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The Jay Sweet Diary 1999
The Local East Coast Australian Time is
Tour de FranceParis
We had our team presentation in Paris last night and everyone is very excited. It's such a different race to every other race. It's more of a special event. This is my first Tour de France, so I don't know what to expect. Throughout the year, when you speak to riders about the Tour, it's such a big event for everyone.
It's not just cycling fans who are watching, it's the whole world. Ask anyone about a bike race and all they know is the Tour de France. The last few weeks I've done a lot of speed work because the first week of the Tour is relatively flat. That's going to be my best chance for a result; to try and do something in one of the sprints.
My team is quite confident in me getting a result but it is my first Tour and I don't know what to expect. From what other guys have said, it is just so different to any other bike race. How? I don't know. I guess I will find out in a couple of days. They tell me it's really different to any other bike race. It's so much harder and so much faster. Instead of having maybe 10 or 20 guys really motivated to win, you've got 120. So eveyone wants to win and they'll do just about anything to win - a few crashes or what not, so it's pretty nerve-racking in the bunch. As for my role in the team, for the first week it is to try and win a sprint or be as highly-placed as possible during the stages. Once we get to the mountains, it's just a matter of surviving, just trying to get through. It is quite difficult because if you spend a lot of energy in the first week just trying to win, that's mental and physical energy. If you do that for 10 days and hit the first day in the mountains, you actually find that you've spent quite a lot of energy in the first week and you don't have a lot left. That's why a lot of the sprinters really struggle in the mountains. In the first week, mountain-climbers will just sit at the back and save as much energy as possible. In the second and third week, when they're in the mountains, they've got a lot of energy left. Basically, I'll be trying to survive and then play it day-by-day and hopefully I can make it into Paris.
Day 1, Time Trial 6.8 kms:
Well the day has come. My first Tour de France has started. When I arrived at le Puy de Fou this afternoon I couldn't believe how many people were there. I did a warm up lap around the course and there were spectators around the whole circuit. I made my way into the pit area where all the team buses and cars were parked and saw some of the earlier guys warming up on A-frames and home trainers. That's when the nerves kicked in. I finally realised that I was at the Tour de France. It is the biggest sporting event I have ever seen! I got changed in the team bus and started to warm up. Not long after I started my warm up I found that my gears weren't working so I called over one of my mechanics. He played around with them for a while but couldn't get them to work. The other mechanics tried but couldn't get them working properly either. Twenty minuntes before my start they finally got it all sorted out, so I did a quick 10 minute warm up before heading over to the start ramp. 5,4,3,2,1.....and off I went.
The crowd on the starting straight was pretty awesome, screaming and cheering. My heart rate must have risen another 10 beats per minute. I was so excited and nervous I went a bit harder than I wanted to. After the first kilometre I had to try and calm myself down. The lactic acid was building rapidly in my legs and my lungs were starting to burn. After 4 kms I turned right on to the small climb. I took it nice and easy so I wouldn't blow. I got over the top and knew it was only 2 kms: to go so I put my head down and went flat out! I finished well and am happy with my time. The majority of the bunch finished between 8:30 minutes and 9:20 minutes. I rode 9:02 which is an average time overall but good for me. I'm not a time trialist, I'm a sprinter so my tour starts tomorrow.
Day 2 - 210 kms:
My first road stage of the Tour de France and it poured rain all day. The weather has been hot all week and it had to start raining today. Anyway it kept the bunch at bay for a while. One of my team mates, Thierry Gouvenou attacked around the 80 kms: mark on his own. I didn't expect him to last very long but he went out to 6:30 mins and stayed away for 115 kms: on his own! The pace started to pick up to around 55 kms per hour with 60 kms: to go. With 25 kms: to go the fighting started. I stayed up around the front 30 or 40 riders. There was quite a bit of jostling for position but nothing too rough. I didn't see another sight until 5 kmsto go.
