April 10, 2009 – The cold winter rains that typically drench Europe during the first part of the racing season are now intermittent as the sun occasionally peaks through the clouds to dry out the peloton and the roads, while pushing out blossoms in the fields. During the last week in Circuit de la Sarthe, where I’ve been racing, the weather shifted from cold rain, to clear blue skies and sun.
With the shifts in weather came shifts in the peloton’s emotion – in the sun the race was fast and relentless while in the rain the field settled into a rhythm, happy to let a team control at the front while a couple of riders pedaled against the wind in a breakaway up ahead.
After crashing in the first stage it took me a few days to find any comfort again on the bike. To recover from the crash and efforts in in the race in time for Paris Roubaix I didn’t start the final stage at Sarthe on with the hope that two days rest would be ideal to handle the work we will need to do on Sunday at Roubaix.
If the weather persists as it is at the moment – cold rain is falling – the cobbles will be slick and the race will be epic. George Hincapie, my teammate, is excited at the prospect of slick stones and rainy conditions.
The last few months I have been racing consistently throughout the world: Qatar, California, France, and Italy. Our Columbia/Highroad team has had continued success and there have been many moments, and many victories that will become fond memories… Cavendish’s victory at Milan San Remo being the highlight.
I am now in a small hotel outside of Paris, in Chantilly, preparing for another one of cycling’s monuments – Paris Roubaix.
We have a star-studded team of young riders who can surprise, and veterans who are favourites. I will be responsible for keeping them in position and as fresh as possible for as long as possible – the duties of a domestique. It’s a job that I have done through the first part of the season and one that I enjoy.
There are moments I clearly remember from the last time I rode at Paris Roubaix in 2005 – riding the first sections of the cobbles on the front of the peloton, feeling the pain of the race finally hit me, and hearing the final kilometers of the race over the team’s race radios as George raced into the velodrome. The energy of the race was charged. The riders, the media, the spectators, the management and the organization know that they will witness something special. The ambiance at the start and over the cobbles sparks an emotion that I don’t often feel on my bike.
The race scares riders but it also makes them dream, giving them goose bumps and butterflies as they know they are part of cycling history. We have a team that can win on Sunday elevating the emotion to another level.