June 23, 2008 – The Dauphine Libere is one of the toughest week long races on the calendar as the stages are relentlessly undulating or mountainous, over small roads, and the competition is the stiffest as most riders use the race as final test before the Tour de France.
I came out of the Volta a Catalunya with good fitness that I felt was improving daily. The Dauphine would be a good race to test myself in the mountains as I raced towards the summer and my goals of competing at the Tour de France and the Beijing Olympics.
Generally, the Dauphine is set out like a mini Tour de France with a prologue, a sprint stage, an undulating stage, a long hilly time trial, and several tough mountains – one that is usually epic and comparable to the toughest day in the Tour. (This year it was a 23km stage from Morzine to La Toussuire which went over five mountains, took us 6.5 hours and climbed over 4,300 vertical metres).
Riding in the high mountains is unique as the sustained effort requires constant use of certain muscle groups – especially in the back – that aren’t used as much while riding the bike on flatter terrain. There is also a certain rhythm required to ride the longer climbs that doesn’t come immediately but only after doing several long passes. The lack of rhythm is why riders often struggle on the first big mountain of the Tour: their mind and body aren’t yet accustomed to the prolonged effort.
During the Dauphine I found my climbing legs and quickly became more comfortable in the mountains with each ascent. The race was a reasonable success for the team as we won a stage with George Hincapie while Michael Rogers finished just outside the top ten overall, in 11th.
The Tuesday after the Dauphine I received a phone call that I had been selected to the Olypmic team for Beijing – hearing the news was both a relief and extremely exciting. Despite the fact that this will be my third Olympics I feel more motivated than ever – perhaps because I now know what to expect, how to ride the race and what we need to do as a team to achieve results.
In Atlanta I was in the winning breakaway, briefly, but was dropped as my young legs were not fully accustomed to the high speeds of professional racing and then in Athens, I attacked in the last kilometers, was away alone racing towards a bronze medal, but cramped with under two kilometers to go and was caught by the peloton.
I came close twice, and with Ryder and Svein we will try to strike hard in the final to win a medal. The team is strong enough to do it, I don’t doubt this at all, and it will be up to us to persist, suffer like dogs, take chances and attack at the right moment.
The Dauphine and Catalunya provided the foundation to the summer. The summer will be long and intense but with a good base of racing beneath me I now feel I can only progress.