I tried to move up closer to the front but there was a lot of twitching in the bunch. We were going flat out now and noone wanted to lose their position. I looked up and saw the "1 kms: to go" banner and made a desperate move forward. There was a right hand turn with 800m to go. I was too far back, I needed to get closer to the front using the least amount of energy. It wasn't going to happen so I started my sprint with 400m to go. With 100m to go I was in the first 15 but had nowhere to go and no energy left. I sat in my seat and just tried to hold my position. I ended up 13th. The winner was Jan Kirsipu ( Casino ). I was happy with that result. My first bunch sprint of the Tour de France. It has given me more motivation and confidence for the next few days. I know I can do better so keep those fingers crossed, you never know!
Day 3 - 176 kms:
Today I spent a day in hell. It all started 30 kms: into the stage. There was a premie sprint at 35 kms so we were moving along quite fast when a spectator wanted a better photo of us passing and stepped out on to the road and into thebunch. Riders went everywhere. I was just behind and saw the crash so I locked up my brakes and had stopped enough to miss it when someone behind me didn't react so fast and smashed straight into me at 50 kms per hour, which sent me flying through the air. When I landed my feet didn't unclip from the pedals and I twisted my ankle. From the sudden sharp pain it sent through my body, I thought it was broken. I tried to stand but it was to painful. I sat on the road and called for the doctor! Once I found out it wasn't broken I asked for my bike, I wasn't going to stop now! I chased the peloton ( bunch ) for 30 kms. When I caught them I was feeling stuffed so I sat at the back of the bunch for a couple of kilometers to recover. The bunch was going about 60 kms per hour because there was a narrow road coming up. I was making my way towards the front when we turned onto the small road. I was concentrating hard because I expected another crash. I was right. A couple of riders crashed and everyone behind went for their brakes to slow down but the road was like ice and riders were dropping like flies. I had nowhere to go and crashed again! I wasn't hurt this time but it was all over for me today. I was with a group of about 20 riders and we finished 19 minutes behind. So in the whole 176 kms today I spent about 40 kms in the bunch and the rest either on my own or with a small group chasing. The race doctor and my team doctor had a good look at my ankle after the stage and said it is sprained badly. They also said that it'sgoing to be stiff and painful tomorrow morning but I figure that I did 140 kms with it today so I can do 200 kms tomorrow! I hope.
Day 4 - 195 kms:
Today was not a good day for me! I was sore, stiff and did not feel comfortable on the bike at all. To make things worse the road was like a rollercoaster, it was up and down all day. The pace was fast for the last 60 kms and I felt every kilometre of it. I was suffering in the last 25 kms: and just wanted to survive the stage. When we passed the '2 kms to go' sign I sat up and rolled into the finish. There's not really much to tell from today's stage except that I hope I get better or it's going to be a long three weeks!
Day 5 - 195 kms:
Today was one of the fastest stages in the tour. We averaged 50 kms per hour for the 195 kms. I felt good all day. It was such a change from yesterday. I felt more confident in the bunch and was able to relax a little more. My ankle feels better but I am still a bit stiff and sore. The last 25 kms was flat out and there was alot of fighting for position. I was doing okay, holding good position until 1200m to go there was a right hand turn. I was on the right hand side of the bunch and was squeezed out on the corner. I made a mad dash up to about 20th position as we passed the 1 kms: to go to the banner. I pushed my way into a position out of the wind to recover before making my sprint to the finish. I took off with 200m to go and finished 10th. I am happy with my sprint today, when I went I had a lot of speed, I'm just always too far back. Tomorrow is a long stage, 233 kms:, hopefully it ends up in a sprint again so I can have another go!
Day 6 - 235 kms:
Today was a long, long day. It was undulating all day and there was a head wind at the start, then it went to crosswinds. The break went after 4 kms and we had 1 rider (Gouvenou) in it so all we had to do was sit in and wait. It was uncomfortable all day because 5different teams were chasing quite hard and the rest of us were trying to stay as fresh as possible. I wasn't feeling really good, as I said, it was a long day. With 25 kms to go the break had been brought back and another had gone. Four riders were at 30 seconds and my team had another rider (Dacruz) in it. The pace of the peloton preparing for the sprint bought it back with about 10 kms to go. I was placed right up the front on Cippo's wheel. With 1 kms: to go the bunch swamped us from the right and I lost his wheel and was blocked between the barriers and the bunch. I was feeling good and was well placed for the first time this tour. I wasn't really happy after the finish but tomorrow's another day!
