Stage Four: Christian Vande Velde’s Garmin kit brightens up grey Saint Etienne after he jumps the break of the day. Sylvain Chavanel hangs on to yellow (it was a white jersey when I was a boy) but Bert Contador proves that he’s a long way from beaten.
Meanwhile – when we last spoke to our man, he was looking forward to getting to terrain he feels more comfortable in; but the only predictable thing about pro bike racing is that it’s unpredictable.
Vande Velde came out on top after some fantastic riding in Stage 4.
PEZ: Hard day, Dan.
Dan: Yeah, there were a lot of attacks early, the first three hours were all up and down but we averaged 45 kph for them. I punctured after 45 minutes and chased for an hour and more to get back; that was in a group of about 30 guys who had been dropped before I had the flat. The problem was that you couldn’t really use the cars to get back; it was so twisty, turny, up and down.
PEZ: Tell us about the climbs.
Dan: There were six cat 3’s – none were particularly long or steep but there was just no respite, even between the climbs it was up and down and the roads were very heavy. It was very windy too, that didn’t make things any easier.
PEZ: Your GC guys haven’t had it good – Marchante crashed out and now Cuesta isn’t well.
Dan: Yeah, he’s a bit sick, there’s a lot of us got the sniffles at this time of year.
PEZ: And Heinrich Haussler lost the points jersey.
Dan: Yeah, it’s disappointing but morale in the team is good and he thinks he can get it back.
PEZ: How are the crowds?
Dan: There have been decent crowds at the start and finish; some of the villages we went through today were pretty remote, high in the hills and I think just about everybody was out to watch the race.
PEZ: Tomorrow is 204 K with three 3rd, three 2nd and one 1st cat climbs.
Dan: I’m just looking at the road book and it’s pretty lumpy between the climbs too, we’ll call it 200 K – that’s far enough! It’s ironic, we were talking about ‘levels,’ the other day; this time last year I was getting top tens, but I’m going a lot better this year and here I am, suffering.
It was time for Dan’s massage, but I did mention to him that when QuickStep, Rabobank and Astana are fighting to the death, and you’re somewhere in the middle – it’s never going to be easy.
Stage 5: Jeremy Roy finally wins; Chavanel stays in yellow – une bon jour pour La Belle France.
It was after dinner when we caught up with our man on the inside. But first, an anecdote: the phone rings, it’s Viktor; “your man, Fleeman – he’s doing a job!” – praise indeed.
PEZ: How’s that French food that gets so much bad press from the pros?
Dan: It’s good here, but the first three nights, they were a different story – disgusting!
PEZ: What’s dinner for a pro?
Dan: We always start with salad then we’ll have meat or chicken with pasta or rice – sometimes both; occasionally we get vegetables but not always, they think the salad covers your veg intake. If we’re lucky, there’ll be dessert – tonight was good, it was Jez’s birthday and there was a nice cake on the table.
A hard day at the office demands a lot of food.
PEZ: Another hard day at the office.
Dan: Yeah, 204 K with seven climbs, some of them as long as seven K, the pace wasn’t too bad, not easy, but not flat out. There were three riders away, Jean- Paul our DS said we should bring it back for Heinrich so Serge Pauwels and I were riding on the front (doing that job Viktor spoke about.) Astana and QuickStep came up at 25 to go but it became apparent that we weren’t going to get the break back so Jean-Paul said just to take easy on the run in. It was just too twisty on small roads to get a chase together.
PEZ: Was there a truce today?
Dan: I think they were happy to let a break go, but I wouldn’t say that it was an easy day and they tried hard to get it back.
PEZ: Inigo is out.
Dan: Yeah, I didn’t realise ‘til we were on the bus this morning; there’s a lot of guys got colds and flu’s – Gilbert pulled out today too. We still have Heinrich in the hunt for the points jersey; but Jean-Paul doesn’t want him going too deep – the form is there for Milan – San Remo, so he doesn’t want him going into the red.
Paris-Nice sure is a lot more fun to watch from the side of the road, thinks Mr. Philippe Gilbert.
PEZ: Mountain top finish on La Montagne de Lure tomorrow.
Dan: I’ll be sitting in tomorrow; I’ve done a fair bit of riding on the front, so tomorrow I’ll be sitting in. I’d have liked to try something on a stage, but it’s just been so hard.
Stage Six: Bert!
PEZ: A sore finish, Dan.
Dan: Yeah, we were in the grupetto of around 30/35 on that last climb but we sat up and let them go, the Astana guys were going a bit too fast; 30 minutes or 35 down, what’s the difference? Jean-Paul told us not to go too deep; Serge Pauwels had a bit of dig on the finish climb – he wanted to test his legs out a little.
PEZ: How is Mr. Van Poppel?
Dan: It’s the first time I’ve worked with him, so I don’t know him too well but I think he appreciates that I’m still in the race and trying hard for the team.
PEZ: How are the legs fairing?
Dan: I get a 45 minute massage every night, that makes a big difference; when you’re training at home and you’re not having that, you notice the difference. I am suffering though, there’s no doubt about that; but the way I look it is that I have a job to do for my team and every race after this can only be easier!
PEZ: How is tomorrow looking?
Dan: It’s a tough one, ten categorised climbs and over 191 K; today was ‘only’ 182 K but we were on the bike for more than five hours, the climbs keep the average speed down but it’s not just the categorised climbs, there are hard little climbs between the GPM climbs too.
Bang goes Alberto Contador.
PEZ: I’ll talk to you same time tomorrow, then?
Dan: If I’m still here!
PEZ: We’ve got a diary article to complete, dude.
Dan: Yeah, of course, I’ll be thinking about that when I’m suffering in those mountains tomorrow, Ed!
There you have it; a reminder that it’s not all podium kisses, Ferraris and diamond studded watches in the world of pro bike racing- we’ll be back talking to our man at the sharp end, on Saturday.