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2001 Tour de France rider journals
Pre-Tour - July 6: Ready to roll
This year the Australian rider Bradley McGee has shown that his progression from track star to leading road rider has come along well, with strong rides in the Midi Libre and a second place in the prologue of the Criterium du Dauphine Libere. McGee already has a swag of medals from his days on the track, but is still only 25 and considered one of the best young prospects for a stint in yellow during the first week of the Tour. If he puts in a strong prologue time, you can expect his FDJ teammates to help him to score the valuable bonus seconds in the early stages and challenge for the maillot jaune.
It all hit me at yesterday's teams presentation. I thought I knew what top-line cycling is all about, until we were introduced to the world. What really hit me as we lined up in front of the crowd was looking at the older guys on the team, like Jacky Durand. This guy is on his ninth Tour, but I happened to notice when his name was announced was his legs were full of goosebumps. It made me realise, that this race was bigger than anything I could dream of.
Sure enough, the prologue was the realisation of that for me.
This is like the Olympics, but here cycling is the only sport - you've got the whole world looking at the sport of cycling for three weeks. I know my performance today wasn't 100 per cent, I let that big, hairy dog of nervousness come up and bite me. I don't like to admit that, but it's true. Nothing can prepare you for this race except for doing it. Having said all that, though, it's great to have kicked it off.
My directeur sportif, or team manager, Marc Madiot was okay about today. He's been really cool, I think he realises he doesn't quite know what's going on in the mind of a top-line time triallist because that wasn't his specialty when he rode. So he's let me prepare in my own way. He also knew I wasn't in top form today.
After the stage he said, and I said, it's three weeks. There's no point getting upset about that.
Then there's Christophe Moreau's win. It's something for the French to cheer about, which is great for the revival of cycling in this country. The feeling in France is they've been suffering somewhat on the world scene, so it's a good feeling for them.
For the team, it was a good day. Jacky Durand was up the road for most of the day and he took the combative and polka dot jerseys. I had a bit of a dig up front, but with the head wind it just wasn't possible to keep it going.
It was a very strange race in the end today, a lot of riders and teams were looking at each other, testing each other out. They were all on the back foot a lot of the time and that's why I had a go, to see what reaction it might spark.
The crowds were amazing - they were really loud when I attacked because I was in front, then I went back to the pack and crashed. After that, the crowds were cheering again because I was by myself on the way to the finish. Even in the rain, they fully lined the sides of the road. It's hard to believe how many people come to watch this race.
The numbers are unbelievable and the cheering sometimes made it almost difficult to talk to a mate in the bunch, which is fantastic.
A lot of the talk in the bunch at the moment is about Ullrich, how he has good style on the bike and looks really strong. But my money is staying with Armstrong.
I had a few scratches from the crash and my thigh copped a whack. But it's probably what I needed, on the way to the start today I felt I needed something to wake me up.
What else would be on my mind right now? A big day for Australia, with Stuey taking the yellow finally after that second stage. They just tried so hard (in stage two), it was unbelievable. In the end it was because they (Credit Agricole) tried so hard, they lost the jersey.
Yesterday, it was like he didn't even have to try, he just had to sit back and wait for Wauters to crack, which he did. That's Stuey, though, he's a legend for that – he puts himself in a position and things come off that.
I haven't spoken to him yet – my mobile doesn't work in Belgium – but yesterday I saw him before the start (of stage three) and he was a bit down in the dumps. I said "c'mon Stuey, you're Stuey! – you'll bounce back from that, it'll come back around."
I don't know if he fully believed it then, but there was a glint in his eye that there was still some hope there and sure enough, it came together. Our first major event together was the 1994 Commonwealth Games, when I was in the teams pursuit as a junior. I consider Stuey like a brother in my cycling career. I've probably spent more time with him than most of my brothers over the years. We get on great, I'm so happy to see him performing well.
As for me, another crash yesterday, I landed on a little Spanish fella. I think he caused the fall, so good on you. But you get get twisted around, you bang down and it's not what you need when you're doing 220km every day. I don't feel like I'm in blinding form, I don't feel like I'm on top of things – just like the prologue. I'm a bit tired, I've had a big program coming into the Tour, it's been a big year for me as far as coming to the front of the peloton.
Now I'm really picking my days, being careful, I really want to get to Paris. I will let the legs go when I feel I'm ready to do something. As for the team, we've had a second yesterday with Emmanuel Magnien and a third (Jimmy Casper) and been in a lot of the breaks. If you were at the last 200m yesterday, that guy was moving, he came from 25th position in the last 250m and it shows he's on great form. He's back, I think.
