2001 Tour de France rider journals

Pre-Tour & prologue to stage 7
Stages 16-20
Stage 8 - July 15: "This sucks"
Stage 9 - July 16: A bit of redemption
Stage 10 - July 17: A lot of pain
Stage 11 - July 18: My legs are still working!
Rest day - July 19: Some rest...
Stage 12-13 - July 20-21: A joke
Stage 14 & Rest day 2 - July 22-23: At last some relief
Stage 15 - July 24: BBQ time

Bradley McGee - part 2: Well on the way

Nationality: Australian
Team: La Francaise des Jeux

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.

Stage 8 - July 15: Colmar - Pontarlier, 222.5 km

"This sucks"

What a day -- soaked right through. It's amazing to sit in those conditions all day and not one rider enjoyed himself in the peloton. I was talking to Lance Armstrong at one stage and his simple comment was along the lines of "this sucks" When you get that sort of sentiment from someone like him, you know it's pretty dismal.

We actually worked really hard at the beginning, because there was a crash at the same time as the break went and the peloton splintered into five groups.

The big danger was Vinokourov, and US Postal put the hammer down, but when he punctured US Postal sat up pretty-well straight away and the day for us was more or less over. But the end, it came down to a bit of pride and Credit Agricole and CSC-Tiscali rode tempo at the front so the time gap was not too large. I think it was out of respect for the Tour and it shows how big this race is, that it even overrides normal tactics.

I was in trouble a little bit today, I felt pretty cold and it became a real mental game. I was thinking of my wife and little girl, who are with friends in Switzerland, and that sort of thing helped me through the rougher patches.

It was great this afternoon after the race, I managed to have a chat on the phone with Stuey. He said he'd been wanting to have a chat to me and my reply was something along the lines of "well, why don't you get off your planet and get back to the real world? You know where I am!". But joking aside, he's been so awesome these last few days.

Stuey also said he was stuffed, which was no great surprise.

The finish today was a little hairy for me, because I was running out of brakes on my front wheel. The peloton was so far behind that if anyone dropped off the back at the finish, even by only 30 seconds or so, they'd be out of the race. If my front brake had gone, I would have had to stop and wait for the team car, which would have meant pretty big trouble.

Stage 9 - July 16: Pontarlier - Aix-les-Bains, 185 km

A bit of redemption

Click for larger image
A long day out
Photo: © AFP

Well, that's much better. My team directeur sportif, Marc Madiot, has been great - he knows I've been off (top form) and he's just been calm. I haven't lost my hair, I've just said I've got to sit in there, wait, keep turning my legs, eat well and sleep well. Do all those sorts of things and it'll come back - sure enough, it's come back.

There was no way today I was missing the break today, in fact I made the break. You look at the circuit and it was going quick, so once we got off the front..

I was surprised we had to work so hard and continuously, the bunch didn't sit up for very long. It's great, because I've never done that before, I've never gone for a long breakaway. I was a bit scared - I was shitting myself, actually - and I thought 'ah, nah, c'mon Bradley - you're ready for it now, you're 25, you're four years as a pro.

Actually, I spoke with Stuey (O'Grady) in the bunch during the first couple of kilometres - I went with a couple of attacks early. I said 'Stuey, man, you've got to help me out here, I don't know how to get up the road, when it's going to go?'.

He said 'just sit back, just sit back, wait, wait, wait' and he actually said 'I think it's going to go soon'. Within two kilometres we were up the road. I had a go at the start of the attack and turned and we went straight up this climb, it wasn't on the map. It thought 'oh my God, this is going to hurt', but I just kept the hammer down.

So third in the end - It's just great to be back up in there, this is what I expected. Finishing third is okay today - even if Ivanov had stayed with us right to the end, I couldn't sprint - I went to stand up just after the finish and I had cramp in both legs.

As for the overall, they're playing a lot of cat-and-mouse, I know Lance is very much looking forward to getting on the side of mountain somewhere and battle it out between the big guns.

