By Tyler Hamilton, U.S. Postal Service professional cycling team
Getting underway at the Tour de France is always a nerve-wracking ordeal. Having to arrive early for health exams and the team presentation means we all spend the final days leading up the start cooped up in our hotel rooms. And although this probably forces us to rest like we should, it also leaves us with lots of time to consider the job ahead. And with this being my fifth start, I know all too well the pressure and the pain that lies ahead. But every challenge worth facing starts off a bit daunting I guess – so I’m hoping the contemplation is a good sign.
The team presentation was a little rough yesterday. It was the first time I remember our team ever being booed. That’s not to say there weren’t many supporters in the crowd as well, but there certainly were some angry Frenchmen among them who made it clear they were unhappy about Cedric Vasseur being left off the U.S. Postal’s Tour team. Cedric’s first amateur team was based here in Dunkirk – and his French fan club is huge – so I guess it should be no surprise that the team has received a little “feedback” here. But some folks are angry – very angry, in fact. Today, on the way to practice on the prologue course I saw someone had hung an American flag upside down.
Coming from a nautical town on the coast of New England – I can honestly say I was a bit taken back to see that. Needless to say, people take their passion for this sport and their heroes within it pretty seriously over here.
My bib number is “4” again this year – which is kind of strange given that it was my number last year as well. Usually the team assigns numbers alphabetically after the leader who assumes the first in the lot. But Roberto Heras is number 2 – and we all fall out in order after him. It’s quite a big deal having two grand tour champions riding for the same squad. It’s certainly not something you see very often. Roberto is the biggest reason why a lot of folks are saying the U.S. Postal team looks more threatening this year. There’s not doubt he’s strong. I just wish his butt were a little bigger. Not because I’ve been comparing mine to his or anything – but because I have to ride behind him in the team time trial. At 58 kilos he’s not much of a draft. I think I’m going to have to talk to him about stuffing a watermelon in the back of his skinsuit.
I was the second Postal guy off this afternoon. The director gets to decide the riding order for the Prologue. With an on and off rain like we had today, it’s good to spread out the guys who can TT well. Especially since the forecast wasn’t calling for sun to dry things up. The course had a couple of good turns in it – and there was a lot of paint on the road, which gets pretty slick when it’s wet. I think we were all a bit concerned about how dangerous this could make things. Nobody wants to go down with less than 8 kilometers under their belt.
The rain gods were on our side – the wet stuff managed to hold off while everyone was on the course. My first three kilometers were good – I was riding like I wanted to be, strong and feeling secure on the bike. But then my seat slipped. The nose of the saddle just dipped forward. I had my seat adjusted just before the start – which probably wasn’t a great idea in retrospect. When I tried to adjust a little bit the seat slipped again.
After that my cadence was off. Knowing the bolt was loose, I wound up concentrating more on balancing my weight on my pedals instead of my seat. With my position and my confidence a little rattled my split times were considerably slower on the second half of the course. But these things happen, and the Tour de France is a long race. So there’s no use in getting upset about a day like today. You just move on, because by this time tomorrow, today’s prologue will be a distant memory.