June 21, 2005 – The Tour de Suisse is the last big rendez-vous before the Tour de France. Teams come to Switzerland so that their leaders and domestiques can test themselves one last time and gain some form before the Tour begins.
The Tour de Suisse is a complete race as we covered diverse terrain-everything from high mountain peaks to flat roads open to the strong blowing wind. On the second stage we raced a time trial that was an hour in length; the ideal test for the Tour de France protagonists.
The Discovery Channel entered the race with a team that was in a building phase. Except for three of us that had just finished competing in the Giro the rest of the team was made up of Classics riders that were just coming back into fitness and were still on the comeback road from injury.
Our goal going into the race was to try and do well on the sprint stages with Max and Roger and to try and slide into breakaways that might make it to the finish. For a team that is used to winning big Tours these were modest goals but also realistic given the team we had on the start line.
With the Pro Tour calendar so full, it is hard for teams to field competitive rosters of riders in every Tour as there are simply too many races and not enough riders to be in peak condition all season.
I entered the Tour de Suisse not really knowing what to expect of my fitness as I had just finished a tough Giro. After the Giro my power on the bike was really good but I was a little tired and achy from the three weeks of efforts. At the end of Suisse, I was happy to finish in the first 20 overall and would have finished a little better if my time trial had not been miscalculated- the team clocks had me exactly one minute faster in 9th place. It is impossible to argue the times with the commissaires so we accepted the time and moved on. Regardless it was disappointing as I had felt really good in the TT.
We covered some incredible terrain in Switzerland as we climbed mountains over 2,000m in height and 15 km in length. My climbing legs have been improving each week and were fairly good and I was able to stay with the leaders until the final attacks were unleashed over the tops of the climbs.
The last day of the race we did one of the most epic races I have ever competed in: three mountains passes, all over 12 km in length and over 2,000m in altitude, in a short 100 km stage. Basically we began climbing from the start and didn’t stop going up and down until the line was crossed. The second climb of the day, the Gotthard Pass, was not only 12 km long but also on cobble-stones.
Due to the difficulty of the stages, the race lead was never secure until the final finish line was crossed on the last stage. And in the last 10 km of the 9-day race Michael Rogers lost the overall lead to a soaring Aitor Gonzales. Aitor ‘the Terminator’ flew up the last mountain pass and put over a minute into his rivals on the ascent.
During the last stage I looked at Aitor’s heart rate monitor as we climbed a long pass- he was at 154 BPM and not even breathing out of his mouth. On the other side of me was Brad McGee, who was also in contention for the overall, and he was at 172 and breathing heavily. Right then I had a good feeling who was going to win the race and the overall classification. I wouldn’t be surprised to see ‘the Terminator’ in front at the Tour de France as well.
I will race next at the Tour of Austria in two weeks. After that I’ll have a good break as we are expecting our first child in early August.
Here is the link to my recent book “Inside the Postal Bus”: