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91st Tour de France - July 3-25, 2004
Scott Sunderland's Tour Diary
Cyclingnews' longest contributing diarist Scott Sunderland is taking part in his second Tour de France in 2004 as part of the versatile Alessio-Bianchi team. Scott's role will be mainly to help Pietro Caucchioli, but he also hopes to have a few opportunities for stage wins. Once again, he'll be providing his highly experienced viewpoint on the Tour, its riders and anything else.
Stage 17 - July 22: Bourg d'Oisans - Le Grand Bornand, 204.5 km
The end in sight
First of all I'd like to mention that today is a special day as 10 years ago, on the 22nd of July Sabine and I got married.
I want to give an extra big thanks to Sabine for everything she's done in the last couple of weeks. She has been always there to help me out, and again this month has been extremely hectic for her as she has been an important part of my Tour this year. She's been following the race, driving my Australian friend and osteopath David Krizanic to the different hotels we've been staying at. Unfortunately, this anniversary will be spent with Sabine driving from Alpe d'Huez to Belgium and me sweating my arse off in the Alps. But on Sunday night we'll crack a bottle of champers!
I'd also like to say thanks to my son Saën, my biggest fan and best supporter. It was really great to have both him and Sabine with me, even though I couldn't spend much time with them. At only 8 1/2 Saën has been so patient, quietly waiting around with Sabine, while David was treating me and some of the other riders in the team.
Paris on the horizon
After getting through today, I think Paris is starting to feel like a real thing now. There was a sensation of slight fear, doubt and worry before the start today. The riders just weren't sure what was going to happen. If there had been some serious attacking on the first climb then some guys would have had problems. But there was only a single attack and USPS let them go to hang themselves really.
I was sitting in the front of the peloton and I couldn't have asked for a better tempo on the climbs. It was just comfortable and my legs were good enough to be fine on the Glandon.
It was really hot at the bottom of the climb but cooler at the top when we got to 1500m, and that made me feel better. It was the same thing with the Madeleine: at the beginning hot, and in the middle I was suffering with the heat so I dropped back a little. Straight away I started to breathe more easily. In the last 5 km I started feeling better again. Mick Rogers also dropped back and said, "it's a bit better back here'.
Those two climbs went well. I picked up bidons, which was the big task for the day - get bottles on all the climbs for Caucchioli. A lot of riders were doing that all day. I drank 12-14 bottles myself and poured 2-3 litres of water over my head, just trying to cool down my body. It was sort of a race of attrition today with the heat and trying to eat as well.
We came onto the second cat. climb and it was Voigt who attacked near the bottom. My legs didn't appreciate that at all, but I hung on at the top and got back on on the descent, bringing back as many bottles and sugars for Caucchioli as I could.
Then we hit the first cat. climb which was reasonably steep and the legs weren't too happy with that either. I found a group, we ended up picking up Hincapie and Dufaux and rode tempo all the way through to the finish. There were huge crowds on the last climbs and we all got plenty of water from all the spectators to pour over our heads.
I only heard briefly what happened at the end, but I think that Lance definitely has put his stamp of authority on the race.
I know that a few of the riders, including Lance, whom I spoke to this morning, weren't too happy about yesterday, particularly the start of the time trial not being barricaded at the bottom.
Lance told me he had some big jeers and pushes from German spectators. Even today I heard a few things being called out to riders on the Glandon. There wasn't an incident yesterday. If there was, it could be really costly towards the classement riders. On a normal road stage it's something else - you can recover a bit and people will wait. Time trials are a completely different ball game. We're not just talking about Armstrong, we're talking about everybody.
I don't know if it was logistically possible to set up barriers the whole way up the mountain, but it would have been safer. You get a mixture of alcohol and sun and that cocktail is an explosive one. Luckily everything came out all right.
In general the spectators were really good. Even later today in the gruppetto, fans were still giving us encouragement. It is fantastic. There's not too many sports where the spectators can get so close to the athletes.
Looking forward to Paris
It was a big day today and we were very happy to get through it. Tomorrow will be a hard day; with countless attacks, until that one break gets away and then USPS will ride tempo to the finish.
It'll be okay I reckon. Anyone who's made it this far should make it to the time trial and the Champs Elysées. Then on Sunday, we'll cruise into Paris, do a few laps around the block and sprint.
As for the riders that attacked at the start today, good on 'em. That's bike racing; it's a very aggressive sport. Some guys are never daunted by the fact that it's going to be hard. For myself, I was very happy with my day. I was able to move Caucchioli up at the bottom of each climb and sit as close to him as possible on all the climbs. If there was an incident, I was there to help him.
Actually today was one of the few days I haven't gone in attacks myself at the start. I'm happy with this period of the race, as I've been trying so much and my recovery has been great. We'll see what tomorrow brings. I'll just see what happens. As far as breaks go, maybe, maybe not...