By Tyler Hamilton, U.S. Postal Service professional cycling team
What do you get when you mix rain, freezing cold temperatures and the Tour de France? One long day and a back ache. I don’t know what we did to deserve it, but Mother Nature is sure letting us have it. If I could have a conversation with this woman I’d beg for mercy.
Enough with the wind and the rain and the unseasonable temps already. The race is enough of a challenge all by itself.
The early part of the day was a bit hectic given that Telekom’s Vinokourov was part of the epic break that went up the road at 5 kilometers in. Perhaps the cycling fates were on our side and didn’t want us to chase like maniacs for the entire day. When Vinokourov flatted and lost contact with the other escapees the peloton breathed a collective sigh of relief. It’s hard going full tilt with rain pelting your face. And the number of crashes today proved that. Needless to say, things would have been sketchier if he didn’t come back to the group. Anyone who doesn’t believe that luck is a factor in bicycle racing doesn’t need to look any further than an example like today. Vinokourov’s bad luck was our good luck, plain and simple.
It doesn’t take much for a guy like me to get really cold on a day like today. Even though I was wearing multiple layers of clothing there isn’t much you can do when you’re soaked to the bone. Especially when there’s no end to the cats and dogs pouring down on you. Luckily there weren’t any huge descents. When you’re as cold I was today, a down hill section can really do you in. I’ve been so cold before that my hands were too numb to change gears. And after a stage like we just endured, you can also look forward to duking it out with your roommate for rights to the bathtub. That is if you’re lucky enough to have one in your room. A lot of European hotels only have shower stalls. Tonight I was able to cop a little spa time to warm up. Now if only there was room service…
It’s incredibly hectic after the race. Usually we have to drive a ways to get to our hotel. Upon arrival everyone showers, gets a massage, grabs a quick snack, sees the chiropractor and phones home to confirm they’ve made it through another day. When we’re done with all that, we head to dinner. And sometimes, but not always, there are team meetings scheduled before bed. There really is no such thing as down time here at the Tour. Mornings are equally busy. We eat three hours before the start, visit the chiropractor again, pack up our suitcases so they can be loaded onto the team truck, meet to discuss the day ahead and then we depart. On days when there are only prologues or time trials you can add some course preview time to this schedule as well. Now you know why bike racers don’t like to leave the house between races.
Christian has headed home to Chicago today for a little healing and R&R. If you get a chance, visit his website at ChristianVandevelde.com christianvandevelde.com and sign his guest book to wish him a speedy recovery. We’ll certainly miss him here – on and off the bike.
Thanks for reading.