The morale's good but gee, we'd love a stage win.
Today was the first time I've ridden a teams time trial with nine other teammates and it's a lot different to an individual TT. I found it great - the time spent sitting on someone else's wheel was like recovery.
Francaise des Jeux rode very well, except for Jimmy Casper's crash. He took some chunks out of his arm but he'll be okay. There was also some confusion later on when a rider was dropped - you've got the rain, the wind, the crowd and plus you're wearing a helmet, so sometimes it's very hard to hear instructions. We lost one and a half minutes just waiting.
But for us, the teams time trial was not a big objective. We had five on the finish line, with Jacky Durand and myself doing most of the work up the front.
It's also very different to a track teams pursuit - it's an organised fight, in that you're fighting on the front of the group to drive the pace, but you're trying to control the team and keep things organised.
Of course, it's great to see Credit Agricole up among the big super-teams. Stuey held the yellow jersey for another day and that's fantastic for another Australian to see.
I heard US Postal had a crash, which just shows the intensity of the TTT can bring on these sorts of things.
Personally, I felt a step closer to my old self today, the way I expect to feel. The day passed a lot quicker and I gave myself a couple of jobs to do, helping Sven Montgomery with the crosswinds early in the stage and then trying to work for our sprinter, Jimmy Casper, at the end.
There was only Jimmy and myself from FDJ at the end and with the big teams all trying to set up their sprinters, there wasn't a lot of respect up front. The first few times, you try to get up the front, you get swamped and that's okay. But after six, seventh and eighth time, it starts to sap your legs a bit. I had Jimmy in the top 10 about 1200m out, but he was swamped again.
I love getting in among that sort of stuff, with all the hair-raising turns and the hooks - I feel it brings me up another level. It's the greatest theme park ride you can do and it beats the Big Dipper at Luna Park any day.
Looking at tomorrow, there's five cols and it's the first day to really test the climbers' legs. A lot of blokes seemed to be in trouble today when we went over the category two col about 60km out. I know riders will sometimes sit down the back on purpose, but today there seemed to be some guys who weren't doing that by choice. I think that just shows how ferocious the racing has been so far in this Tour.
Tomorrow could be a very hurtful day - hopefully not for me. It's short, but it will be up and down all day.
My job today was to look after Sven Montgomery, our climber, and we decided to sit back and not get too excited before the first climb. We started down the back, because there's a big rush to get up the front.
With five climbs we really wanted to keep Sven calm. I took him up to the front on that first climb, which was cool, and on the descent we were up the front, but these Spanish blokes, they don't know how to descend.
They left gaps everywhere and when we got to the bottom, there was about a 500m gap to the front 30 blokes.
There was no-one else around who wanted to jump across, everyone was looking at each other. There was just me and Sven, really -- there you go, that's my job.
I was on the front, driving at over 50kph to try to bring it back and I actually noticed, I think I helped Stuey out a bit there too.He was not far off the back of us, so I dragged everyone back up onto the front.
Sure enough, we turned left and -- boof -- we hit the second climb. My lungs were in my throat, I didn't have a very good time up that second one, but I stayed on.
I knew after that my day was done and I just flicked into a little group. That's how the Tour goes -- things go up and down and you have to make your decisions as the race goes along.
Now the first week is done, I know what I'm capable of and I'm very disappointed I'm not on that level at the Tour.
In one instance I'm disappointed and in the other, I've put in a big year and I had to do that, I wouldn't change that at all. But it's not over yet, there's still a chance I could come through.
Team management realise, exactly what's gone on, they know I've pushed and put in hard to get the results coming into the Tour.
With the Tour selections, everyone was like "they're not strong enough, they're this, that and the other" -- then bang, we (Francaise des Jeux) came out with some great results and everyone's shut up. We've been up there -- a second, a third and Sven is yet to perform in the mountains, so it's all right.
On today's results, Jens deserves it -- if there's a bloke who deserves the yellow jersey for putting in, he's great, it's fantastic.
You could even make up Aussie slang and he'd understand it -- he's half Aussie. He's got the funniest accent, but he's half-Aussie.
Also, I had a drug test after today's stage -- I think they've changed the procedure, they actually pick people, it's no longer random. That's probably a better thing, just to make sure everyone gets a taste of it and keeps them all on their toes.