Not all Mondays are created equally. There are Mondays after vacations, Mondays after a long wedding or reunion weekend; there are traditional Mondays after a standard weekend, and then there’s the painfully anticlimactic Monday after the Tour de France. That one stands alone.
For a variety of reasons, outside of the couple times where I was actually in the race, I watched this Tour more than any Tour in my history of time on this planet. I’d pinpoint access to the spectacle that is the Tour as the greatest reason for taking it in this go-around. Now that I can simply turn on a telephone app and watch it, no matter if I’m at airport, at the office, or even on my bike, it was very cool to be able to flip on the phone and take in a few hours of France. Speaking of which, the second best reason is that with the app, every second of the race is now finally being broadcast. I’ve long said that the most interesting moments (or hours) of a race outside of the exhilarating final few moments are as soon as the start flag drops. The ensuring hunt to see who makes the break — previously that segment of racing was captured in a two second snippet and glossed over with “aaaaand then we now have a breakaway of ___ riders with a gap of ___ minutes” — may look like a random scattershot selection of riders making it up the road, but that’s far from the truth. It’s a political and tactical game, with just the right number of riders, nationalities, or composition of teams represented that make the front group.
I really enjoy being on the other side of the television and I was often with friends or acquaintances while watching this year, which allowed me to help unpack these tactics. After receiving marching orders on the team bus in the morning, more often than not it was my job to help see those plans unfold and dictate the early part of a race. It’s not quite as robotic as it sounds since it’s taking place at 32mph screaming across some road in Europe.
It was also among friends watching this years race that without much thought I’d say, “I was teammates with him. And him. Cool, yeah, that guy too.” I just did the actual count and I was teammates with 18 dudes in the 2017 Tour. That’s nearly 10% of the entire Tour de France peloton, which to me seems like a big number. In no other race nor race that I watch does that thought cross my mind. Random bit of trivia number one for the day.
I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about a handful of these teammates and explain why they happen to be on the greater side of awesome. In no particular order:
Alessandro de Marchi and I were teammates throughout my time on Liquigas, and Marco Marcato joined the gang later once we were Cannondale Pro Cycling. Both stalwart hard workers, their ability to make it into a breakaway is no coincidence. Alessandro is a better climber of the two, but both can get into breaks on the hardest of days. Steve Cummings’ name was mentioned dozens of times in the context of making breaks at the toughest moments. These two dudes are in that exact same category.
Ignas Konovalovas was a very young Lithuanian who shared a pair of years with me on Cervelo TestTeam. Lithuania isn’t a country that basks in cycling’s limelight, but gosh darn it they produce some fast cyclist. Ignas is a time trial specialist who won the final stage of the 2009 Giro capping off an amazing grand tour in which we took home five stages. He’s humble, well spoken, with a hilariously dry wit that pairs well with a Lithuanian accent. His job early in this Tour was to escort their sprinter Demare over the massive French mountains when Demare was often dropped within the first few hundred meters, resulting in a single or two-person 170-some-odd kilometer time trial. Not a fun job, but Ignas would do it proudly.
Serge Pauwels‘ spent lots of time on TV thanks not just to making some very opportune breakaways, but for being one of the last to survive. Serge first made a name for himself when he was called back from a breakaway at the 2009 Giro in which it was all but guaranteed that he or his single other breakaway companion would make it to the line for victory, in order to help our GC hope Carlos Sastre who was struggling at the time. Much like Ignas, Serge is an incredibly nice, under-spoken, but well-spoken dude exactly my age, who I really enjoyed watching successfully attack Alberto Contador in the high mountains at this year’s race. That’s damn impressive.
Jack Bauer is the man. We were teammates just one year, 2015 on Cannondale Pro Cycling, but this Kiwi is as friendly as he is powerful. He’ll drive a breakaway all day, then once caught still has enough in reserves to smash a threshold effort for his sprinter or team captain in general classification. I think Jack is getting married soon, so congrats on an awesome summer of 2017 Jack.
