Originally posted on Bicycling.com
I will miss him when he goes, because he gets me out there every year.
What do you know? All of my “most definitely, probably not” ideas regarding racing another Tour de France just went out the window this week when news came that, once again, I have been selected for our Tour de France team! And let me tell you, although for many years riding the Tour was a given, this year I really didn’t know until the last minute.
At the start of the season I just didn’t think there was any chance that I would do the Tour for my Trek Factory Racing team. All year long I just haven’t performed like I wanted to do. And I didn’t perform how I think I was supposed to. In races where I usually perform well, like in the Tour of California, I just really struggled. I was only able to make one breakaway in the final day. That’s all!
But I did start feeling better after California. I saw my power coming back and I started being able to stay with the leaders on hard stages longer and longer into each race. And then in the Dauphine I was much better. I was able to make it into three breakaways during the week. And the Dauphine is a good gage for the Tour de France. We often say, the Dauphine is like a week in the Tour de France. So making breakaways there gave me confidence. On one break, Stage 6, we even stayed away to the finish and I had a chance for a stage win.
That said, five years ago, I would have won that stage with a smile on my face. But this year I could only get sixth. This year, I raced like I wanted, but my body just can’t do the things it used to do. I still can make the breaks and I knew when and where I needed to be in the finish. But it wasn’t good enough. The body just doesn’t follow the plan like I want it to do any more! But still I showed enough to get one of the final spots on Trek’s Tour de France team.
I think my past also argued strongly for me because, well, it really helped that I have just always been good in July. For 16 years now, I don’t disappoint. I can do the job my team needs me to do and more. I’ve proven my reliability. I’m always there. And that was a factor again this year.
In the months building up to the Tour, I was always there. I’m never sick. I’m never injured. I don’t need a special bike. I don’t have a problem because my diamond earring is missing. I’m just the perfect soldier. I just get on my bike and say “Yes Sir!”
You can’t have a team just of primadonnas and superstars you know! You have to have somebody that can do the job before the TV cameras are rolling. And that’s my job. I’m the guy that covers the first break. I’m the guy that brings rain jackets up. I’m the guy that brings rain jackets back. I’m the guy that rides tempo. You name it. I do it. I’m the utility man. I’m the Leatherman tool!
One of my special roles this year will be taking Danny van Poppel under my wing a little bit. He’s a young rider with a lot of talent and we’ve been racing together a lot this year. I can help him a lot with things like placement, showing him when he can relax in the pack or to tell him, “Hey Danny, there are only 20-kilometers to go. We need to move up now. We need to be in the top 30 now because the race is going to get so fast in a couple of kilometers that it is not going to be possible to move up any more!”
So here I go again. Soon enough I’ll be packing up and getting ready for my annual summer vacation in France once again. This will be my 17th Tour de France, and as many of you know, I will then hold the record for the most Tours de France with guys like George Hincapie and my old teammate Stuart O’Grady. Now I’ve always said that record for Tour de France participations never really meant much to me. I’d rather have the record for the most stage wins!
Of course I am excited, and just basically honored to be there again this year. I feel really honored that my team still trusts me and has confidence that I can do the job they expect of me. But also I am frightened. I know how hard the Tour is. I know how many crazy finishes we have. I know how many crazy downhills there are. I know how much suffering I am going to do on those super-hard climbs in the Pyrenees and the Alps.
After doing the Tour for 16 years now I just have a deep respect for the challenge that is ahead of me. You know I calculated it the other day. I will have done nearly 340 days of racing in the Tour de France. That is like racing a Tour de France stage every day for an entire year of my life. All I can say is that I really must a passion for this job. That or I am just plain stupid!