Cycling: ‘I hope my Nana said a few prayers in Lourdes’
Rest Day : Wednesday July 21 -- Pau
Today was the second and final rest day of this year's Tour.
Some rest days can involve a long transfer to the next day's start town by train or even by plane, but this year, on both occasions, we have stayed in the same town that we finished in the previous night.
When you've been living out of a suitcase for almost three weeks, you welcome the opportunity to stay in the same room and sleep in the same bed for more than one night.
A lot of people think we lie around in bed on a rest day, but sometimes a 'day off' can be busier than a normal day on the Tour. There are always interviews to be done, friends and family to talk to, sponsors to meet, autographs to sign for fans waiting in the hotel and if you're one of the top guys, you can throw in a press conference or maybe even contract negotiations on top of that.
You quickly learn to filter out what's not important, because if you're not careful you can end up spending all day on your feet and have no legs when the racing resumes the next day.
This morning, I got up at 7.0. I went down for breakfast, then got ready for training. If you don't go training on a rest day, your body starts to think the Tour is over and begins to wind itself down.
Everybody knows the stage to the top of the Tourmalet is going to be the last chance for a lot of people -- including me -- to move up on the GC and nobody wants to wake up in the morning with stiff legs.
After breakfast, I rode for an hour with one of the team managers, Julien Jordie, and then we went back to the hotel and did another hour and a half with the rest of the team, throwing in a few sprints to get the heart-rate up.
While we were out on the road, a car went by with an An Post team jersey flying from the window and a few guys leaning out the window shouting encouragement. The amount of Irish fans at this Tour has been unbelievable. You'd think we had a national team in the race and I'd like to thank everyone for their support once again.
I did a couple of interviews today with French and British newspapers and media. More people than I ever imagined are reading this diary and it has spread like wildfire on the internet.
My argument with team-mate John Gadret was all over the place yesterday -- on websites, television, everywhere -- and when I got to the team bus after Tuesday's stage, there were a dozen journalists waiting on me for a comment.
Sometimes, I get myself into a bit of trouble. A period of time to cool off and reflect on something may stem my anger and frustration slightly, or even change my views completely, but at the time of writing, all I can do is be honest.
After lunch, myself and Dmitri Champion, who I've been sharing with for most of this Tour, went up to the room and had a bit of a rest. He slept for an hour and a half, while I just closed my eyes and listened to music.
I then sat on my bed and put on a pair of the team's StarVac boots. The team has two or three pairs of these 'space boots' as we call them and we use them every day to help flush out the toxins and lactic acid in our legs.
The new models are around €4,000 to buy, although I think you can get a pair for less than half that. They are basically high-pressure inflatables, a bit like massive swimming armbands that fit on your legs. They go all the way up from your ankle to your groin and I often wonder what Joe Public would think if he walked into the room and saw me sitting there in my boxers with two leg-shaped bouncy castles attached to me.
The boots have valves along the side and are attached to a computerised compressor. They start to squeeze you at the ankle and then slowly move up to the top of the thigh, maintaining the pressure the whole way up.
There are various pressure settings and it takes a while to get used to them. The first time I tried them I thought my legs were going to explode, but now I know they are a valuable recovery aid and help make the masseurs' job a bit easier after a stage.
The Irish contingent's numbers were swelled today in Pau with the arrival of two of my uncles, Peter and Jude, and my Nana Roche from Dundrum. Peter had come over a few days ago with a group of friends and they had ridden the Etape du Tour, a cycling event where anybody can come over and test themselves on one of the mountain stages of the Tour a couple of days before we do.
Jude came over with my Nana Roche, who mixed a trip to Lourdes with a trip to the Tour. She is mad into cycling and brought a huge Irish flag with her. This morning she went around the shops looking for a flag pole so that she could fly the tricolour high on the top of the Tourmalet tomorrow.
The guy behind the counter noticed she was Irish and, being a cycling fan himself, jokingly said he would only serve her if she knew Stephen Roche. You can imagine the look on his face when she said she was his mother.
Thursday will be the second time we have climbed the Tourmalet on this Tour and the highest mountain on the race will be preceded by the equally tough Col du Soulor and the Col de Marie Blanc. I will begin the stage in 18th place overall.
I have a minute-and-a-half cushion to the next guy, Kevin de Weert of Quickstep, and almost two minutes to Gadret in 20th. I am more worried about Sky's Bradley Wiggins though.
He may be 21st overall at the moment, just over five minutes behind me, but 'Wiggo' is an excellent time triallist and will probably take three minutes out of me in the 52km race against the clock on Saturday. I can't let him get too far ahead of me on Thursday.
Further up the classification, Wiggo's team-mate Thomas Lofkvist is just 25 seconds in front of me, but I would need to take three and a half minutes out of Carlos Sastre to jump up to 15th place. Sastre won the Tour in 2008 and is a very good climber. The Cervelo team leader is without a stage win in this year's Tour and will see Thursday's stage as his last chance of getting one. I will have my work cut out for me.
I know that if I start to worry about Sastre or others and whether they are climbing well or not, I am likely to panic and lose time rather than gain any.
The Tourmalet is a really long climb, around 35km to the summit, with some really steep sections, so it will take well over an hour to get to the top.
I have decided to ride up the mountain concentrating on my own performance rather than anyone else's. I will see where I stand at the top. I hope my Nana said a few prayers in Lourdes.