For too long it's been crosswinds and raining and other things going on - I think it's been annoying them. But I tell you what, with that break yesterday, I thought that might have been a little bit complacent. If I was one of them, I would not give Kivilev 35 minutes.

Finally, I had a bit of added incentive to hang on today near the end of the stage. My team told me another French outfit, Bonjour, was leading the peloton in trying to catch us. There's been a little bit of a tiff between us lately and I know they wanted to chase me down in particular - too bad for them.

Stage 10 - July 17: Aix-Les-Bains -L'Alpe d'Huez, 209 km

A lot of pain

What a nightmare - that was a lot of pain. I was in a world of pain and I think I paid dearly for the effort in stage nine. Before the race started, apparently all my team-mates were going up to my masseur and asking "how are Brad's legs?" Before the start, I also had a few media coming up to me and asking how I was - one of them even asked me if I was scared. I started thinking what the hell am I in for here?

But I was never in trouble, I looked after myself in the gruppetto. Let's just say I knew without a doubt the real Tour de France started yesterday. As far as the pain level went, it was the toughest day I've done on a bike. It was a real throbbing, aching pain - different to what you go through in a pursuit on the track. It didn't go away, even on the descents, and it was just driven into the muscles.

Two comments I'd like to make:

Legend Of The Day: Lance Armstrong, obviously. From what I heard, he played cat and mouse with his rivals beautifully and then - BANG - he hit them.

Arsewipe Of The Day: Bramati of Mapei. This guy is well-known as arguably the biggest whinger in the bunch. In the Giro d'Italia, on every big hill, he'd scream at the fans to push him along. In the Tour, he was screaming in every language he knew yesterday. But in this race, the fans just don't push you along. I think a guy like that just shouldn't be in the sport. You don't start abusing fans just because they won't push you.

But a much happier final note. There were heaps of Australians right along the final climb to Alpe d'Huez and it was just brilliant. There were more Dutch, but the Aussies seemed better organised, they were spread out more along the climb. I'd see the Australian flag and hear "Go Brad!". It's great, a bit more personalised, and much appreciated.

Stage 11 - July 18: Grenoble - Chamrousse, Mountain ITT, 32 km

My legs are still working!

Craig and Brad
Photo ©: Cyclingnews

If you put it in comparison to yesterday, it was a blinder of a day. I guess today was always going to be a lot better, just for the sake of it being only a bit over one hour rather than for seven. I was straight out of the blocks, into a good rhythm on the flat.

I caught a few blokes before the hill even started and, because I'm low on GC, I had a lot of the guys who - how can we say? - are suffering with motivation. I picked them off, I think I caught eight blokes. I was sitting around 20kph, turning over the legs over really well. For that, I could say I enjoyed it.

Again, there were heaps of Australians spread out all over the climb, which made it easier for me. Thanks heaps. Now, it's just a matter of sitting back and watching what these superstars will rip out of me.

Today is particularly pleasing because it shows my recovery is working well. I had two big days - the breakaway and yesterday, paying the penalty and suffering for seven hours. I slept well last night, I've still got bloody sore legs but they're still turning over well, so that's all that counts.

Today also I put on some longer cranks, from my TT bike, which I've been meaning to do for a while but I've been holding back a bit. I will wait until next year to race the mountain stages with them. Today was a bit of a test.

My brother Craig was following me in the car behind, which was pretty cool, screaming out a few helpful Aussie motivational words - something like "you slackarse, I haven't come 20,000km to watch this.." - nah, only joking. It was really good having him there.

The last couple of days, my wife Sharni and our little girl Tahlia have been around as well. Now they're off to Nice for some sunshine - we're not getting it here. Then they'll get back onto the program when we start heading back to Paris, which will be really good.

I'm finding it important to have people like Craig, Sharni and Tahlia dropping in from time to time. All year you go away for up to a week or so, and that's manageable, but with this race, I don't know, it's great to have them there every third or fourth day. It's something to look forward to.