Day 7 - 171 kms:
Before the start this morning I was really motivated to get amongst the sprint. I think this is my last real chance before the mountains. It was fairly flat but there was a crosswind for most of the day. Right from the start the attacks started. There was a split in the bunch from the winds and a break was forming. I jumped across to it on my own. I had to use every bit of speed and power I had to make it but when I got there I looked behind and we had about 30 seconds. Two teams panicked (Mapei and US Postal) and chased it down straight away. It was kind of good because I was suffering in the break! Attacks kept going until they let one go. I was so thankful when they did because I was so stuffed I didn't know how much more I could take. They let it go to about 8 minutes before they started to chase it. The last hour we must have covered around 60 kms because we were going! I was up near the front just to miss the crashes. I tried to have a go in the sprint but Fagini (Saeco) swung off from leading out Cippo and just sat up and I got caught up behind him. I didn't really have the legs anyway. I think I finished around 15th. Today was absolute hell for me. My legs were so tired and sore it was the first time I thought about stopping. Stuey, Robbie, Henk and Magnus (Backstead) helped me through the day but I'm not looking forward to tomorrow (230 kms) or the mountains.
Stage 8 - 56.5 kms:
That was one of the hardest stages for me so far. Having to ride 60 kms flat out on my own. I had to go flat out because I didn't want to risk getting eliminated and you never know what the big hitters are going to do. There were heaps of spectators cheering me on and I had to try hard not to get too excited incase I blew and struggled into the finish. The last 15 kms took forever! It was a block head wind and the road was dead straight. I was starting to blow because I lifted the pace after the second hill (27 kms) so when I turned into the head wind my legs exploded but I had to keep going to keep my time respectable. I said I wanted to do around 1hr 20 mins because I thought the winner would do about 1hr 10mins and that would be safe. I did 1hr 19mins and the winner (Armstrong) did it in 1hr 08mins so I survived another day! Now I have a well deserved rest day, I think I'll spend it in bed!
Stage 9- 215 kms:
What a scarring day! The weather was shabby, raining, cold and a head wind! I got over the first two climbs okay, the bunch took it quite easy which was a relief. The Col du Telegraph (12 kms at 7.1%) was hard. I was the first one dropped, I just climbed it at my own pace. I caught the groupetto over the top on the descent. We then started to climb the Col du Galibier (18 kms at 7%). I lasted about 3 kms with the groupetto before I went hunger flat. My arms didn't want to hold up my body, I had no power whatsoever. I absolutly crawled to the top of the Galibier which seemed to take forever. When I got to the top I stopped to put on my rain jacket because it was freezing and mydirector said that I was as white as a ghost and my eyes were half open. He didn't really want me to descend the Galibier but I said I wanted to go on. With 70 kms to go and two more Col's I kept going. When I got to the bottom of the descent it was hailing on me but I kept going! On the Col de Montgenevre (10.5 kms at 5%) it was absolutly pouring rain but I kept going and at the bottom of the last Col (11.2 kms at 6%). I asked my director how much time I had left for the time cut and he said "You have to go as fast as you can!". I already had been for the last 110 kms but I had to finish. As I climbed as fast as I could it kept raining on me. I got to the last kilometer and sprinted or tried to anyway just to make time cut! I was out by 3 minutes. I didn't make the time cut! After everything I'd been through today and I was eliminated. I guess the officials felt real sorry for me or respected my courage because they are allowing me to start again tomorrow. I don't know if that's good or not yet, I'm too tired to think about tomorrow yet.
Stage 10 - 220 kms:
Well I'm still here! Luckily the officials felt sorry for me yesterday and allowed me to start again. The sun was shining so that was a good start. The bunch cruised over the first Col, Col du Mont-Cenis (25 kms at 6.5%) and it was still hard for me. We then descended until the second Col, Col de la Croix de Fer (28.6 kms at 5% ). I quickly found the groupetto and we rode hard to the top so we didn't lose too much time. We descended down that and we caught another group at the bottom so we had quite a large groupetto for L'Alpe d'Huez (14 kms at 8%). I thought that climbing L'Alpe d'Huez with the crowd would be great and you would hardly notice the climb because of the crowd! WRONG!
