Prior to the Tour de France the team rode the cobbled roads we would race over on the stage to Arenberg. Knowing the cobbles and the lead-up to the sectors makes a significant difference to our performance as we pick landmarks as reference points, note the dodgy bits of road and preview the aspects of the course that could change the outcome of the race. For some riders in the team the training session was also a learning experience as they had never ridden the rougher cobbles and asked for pointers from Juan-Antonio Flecha and the veterans. The inexperienced tend to tense up while the others let their bikes float beneath their bodies absorbing some of the shock while also limiting blisters and muscle pain. When the bike floats the chance of punctures is also decreased. A tense rider is more likely to crash as his reactions are brusque and he fails to see the flow of the race.
The Tour stage turned into a chaotic mess as soon as we were within 20 km of the cobbles as the peloton grew nervous, riders began crashing in their push toward the front of the group while others crashed because they jammed on their brakes. In the end, the stage made for some great bike racing and the best were at the front in the finale.
The video is of our training session three days prior to the start of the Tour. It gives a bit of a perspective of the roads and countryside. While training, whenever we hit the cobbled sections the team would split up as some riders– notably Wiggins and Flecha– attacked the stones with vigour while others rode over them apprehensively. The camera was placed on the hood of the teamcar.
The month prior to the Tour de France, Team Sky organized a small training camp in the Alps and Pyrenees for us to ride in the high mountains while also previewing some of the key Tour de France mountain stages. For us, Brad Wiggins, Steve Cummings and me, the camp also provided us with a good training block as we had been recovering from the Giro d’Italia and required a few good days of training to kick-start our fitness again. In the five day camp we rode roughly two or three key climbs every day. The set-up was ideal as we had a small group of riders, a support vehicle to follow us, and a camper to meet us on the mountain peaks. In the camper we could layer clothing for the descent and grab a quick coffee or tea to keep warm.
Our team coach planned the routes and organized the day while Sean Yates, our team director drove behind us. Pre-riding the climbs and breaking them down into sections is key, but it is just as important to know the run-in to the ascent and the technical aspects of the descent. Positioning before the climb is crucial while knowing the descent is also vital as time can be won or lost depending on how confident and comfortable a rider is in the corners.
Sean was known as one of the fastest descenders of his generation. When he was asked by a journalist why he became so good at descending he responded that he couldn’t climb so he learned to catch groups on the descents. He told us a story where he bridged a five-minute gap to the front group on a long Alpine descent. The Colombians he had dropped on the way down caught him ten kilometers up the next climb. To many of the guys on the team Sean is not only our directeur sportif but also a childhood idol. Since he retired he hasn’t gained an ounce and he still rides daily and looks the same on his bike as he did when he was winning in the Motorola colors in the early 90’s. His work ethic, and quality as a domestique, was remarkable. He is a hard man who simply loves to be on his bike.
The following video is of one of the numerous climbs we did during the camp. The climb is the Port de Balès, a beautiful ascent in the Pyrenees. The road leading into the climb cuts through gorges and winds its way through pastures before opening up to some of the most beautiful countryside I have ridden through. The descent is fairly technical and, as the stage will finish at the bottom, will influence the outcome of the race.