Cyclingnews also asked Craig what he thought of his little brother:

"Today he looked really good, really smooth. He's a smooth rider, but it's good to see him passing riders, it shows he's going well. What an awesome day - sitting in the car was easy, but looking ahead up the mountain, I was glad it wasn't me.

Yesterday was a big test for Brad. I think it was good for all of us - we've all looked at L'Alpe d'Huez for so many years on the TV, now to see someone actually go up it, it was a great achievement. We'll just see it he can bring it all the way home now, to Paris.

Rest day - July 19: Perpignan

Some rest...

They say it's a rest day, but there's a lot of activity. Still it wasn't too bad at all, the bus and flight were very well organised. We were on the plane from Grenoble to Perpignan for 45 minutes and it was very good for me, because it was the first time so far on the Tour I've had a chance to have a decent chat with Stuey.

We caught up on the week and also spent some time talking about the future, as it's this time of year that all the signings start to kick in and everyone is talking contracts.

Once the plane landed, FDJ went to the hotel and then it was time for a couple of hours on the bike. You might as well have made it a stage, because it seemed every other team was also keen to spend some time on the same hill we found. We crossed paths with heaps of other riders. For the uninitiated, it's actually a really bad idea not to do anything on a rest day like this - if you stop, your whole body stops. You have to get out and just keep the legs turning over.

It was a busy day, a fair few interviews on the phone and in person, plus heaps of autographs. At six, I went for my massage and then dinner and that's when the real rest day started. We'd been up since 8am.

Obviously there are a few hard days coming up, but I haven't focussed really on any one stage. What I've done mentally is divided the rest of the Tour into blocks. I have three days in the Pyrenees, then a rest, then three long days, then a time trial. Then I get my arse to Paris to finish it all off!

Stage 13 - July 21: Foix - St-Lary-Soulan (Pla d'Adet), 194 km

A joke

That's a joke, a total joke. They're sadists, the people who make up these courses. I was alright until the last climb, which was probably the hardest. That's maybe because we've got nothing in reserve and we're empty. But I keep backing up and feeling alright each morning, so I can't see it being any different tomorrow morning.

I haven't done many of these climbs before and certainly not that many in one day, that's what really gets you. Each of them is a hard one on its own merits. On the first climb today, I was actually one of the first dropped. I thought, 'oh my God, this is it, I'm out of here', I had nothing in my legs. Then I got going a bit and got into the race. Sven Montgomery, our leader, was in trouble on the second climb. You become motivated because your mate's in trouble, so we took him all the way up to the top and I gave him a couple of pushes. I brought him to a descent and the next thing, he's attacking up the road. So that was good.

I don't quite know what keeps me going at times - I think we're all a bit foolish. I think we all have something wrong with us.

The back was a bit of a problem after yesterday's climbs, I had to do some hard stretching on my upper glutes from all the travel on the rest day. Sitting on my arse locks it up, it happens all the time. I slept with a heatpack on my back last night and that also loosened it up a lot.

Also on yesterday - I finished in the same group as Stuart, which was good. I think we helped each other a bit. But I won't repeat what we were saying about the climb to the finish with about 5km left...

Stage 14 & Rest day 2 - July 22-23: Tarbes - Luz Ardiden - Pau

At last, some relief

Today's a real rest day, better than Perpignan a couple of days ago where we had the flight. It's been great, I went out for an hour or so this morning for a spin and then spent some time with Sharni and Tahlia. Very relaxing. It's also been nice to stay in the same hotel room for three days, that makes for a little less stress.

I must make a special mention of my brother, Craig, and his wife Hayley, who have also been following me in the Tour and have just been fantastic. Craig has been enjoying the social engagements - you might say, looking after the Australian image. He was with a few of the FDJ team staff last night and they had a good time, from all reports - i.e. Craig was blind drunk.

