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By Tyler Hamilton, Phonak Hearing Systems Pro Cycling Team
NAMUR – The first few stages of the Tour de France are always kind of tough. They probably look easy on paper compared to the mountain stages of the Pyrénées and the Alps, but don’t let the level terrain fool you. There’s no describing how nerve-wracking the opening stages of the Tour are. For starters, there’s a full field of nearly 200 guys all fired up about being at the year’s biggest race. Add high speeds, rain, a bunch of crashes, spectators in the road, a good hard chase to reel in a break away and the madness that ensues before a field sprint, and you pretty much have the recipe for hard day at the office.
Stress is just as tough as any mountain pass. It’ll leave you every bit as drained as riding a full day of vertical.
Yesterday’s stage was nuts. If you saw the race on television then you already know the crowds were huge in some spots. And, for some reason, there weren’t barriers in every town like there usually are. This meant the folks on the side of the road were free to set up camp in the road while they waited for the race to come barreling through.
The peloton steamrolled through some towns, looking like a wall stretched straight across the road. As it charged forward, fans were jumping back to get out of the way, seemingly one-by-one. People were literally springing from their lawn chairs at the very last second to run for safety leaving their picnics, blankets, cameras and whatever else behind as they did. I even saw one poor person in wheelchair get left behind as his companions darted for safer ground. It’s a miracle no one got hurt.
Fair weather and hurtling the language barrier
Today the weather was a little more kind, which was a welcome change after riding in the rain all day yesterday. The weather is funny in the north of France. It can be sunny, partly cloudy and raining all at the same time.
This morning was a bit of a personal adventure for me. A reporter from Spain joined us on our team but this who wanted to interview me. He started out by asking “in English, right?” I am known for only speaking English – especially since I’ve always ridden on teams whose primary language was English.
I told the reporter he could ask the questions in Spanish, but that I preferred to respond in English. But when he started interviewing me, I decided “what the heck, I’ll give it a go in my Spanglishench.”
Why not? By the end, I had concluded an all-Spanish interview, which was a first for me. I’m not afraid to torture my teammates or the locals back in Girona with my Spanish, but this was the first time I was brave enough to bust out the language skills on television. Spanish natives were probably suffering listening to me, but my teammates were impressed that I was trying. So now I probably won’t be allowed to speak a word of English for the rest of the Tour without getting a little grief.
On the bright side, I guess it’s good that an old dog like me can learn a new trick or two every now and then.
Tomorrow will be another difficult day. It’s the “Paris-Roubaix stage” of the Tour this year. I’m not a big guy so I’m not really looking forward to riding the cobblestones. I’m glad we had a chance to preview the roads before the start of the race. So we know what’s ahead, and what we have to do to stay out of trouble. Now it’s just a matter of doing it. Wasn’t I just saying something about stress?
Thanks for reading.