public, everything is very nice about this race. The level of competition is very high. Most impressive are the crowds. The amount of people lining the roads every day is impressive.”
“Balverde,” as he’s called by his loyal fans, is also impressed with Big Tex. Armstrong’s last Tour is Valverde’s first, but he’s glad he’s getting the chance to see the Tour king in his prime.
“I’ve raced with Armstrong in other races, but to watch him at his highest level is something to see,” he said. “Armstrong is looking strong. He was good in the time trials, but we have to wait for the mountains before we’ll really know.”
Valverde is hoping he’ll have a front-row seat, rather than being in the back of the bus.
Armstrong comments on attacks
Lance Armstrong commented on Thursday’s terrorist attacks before the start of Friday’s stage, passing his condolences to the victims in London.
“Once again, free society is struck by needless and senseless terror,” Armstrong said. “I think we’ve all had enough. It seems like the enemies are persistent, and obviously my heart goes out to all the people in Great Britain and the prime minister.”
The Tour held a minute’s silence before the start of the stage in honor of the victims.
“It’s a great shame, especially the day after they were, I suppose, on such an emotional high,” Armstrong said. “To be struck by that is a shame. We were all thinking about them here on the team and hope that they recover okay, that this stuff ultimately stops for all of us.”