Maceij Bodnar is about as close to Jack Bauer in qualities on and off the bike as I could offer; one of the few differences is his passport says Poland rather than Jack’s New Zealand. Strong as an ox, watching him ride away from his two other breakaway cohorts surprised no one who knows how strong Bodi is. Watching him then singlehandedly put time into a hard charging peloton was also par for the course. It was of course upsetting to see him caught virtually at the line, so to then earn his victory on the penultimate stage was very sweet to see. Fun Bodi story: Timmy Duggan and I were newbies to Liquigas-Cannondale in 2011. We were out on an early season training team training ride and the two of us were butchering our way through a conversation with Bodi entirely in Italian. At the end of this twenty minute cacophony of a romantic language, Bodi casually offered, “We can speak in English too if that’s easier.” Sí, Bodi, that would be nice.
Dan Martin is one tough cyclist. The physical opposite of a Jack Bauer or Maceij Bodnar, Dan takes an absolute beating yet keeps on hard charging. The fact that he bounced back from his tumble with Richie is really quite incredible. Being Irish, his wry humor is spot on. I think his interviews were arguably the best of anyone this Tour where he offered unfiltered truth. And despite weighing in the neighborhood of 135lbs, I don’t care if you think you’re fast; he’ll dust you in a sprint.
Juraj Sagan is of course Peter’s brother. Given that he’s probably 25 pounds lighter than Peter and a couple inches shorter, it’s mistakenly assumed that he’s Peter’s younger brother waiting patiently to supersede his bro. Alas, Juraj (pronounced “yer-I”) is Peter’s older, more eloquent brother. Juraj is reserved, but speaks English quite well and is about as friendly as a cyclist could be — I’m seeing a trend here among these former teammates who I bother mentioning. He’s inquisitive and curious and is quiet content in the role he plays. A very worthy domestique, I’m pumped that he got a shot at the Tour this year.
Bit of trivia number seven, which is personal taste rather than cold hard fact. But it is still a fact that for some reason I don’t like that the word “gutted” has so quickly entered the cycling vernacular.
George Bennett and I overlapped just one year in 2014 at Cannondale but have remained friends since then. It’s hard not to like Kiwis and George is no different. Quick witted and not hesitant to speak his mind, George is highly entertaining, fun to hang out and train with. Better yet, I was stoked to see him take the overall at this year’s Tour of California, and back up that confidence with an awesome few weeks at the Tour de France. George doesn’t lack confidence and it’s really great to see him come to form this year. You’ll see more of his name in coming years for sure.
And to round it out, we have the trio of teammates from 2015, Alberto Bettiol, Nate Brown, and Dylan van Baarle. These are three of my favorite teammates on Cannondale my final year racing. These three epitomize everything I love about that team, and ironically part of the reason I decided to call it a career. That is, (especially in 2015) these kids were so young, yet bursting with so much freakin’ talent that I embraced being part of their development and story, but was ready to step aside and give them their opportunity. Nate has grown up in the shadows of some current American cycling, but is creeping into the limelight himself. He’s secretly a prolific climber, is selfless in a bike race, is as consistent as a director could ever hope, and just likes to have a good time. Plus the dude can crack a joke. Dylan is a watt monster on the bike. There aren’t a lot of spring classics specialists who were continually making breakaways at the Tour but Dylan was that guy. Quiet, disciplined, hard-working, Dylan can roll. And Alberto. Ooooh, Alberto. This young Italian is always smiling, always happy, always laughing. He’s 23 years old now and after shedding some young-cyclist’s weight, it appears that he can do anything on the bike. He was an impressive third in an early Tour sprint and then was often Rigo’s final man in the mountains. Allow me to hopefully not surprise you by saying that’s incredible.
My favorite Alberto moment, which is relevant since I’m penning this at the Cannondale national sales meeting: when Alberto was at that event last year, he was in Utah prepping for the Tour of Utah. We would go out daily with Cannondale dealers and ride an hour or three. With that flair that can only accompany an Italian, Alberto shed his jersey in the stifling August heat, and then yelled GROUPETTO! anytime anyone decided to test their climbing legs against Phil Gaimon on the unforgivingly hot and steep Ogden Pass. Here’s the only photo I have, for better or worse, celebrating the banquet of beers atop a scorching hot climb — but please note Alberto with merely a heart rate monitor strap and bib straps up top, tastefully in the background.