Nicholas Roche: 'Every single day left is going to be suited to aggressive riding'
With the Tour's second rest day upon us, my room-mate Roman Kreuziger and I took our time getting up this morning, watching a bit of TV before heading down to breakfast.
Nicholas Roche - Tour diary
Monday, July 15 – Rest Day: Vaucluse
As the Euskaltel and Europcar teams were also staying in our hotel, there were a lot of fans around the team bus this morning, so we posed for a few photos and signed a few autographs before heading off for an hour-and-a-half training spin.
For some reason, today seems to be one of those days that drags on interminably. Some riders reckon they'd prefer to have no second rest day and just get the Tour over a day quicker, but I'm not sure about that. I think today was well earned.
With 62 hours of racing in my legs in the past fortnight, I could feel my eyes closing at the lunch table and dragged my weary body back to my room for an hour's nap.
After a quick shower and shave, I began to feel mildly normal again and came back down to the lobby where some Irish supporters had turned up to see me. A French-based Irish family called the Mohans first called to my hotel to wish me good luck on the 2009 Tour and they've been doing it ever since.
Today they brought me a nice bottle of wine from their region in Bergerac and I also got a few photos with the McGlinchey family, whose young son was a bit disappointed to learn that I was a cyclist and not a Formula One driver. I also had a nice letter waiting for me from the O'Sullivans from Cork. They had turned up in the hope of seeing me but as I was asleep, they left a note wishing me good luck.
There have been loads of Irish flags on the roads every day. Thursday's stage, with a double ascent of Alpe d'Huez, should be huge and has already seen Irish fans organise their own gathering on corner number 10 of the iconic, switchback-laden climb.
'Irish Corner' should be a bit of craic and I'm really looking forward to riding past them on Thursday.
My agent Andrew McQuaid also called this afternoon for a coffee. He said he's never seen me look so healthy in the third week of a Grand Tour, which is possibly true. In 2011, I was completely run down and you could see it in the results. I dropped from 10th to 22nd in the last week. Last year I also had a tough day in the last time trial and drifted down the overall standings.
This year I've had tough days too but it's been a bit different. When you're riding for the overall you have to be focused and 100pc concentrated for three weeks. This year I'm riding to try and help my team leader Alberto Contador win the Tour and while it's been just as hard on the bike, I've noticed a bit of a difference off the bike.
When you're nervous about defending your place on GC every day for three weeks it takes a lot out of you. You think about it all the time. What's going to happen? Where is the next attack going to come from? What if I puncture with 5km to go? There's a lot of pressure there. Now, if I puncture with 5km to go, I change the wheel and that's it. If I lose time it doesn't matter once I'm there again the next day to help the team.
As a GC rider, you're churning things over in your head for hours after a stage. This year, even though I'm still knackered afterwards, once I've recovered I can relax and almost switch off until the next morning.
I'm not looking forward to tomorrow morning's start, however, as we have a second-category mountain straight away and there are sure to be plenty of teams willing to throw men up the road to liven the race up.
Coming into the third week there are a lot of riders with aspirations of a podium place. Last year, with 'Wiggo' and Chris Froome dominating, there was only space for one more and Vincenzo Nibali looked the only likely candidate. Although Froome is dominating again, this Tour has been pretty crazy and there has been something happening every day.
Every single day that's left is going to be suited to aggressive riding and it will be a tough physical and tactical battle. Although the only time I've seen him so far is when we ended up in the same lift for a couple of minutes last week, I think my cousin Dan Martin will be up there again this week. There are a few very hard days in a row and although he was dropped from the front group on Mont Ventoux, it was a single-mountain day.
Dan is a pure climber and I think the next few days, where there are more mountains in a row, will suit him better. He could well move up from his current position of 11th overall or even win another stage.
But before all that, there is some more resting to be done and as Roman lies on his bed with his legs raised up against the wall, I'm due for a massage next. It's a tough life, this cycling lark.