Last year we used ice baths on the Tour as a recovery tool after the stages. This year, thanks to a new sponsor Tec4H, we have gone one step further and introduced cryotherapy. According to the team doctor, it's good for inflamed muscles and tendons and stimulates the production of hormones, which helps recovery.
Every morning and evening I strip down to my boxers, socks, and a pair of gloves and step into the portable chamber for three minutes. It's a bit tingly to begin with but with the temperature inside set at minus 150C , the teeth soon start to chatter and the shivers kick in. By the time it's over, it's bloody freezing.
Last night French TV decided to follow me as I took my turn in the chamber. After about 40 seconds, however, the fuse blew and I had to start all over again. Sometimes I can't handle the full three minutes, especially in the mornings, but I couldn't back out in front of the TV cameras so I had to stand there rattling and smiling as they asked me questions about it.
This morning I only did two minutes in the chamber as it's hard to get motivated for a cryotherapy session when it's already raining and freezing outside.
At 226km, today's stage was the longest of this year's Tour. I hadn't ridden over 200km since the Dauphine, so I was a bit apprehensive before the start, especially when we saw the miserable conditions we'd be riding in. Even though the camera guy who dragged Nicki Sorensen's bike through the bunch on his motorbike yesterday was thrown off the race last night, there were lots of crashes again today. We had torrential rain and thunderstorms, which made the peloton very nervous, and the roads were like glass in the final 20km.
With 4km to go, my team-mate Seb Hinault almost crashed. Going around a roundabout, his rear wheel skidded and his bike jack-knifed. I was just a couple of places behind him and could only watch in amazement as his back wheel slid at a 90-degree angle up alongside his front wheel before Seb managed to flick his way out of the skid. I don't know how he stayed up.
There was a lot of pushing and shoving for position as we entered the penultimate climb with about 3km to go. I had no choice but to stay up there today. The final climb was so steep that if you weren't well placed you could easily lose time if somebody in front of you let a wheel go.
Having taken fourth and seventh on previous stages, Seb naturally wanted to go for the sprint and Jean-Christophe Peraud gave me a hand to stay near the front. On the climb, I was riding in about 25th place. Alberto Contador tried to go clear at the bottom but went the long way around the roundabout which killed his effort. Thomas Voeckler put in a solid attack in the final kilometre and the pace flew up.
After he'd been caught, though, with around 500m to go, there was a little stall in the group and, as I had empty road in front of me, I quickly moved up the inside along the barriers. I shot up to about five from the front with last year's Tour runner-up Andy Schleck and Alexandre Vinokourov of Astana just in front of me.
As I still had space in front of me, there was no need to slow down so I decided to have a go for the stage win. I had nothing to lose. The sprint hadn't really started and I knew that even if I jumped clear and got caught, I wasn't going to lose any time on the stage. Having nipped in between Andy and the barriers, I was about to go past Vino when the road curved into a left hand bend and he just shut the door between me and the barriers, which meant I had to brake hard in the wet.
Once you have to brake in a sprint, you can forget about it. I sat for maybe 200m with my front wheel sandwiched between behind Vino and another rider's back wheel. I had no room to get out and could only watch while everybody else, including stage winner Edvald Boasson Hagen, jumped on the right. That was enough to see me drift back to 21st place by the time the line approached.
Somebody like Mark Cavendish would probably have made it his business to squeeze through the gap. Once those guys decide to go, they go. They can get through the eye of a needle.
Me? If the gap isn't there, I don't go looking for it. I didn't want to risk ending up on the ground so I didn't chance it. Seb took 14th and is going really well and it's a pity he has been left to do his own thing every day in the finale.
I moved up one place to 23rd overall today, and am now a minute and 12 seconds behind race leader Thor Hushovd. Jean-Christophe is next placed of my Ag2r La Mondiale team, three minutes and seven seconds down in 52nd place. I was feeling a bit better today. I'm happy that I was able to stay at the front on the last climb. There's a lot of pressure on me to be near the front every single day. If I'm seen near the back, even for five minutes, I'm told to get back up the front.
Christophe Riblon and Blel Kadri are a bit disappointed with their form so far, while John Gadret and Hubert Dupont are finding it really hard to recover after their efforts at the Giro d'Italia in May and are struggling at the back of the bunch most of the day. Max Bouet was a lot better today and Seb Minard is very strong and is always there to give myself and Jean-Christophe a hand to stay near the front.
Through crashes, hold-ups and sheer fatigue the rest of the guys on the team have already lost too much time to be considered for the General Classification, so we don't have a back-up plan, unless Jean-Christophe pulls out an amazing ride next week. All we can do now is try and stay safe and wait for the mountains, where hopefully we can stay in contention for another couple of weeks.
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