My bike for the Tour would set you back a cool $20,000
A new bike, a book, fresh socks and a hectic few days as the start approaches
Friday, July 4: Tour de France – Leeds
As usual, the lead up to this Tour de France has been hectic. After the Giro d'Italia in May, I had a couple of days at home before a 10-day training camp in Livigno with the team and the three-day Route du Sud stage race a fortnight ago, where I ended up winning the hardest mountain stage and taking overall victory; my first stage race win as a professional.
But after so much racing and training, instead of riding the national road race championships last weekend, I opted to stay at home to try and recover in time for this weekend's Grand Depart in Leeds.
My mother and brothers came to stay with me in Monaco and we spent a leisurely three days together.
This week started with a flight to Belgium where I met up with my Tinkoff-Saxo team-mates to check out some of the cobbled sections we will face on stage five of this Tour.
When we arrived in Belgium we were told Bang and Olufsen have come on board as sponsors, supplying our radios and earpieces, and they gave us all a set of really cool headphones each, which was a nice surprise.
After flying from Lille to Leeds in team owner Oleg Tinkoff's private jet, on arrival at our hotel we were then given a new team kit for the Tour.
As our usual jersey contains a lot of yellow, the team decided to change our colours to a more fluorescent yellow, so as not to clash with the race leader's jersey over the next three weeks.
We got a fair amount of stuff – a lot more than I expected and a lot more than I would really need. On a Grand Tour, I usually go through between three and five jerseys, three pairs of shorts, about five or six pairs of socks and three or four pairs of gloves.
But we have three different types of race jerseys alone, and so got three sets of each. We also got three pairs of each type of shorts, for six pairs in total, as well as socks, gloves, gilets, jackets etc.
For me, the presents didn't stop there. I was told a couple of days ago I would be riding a brand new bike for this Tour, but didn't really know much else about it.
It turns out my new steed for the next three weeks is a limited edition Specialised Tarmac S-Works McLaren, made from a new carbon layup developed by the McLaren Formula 1 engineers. The bike is lighter, stronger and stiffer than anything on the market and would set you back a cool $20,000 if you wanted to purchase one of the 250 models made.
I have no idea how I was chosen to ride it, but I don't mind saying 'thank you'. When I went to the truck on Thursday morning, it was there ready for me. It's a smashing bike. It's super slick and aerodynamic and is sprayed orange and black, using the same paint as the million dollar McLaren P1 supercar.
Although I won't have the Irish champion's jersey on this year, my new bike is a different colour than the rest of the team, so fans in Ireland should be able to spot me a bit easier.
Our hotel for the past couple of days is pretty nice; a quaint, English country club-type establishment and we are pretty lucky we're out of the town and away from the buzz of the Tour. The telephone line is not great, but it's quiet and relaxing and it's been nice to spend these last three days in an environment away from the ever-increasing fever.
Last week, after Route du Sud and the training camp, I felt a bit tired and while I was training, I didn't push it too hard. I felt I needed to keep the heart rate down and just did three or four rides to recover.
On Wednesday, I had a 6.45am wake up for the usual pre-race UCI anti-doping test before taking part in a conference on SRM power metres at 7.30 and rushing back for training, so I felt pretty tired until yesterday.
But today I felt a lot fresher and it's been nice to spend a lot of time just lying in bed reading a book. I've no time to watch TV but everyone's been talking about Game of Thrones recently so I bought the book for the Tour. A lot of it is filmed in Ireland, so I picked it up and said I'd give it a go. It's around 800 pages long, though, so you might be waiting a while for the review.
For me, the moment you really realise you're at the Tour comes just before the team presentation when they play the highlight reel from the previous year and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I get goosebumps.
Although this is my sixth Tour now, I got that feeling again last night and I don't think I ever got so many 'happy birthday' messages in my life after they announced it was my 30th birthday at the team presentation.
Apart from Michael Morkov and Rafal Maijka, we have the same team as last year and my job for the next three weeks will be to help our Spanish team leader Alberto Contador try and win this Tour.
Wherever Alberto goes, he is expected to win, so I would be lying if I said there was no pressure.
If you don't have pressure here at the biggest cycling event in the world and one of the biggest sporting events in the world, then there is something wrong. We have big rivals in Chris Froome and others, but we have a very experienced team here and have a real chance to fight for the win.
Both Alberto and Froome are in great form and I think it's good to have a great rivalry there again.
I think it's going to be one of the most exciting Tours we've seen in years.
TOUR DE FRANCE,
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