'It's just a question of not messing up in the two long time trials and riding strongly on the mountains'
Thursday, June 28: Liege -- Team Presentation
After the national championships in Clonmel last Sunday, I spent a couple of days with my parents and brothers in Nice before arriving in Belgium for the Tour de France Grand Depart on Wednesday afternoon.
I've been waiting for this Tour to come around all year and the last few days sitting in the team hotel have really dragged out. We're staying just outside Liege, not in the heart of the Tour, which is good because there's less stress, and you can relax a bit more, but I was surprised at how quiet it was yesterday at the team presentation.
All week we have been telling my young team-mate Mikael Cherel, who is riding his first Tour, how exciting the pre-race rider's meeting is. "Once they press play on that first video, that's when the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, the nerves kick in and you begin to realise it's not just any other race, it's the Tour de France," we said.
I don't know what Mikael thought, but there were no goosebumps for me today. In fact, I was a bit disappointed by the whole evening. In other years we were brought into a big room where the highlights of the previous year's Tour were shown on a massive cinema screen and the current route was presented to all the riders, but this year we were in a little room with a couple of small TVs, and there weren't even enough chairs for everyone to sit down.
Heading to the podium, I met my cousin Dan Martin, who is riding his first Tour de France, and gave him a quick hug. But we didn't even have time for a chat. I'm excited that Dan is finally going to get the chance to ride the Tour and I think he's strong enough to have a great race. We never really get to chat properly during races but I'm sure we'll be staying in the same hotel at some stage over the next three weeks and will definitely catch up.
Our team for this Tour was meant to be myself, Jean Christophe Peraud, Maxime Bouet, Hubert Dupont, Lloyd Mondory, Sebastien Minard, Mikael Cherel, Blel Kadri and Christophe Riblon but already we've had to reshuffle and Seb Hinault is flying in this afternoon to take Lloyd's place in the line-up.
Lloyd has had a sore knee since the Tour de Suisse, apparently from changing his racing shoes. Sometimes, if you don't get your shoe plate position exactly the same as the last one, your knee can be a little bit offline and cause problems and he thinks this happened.
Lloyd tried to keep it quiet for a long time, but yesterday after training he was in bits and in the afternoon made the announcement.
"I'm sorry lads. I tried to hide it, but it wouldn't have been fair for me to start the Tour and then have to go home after three days, so I've decided to pull out."
I'd heard him say he had a sore knee but you always have aches and pains on the bike and I didn't know it was that serious. Having been overlooked for the Tour team last year, Lloyd was really happy and excited about riding this year and his family were all there for the team presentation so obviously it was a hard decision for him.
I've been rooming with Sebastien Minard for the past three days, but from Monday I'll be rooming on my own again. Mikael Cherel became a father recently so we gave him the single room to let him get a few decent nights' sleep before the race begins.
This is my fourth Tour now and I'm all geed-up. I'm definitely ready and feel I'm in the condition I should be in, so now it's just a question of not messing up in the two long time trials and riding really strongly on the mountains. I also want to try and take some opportunities on the more open stages to go up the road.
If everything went right, I'd have a top-10 overall and a stage win in three weeks' time. I've been chasing a stage win on a Grand Tour forever but one just hasn't come my way yet. I've been second on the Tour, second on the Vuelta and had plenty of top-fives in each but I'm really missing that stage win and it's something I really dream of.
I want to kick off this first week well. I haven't seen the prologue course yet but I like those 6km or 7km prologues and, hopefully, I'll be able to get a good start and not lose too much time. The finish of Sunday's opening road stage is much harder than it looks in the race manual and is pretty steep. These type of finishes usually suit me after a hard stage but on the opening day of the Tour everybody is fresh and there are usually plenty of crashes.
It's raining over here now. I hope it clears up before then.