Yesterday was great, very pleasing (ed: Brad finished 41st for the stage, well ahead of the grupetto and only about 11 minutes off the pace). I was feeling strong, I didn't feel any worse within myself yesterday morning to what I did on the first stage.

Sure, the legs are bloody sore, but that feeling within myself, I keep backing up every day. I think the Pyrenees helped me more than the Alps - I'm more of a stronger climber than anything. They're a bit shorter and you can afford to go into the red a bit longer. I was really comfortable - even at the bottom of Tourmalet and over the one before, the Col d'Aspin, I didn't even touch the pedals over it, I was fine.

It was just a day for the future - in the future, I can see myself chasing stage races up to a week long, say 10 days. They've always got time trials, mountains - you've got to be good everywhere. So yesterday I took the opportunity and tested my legs against everyone else.

I tell you what, it's easier up the front like that, if you've got the legs, you might as well be up the front. Your morale's still up there, you go back in the grupetto, you've got rhythm, you've got no momentum on the climb, everyone is whingeing, crying and complaining. It's just a bastard on your head - but doing something like that, if you've got the legs, you just feel better and better.

Speaking of the grupetto, I've got to tell you the best quote ever - Jens Voigt, two days ago, I think we were in the third group. Sure enough, someone down the back on the bottom of the third climb, I think, was complaining.

Jens has turned around and said: 'Just shut up and suffer'.

I thought that's it, that's what it is all about - you can go at one pace, but it doesn't matter, you're always going to suffer.

About my performance over the whole Tour, I think I have to be realistic here, I couldn't ever expect to be up there on the first days in the mountains. I didn't do a day's training in the mountains before the Tour - I concentrated on the time trial. It takes a while to adapt and I think my pedal has just adapted after a few days in the mountains. It's a great feeling to have the mountains behind me, but it's also good to finish on a good note.

There was only bad moment yesterday - the derailleur went into the back wheel on the second climb and that was a bastard - I had to come back through the convoy. But I was on my old bike, which I like.

A few of the Australian media were commenting yesterday about how I look a lot thinner. Marc, my team boss also is saying I look like a real bike rider now because I have veins showing on my back. But after a couple of days in the sun like we've had, you sweat so much as well. I'm eating like a horse and I'm also keeping healthy, which is so important.

Stage 15 - July 24: Pau - Lavaur, 232.5 km

BBQ time

I figured stage 15 was going to be hard, but geez - the pain factor early.. Not one rider would have been comfortable early in that stage, it was up and down, up and down with all these short, hard climbs. After the rhythm of the mountains, it was a lot of speed and intensity today.

At one point I thought I'd made the break of the day. I found myself in the first major group, about 15, unfortunately Botero was with us. He's eighth overall, so there were a few teams in the peloton who weren't going to let him go. Apparently, in the peloton, when the numbers were relayed to them as to who was in our group, a few riders cried out when they realised Botero was in the breakaway. It meant they'd have to chase us down.

We would have gone away at about 40 km. The decisive break didn't go until later, about 80 km, and even then it wasn't clean - it hung out there for a while and everyone suffered up to the feed zone at around 100 km.

Now the countdown is on for Paris on Sunday - the finish. Even the spectators are yelling that sort of stuff out and they have signs out saying "This Way To Paris". The whole Tour is on the final push to the capital.

Finally, on an Australian note, an envious greeting to the barbeque that was on tonight in Toulouse, at Stuey's house. About 30 Australians who are on the Tour were invited. Stuey and I were a bit disappointed we couldn't go, particularly when we're staying not far away. But we're in the middle of about 450 km of racing over two days, so for us it's our hotels. Today and tomorrow involve a lot of kilometres.

As long as I keep waking up every morning the way I have been, I'm okay. And besides, I'm more than ready to suffer through anything as Sunday in Paris looms.

Criterium du Dauphine Libere diary
Tour de France Prologue to stage 7 diary
Tour de France Stages 16-20 diary