HAVING the Euros to watch every night after the stages this week has become a bit of a fun distraction from the frenzy of racing.
We have riders from all over Europe on our team, so there’s been plenty of craic about the various results. It’s amazing to see the patriotism and passion the matches bring out in guys.
With an Irish pub right next door to our hotel last night, you could tell the score of the France v Switzerland game from the cheers or moans outside, and while there were a few disappointed people in our set-up, our Swiss rider, Reto Hollenstein, was still beaming at breakfast.
After a third crash-marred stage, where a lot of teams had riders go down again, there were suggestions last night about a possible rider protest today.
The first sprint stages of the Tour de France are probably the most hotly-contested sprints of the year, and we all agreed that these finishes need to be as safe as possible. Narrow roads, bumps, roundabouts and two-inch kerbs just won’t cut it any more, no matter how much fluorescent paint you use.
Racing has also become much faster now, not only because riders are fitter but because bikes and equipment – from tyres to frames and components, even clothing shoes and helmets – have become lighter, more aerodynamic and faster. It used to be a rarity to do 70kmh but, nowadays, it’s common to be sitting on 65 to 70kmh for long periods, which means it hurts more when you hit the ground.
The advent of social media and WhatsApp groups means everybody is in instant contact with each other and can discuss these things openly. Between all of the riders’ groups and unions last night, there was plenty of debate as to the best course of action, from riding the whole stage easy, to doing nothing at all, and everything in between.
While today’s course was fine, we all just wanted to show a sign that we weren’t happy with the safety aspect of the previous routes and stage finishes. We wanted to create an image of unity but without damaging the image of our sponsors, the sport, or the race organisers, who put so much into the event.
In the end, we settled on riding to the end of the neutralised zone and stopping at ‘kilometre zero’. Standing still in the road in front of the world’s media while you’re supposed to be racing flat-out is quite a powerful thing to do. But it’s all well and good saying you are going to do something. Having the balls to actually do it is another thing.
When we got there, there was a bit of hesitancy and the peloton just seemed to continue on as normal for a few minutes. It took my German team-mate Andre Greipel to intervene before everyone stopped. When we did restart, we agreed to ride easy for 10km, which everyone adhered to. After that, the racing began as usual.
My day was spent hanging around the back again, or wherever I felt safest. I was just trying to stay out of trouble and take it as easy as possible ahead of my more favoured terrain, the mountains, which are looming on the horizon.
It was interesting to see how some teams changed their approach today. I think the last few days have been a reality check for most of the peloton. We realise how bad the crashes can be and everyone seemed to be leaving that little bit more space around them today.
Instead of taking up their usual position at the head of affairs, a lot of the Jumbo-Visma guys, whose team leader Primoz Roglic is one of the Tour favourites, were back with me today. From chatting to a couple of them, I think they’ve taken the view that there’s no point in being on the front if that’s where the crashes are happening anyway.
Apart from one section with about 10km to go, bigger roads in today’s finale made the finish a lot safer and, as Mark Cavendish turned the clock back and took his 31st career Tour stage win, I coasted home at the back of the bunch.
Cavendish winning today shows how much of a psychological effect this sport can have if you don’t feel supported in your environment. It’s something I’ve felt a couple of times in my career when I’ve lost a bit of confidence, or my team have lost confidence in me. It’s really tough to come back from that. Then, when you find yourself in an environment where you feel respected, you can really flourish.
Tour de France,
Live, Europsort, 10.55, TG4, 1.0
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