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By Tyler Hamilton, CSC professional cycling team
Yesterday was a great day for our team.
Jacob Piil spent most of the stage in a break away, and then duked it out in a two man sprint for his first Tour de France stage victory. I’m really happy for him. He had a few tough moments during the first week of the race, but fought back hard, and came up with an incredible result. The team celebrated with a little Champagne at dinner last night.
Thankfully today is a rest day. Ten stages into this year’s Tour de France, and I’m feeling about ten years older. There are days when cycling can make you feel like an old man. And for me, yesterday was one of them.
The pain in my collarbone is now being matched by pain in my spine. I started feeling a jabbing pain in my back and rib cage a couple of days ago. We just figured it was a bruise making it’s way to the surface and that it would get better each day. But the problem is it’s been getting worse.
On Tuesday morning, the pain woke me up about an hour ahead of our scheduled wake up call. No one gets up earlier than they have to at the Tour. So this was serious. I couldn’t take a deep breath. It was like I got an instant cramp every time I tried to suck in a lot of air. And the pain would dart around my side into my chest. The feeling made me a little more than nervous.
As I ate breakfast, Ole spent a little time working on the area trying to get a feel for what was wrong. He figured the culprit was probably a nerve being pinched somewhere in my now twisted spine. Since I’m stronger on one side at the moment, I’m pulling things a little out of whack. I practically squirmed out of my seat every time Ole got close to the spot where the pain was the most intense. To make matters a little more challenging, we had about an hour’s worth of a transfer from our hotel yesterday. We had stayed at the base of a ski station in the middle of nowhere.
The roads were about as twisty and up and down as they come. By the time we made it to the start town of Gap I was ready to get out of the car. But we got stuck in a traffic jam. We inched along for about as long as we could stand, and then finally started hauling down the wrong side of the road to get to the start. We made it with about 20 minutes to spare, which isn’t a whole lot of time when you need to get taped up, sign in and get your act together to get into the race. I didn’t sign in. Something had to give, and that seemed to be the least important demand at the time. It was a pretty stressful morning.
To make matters a little worse, Bjarne had tried to take a short cut to the start, and wound up getting the lead team car stuck in a ditch. Our mechanic Frederick had to beg a guy with a Jeep to help tow the car out. They got the job done just in the nick of time.
I started the race feeling pretty awful and spent the entire day counting the kilometers to the finish. I’m glad Jacob had such a great day. His success was a good distraction from my misery. We had another long transfer after the stage. We finished in Marseille and had to drive to Montpellier.
It didn’t look like a long way on the map, but there was an accident half way to Montpelier on the main highway that basically shut down traffic for 20 kilometers in both directions. So, we had to take the national route to our hotel. I lost count of how many traffic lights and rotaries we passed. It’s was a long day.
Monday’s stage was really tough. I had previewed the climbs in June, so I knew that we were going to have our work cut out for us. The two climbs following the d’Izoard weren’t super long, but they were steep. And it the heat was intense. I found myself in much the same position I did on Alpe d’Huez.
I couldn’t sprint when guys attacked, but I could ride a pretty steady pace on my own that eventually got me back in contact with powerhouses up front. It was a dangerous ride as well since the tar was soft and pretty slippery in some spots. It was really a shame to see Beloki go down like he did. My read on the crash was that he had hit a slick spot where the tar had melted, had his wheel slip out, then got caught up on dry pavement. The speeds combined with the elements made it impossible for him to control his bike. It was a bad situation. And it could have happened to any one of us.
But how about Armstrong, though? I’ve never seen anything like what he did. The guy just keeps making bike racing history. We could see him crossing the field as we made our way around the switch back. When he darted back into the road I couldn’t believe what I was watching him do.
I instinctively threw out my arm to try and give him a push to help get him up to speed, but then I realized I had reached out with my right arm, which is the side with my collarbone fractures. At the last second, I pulled my hand away. I don’t think I would have been much help to him anyway. He seemed to have the situation under control. Although his heart rate must have been over 200 at the time.
Thanks for reading.