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By Michael Rogers, Quick Step-Davitamon professional cycling team
It was a big day in the Tour de France today. And there are still more to come, with the race hanging on the thread of 15 seconds between Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich.
With one of four days in the Pyrénées down, all I am really thinking about now is making it to the finish in Paris – and making the best of next Saturday’s time trial along the way.
If you were in the bus – the laughing group – like I was today, there was one thing very funny about today’s 13th stage: hearing the Italians crying as we tackled the major climbs.
You could hear them. Crying. Why? They just thought we were going to hard up the 15km-long Port de Pailheres and then the final climb to the finish at Ax-3 Domaines.
We had 48 riders in the bus at the finish 33 minutes and 14 seconds behind stage winner Carlos Sastre (CSC) – including six Italians. I won’t give away the names of who cried.
It was quite an experience riding in the bus for the first time in the Tour though. It took it easy because tomorrow, the 14th stage, is going to be a real hard day, as will stage 15.
Everyone just took their turn at the front and rode tempo to keep within the time limit. We knew it was about 50 minutes, so we knew all along that we were safe.
In many ways, it was almost a day off. Well, kind of. It surely won’t be tomorrow. Since I am here at the Tour to learn, I will try and go with the main group and see how far I can go.
After Friday’s time trial – in which the heat got to me a bit – I actually I felt pretty good the whole day.
Sure, there was a lot of talk about the two climbs ahead – especially the first of them, the Porte de Pailheres which rises to 2001m attitude.
It was a big climb alright, especially the nearer to the summit. It was so steep there and the roads so narrow and twisting. With huge crowds near the summit, I can tell you there was not a lot of room up there for a bunch the size of what I was riding in.
As for the overall race, the next two days will sort that out. Then, if there are any small details still to be sorted out, I believe that will be done in the final time trial.
Right now it is hard to say where the scales will finally tip: in favor of Armstrong or Ullrich. I am certainly not counting either rider out.
I really think Armstrong is just riding a smart race, that he’s still got something up his sleeve. I don’t know why. It is just a feeling I have from seeing him in the bunch. But then, gosh … you can’t ignore the fact that Ullrich is riding very stronger every day.
I am hoping that in years to come I manage to develop the qualities of both riders, but, as I said, for now the sight of the Eiffel Tower, the Seine River and the cobblestone of the Champs Elysees will do fine. Oh … you can throw in a good time trial result for good measure.