I suffered all the way up and if anything the crowd was annoying! Imagine climbing a steep hill after 200 kms, it's about 30 degrees and there are thousands of people screaming as loud as they can at you, blowing horns and ringing bells. For the first 10 minutes it's kind of fun but it gets louder as you get higher and this goes on for about an hour. When I finished my ears were ringing! Anyway I survived another day.
Stage 11 - 200 kms:
The profile for today looked easy except for the Col at the finish! I suffered over a cat 2 climb and was just off the back over the top. On the descent Stuey (O'Grady) and Magnus (Backstead) caught me and we had a nice little 20 kms chase at 55 kms per hour. I thought that they would sit up over the top of the climb but it went into a cross wind and they kept going flat out. When we finally got on it all came back together except for the group of 6 that was off the front and we cruised to the finish. Another day down and I actually finished feeling good. I have a feeling that tomorrow may be different!
Stage 12 - 200 kms:
I had another nice long day today. We had to go over Col de la Croix de l'Homme Mort (16 kms at 4.5%) after 20 kms. I was dropped in the first 2 kms of it and spent the next 40 kms by myself. Luckly for me, not for him, a Spanish rider (Team Vitalicio) crashed on the descent of the 2nd col and I caught him on the way down. We spent the next 140 kms together. Just the two of us. So all together I did 180 kms of the 200 kms either by myself or with one other guy! After about 50 kms with me my new "partner in crime" was stuffed so he just sat on me. I towed him to the finish and with 2 kms to go he rode up next to me and said in English "Thank you!". It made me feel quite good! Anyway we made the time cut by about 10 mins. Not bad for 180 kms alone!
Stage 13 - 236.5 kms:
The longest stage for the Tour and I felt every kilometer of it. It was up and down all day. There were 7 climbs which were categorised and about 30 that weren't! I suffered to stay with the bunch for as long as I could because I didn't fancy another lonely day. I got dropped over the 5th and 6th categorised climbs but managed to get back on. On the last climb it was just too much for the legs. I was dropped and was a bit behind. With 40 kms to go it was still a bit far to sit up so I tried to get back on. I made it to the convoy but we started another climb and I was dropped from it again. On the next descent I got back to the convoy but we started another climb and you guessed it I was dropped again! This happened to me for the next 25 kms or 4 more times. On the last time my legs gave in and I let it go! I cruised in with an Italian that I caught and we finished a couple of minutes behind the bunch. I made the time cut again today, I only have to get through tomorrow now then I've got a rest day!
Today I didn't do much at all, I went for a 1.30 hr ride, nice and easy. After lunch I did a couple of interviews and ate ice-cream with my girlfriend who came to see me. I also had ice-cream for dessert. I never realised how much I like ice-cream. Tomorrow is D. Day.
Stage 15 - 175 kms:
It's over! My Tour de France is over. Four minutes was what I missed out by. I knew that today was going to be the hard one if I was alone. It all started after the first col at 25 kms. I was near the back on the descent and as soon as we got to the bottom of the descent it went straight back uphill again and the bunch was going flat out. I got dropped and was concerned. It was a long way to go on my own. I started the second col, caught Bo Hamburger and went straight past him. On the third col I caught Damian Nazon and we stayed together on this col. We were 3 mins behind the groupetto so I upped the tempo to try and catch them before the top. Big mistake! I blew and absolutely crept up the fourth col. On the last col Nazon left me. I was so stuffed. I was going flat out because the time cut was really short today. The last five kilometers seemed to take forever, I was sprinting the whole way. I crossed the line 43 minutes behind the winner.........the time cut was 38 minutes. I was too tired to be disappointed, the media rushed me at the finish and started asking questions but I could hardly talk! When I got back to the hotel we were waiting to see if the organisation would give me another chance but no luck! It's over! My first reaction was disappointmentbut then I thought about what I had achieved and how far I had gone. I had gained alot of respect from alot of people, directors,the media, the public and the riders. I realised that this is not just a cycling event, it's one of the biggest if not the biggest sporting events in the world and I was a part of it. I now know what to expect next year and am motivated already. I will finish this race, that's for sure! Thanks to everyone for your support, it was a huge help.