Stage 20 Cerilly – St. Armande-Montrond 53 kilometre contre la montre; ‘against the watch.’ Pez hooked up with Aussie elite time trial champion, Adam Hansen (Columbia) to take you inside; “a day in the life of a chrono man.”
Says the man in the start house and Adam kicks the Giant down the ramp and onto the hot tar of the tiny main street of Cerilly. We’re behind his Columbia team car and two police motor bikes in the queue of motor vehicle that sits beside the start house.
Adam has warmed up – “doesn’t he look good in the Australian champion’s skinsuit,’ says the spectator – had his bike weighed and measured; had a ‘good luck kiss’ from his mum, Gelma and now it’s time to get to work.
Adam’s sister and mum sandwich Martin at the start.
It takes us 1200 metres to catch him and he’s running 80 kph on the first dip, as quick as it drops, it drags up and he’s down to 30 kph as the gradient bites, but he stays neat in the tuck and gears down.
As the gradient eases, the gear goes up and we’re sitting at 50 kph through soft, rolling, green countryside with little knots of spectators in every lay-by.
The straights are long here and still he strokes 50, pedalling nicely on the gnarly French chippings which form the surface.
Martin eases back to let the Festina VIP people carrier up for a look as the barbecue smell wafts in through the Volvo’s open window – one day we’ll crack and just stop for a chop and a beer.
He’s finding his rhythm now, 60 on the flat, 70 on the dips.
There’s the 45 K to go board; that was a quick eight kilometres!
Through the bends in the villages he never leaves the tuck, flicking the stiff and rigid Giant like a BMX bike.
Hay bails, camper vans, picnics – yeah, it’s Le Tour all right.
This countryside could be Fife in Central Scotland, rich green farmland, soft and welcoming on the eye.
Over the top of the rises he spins out, before he changes up; way before Lance’s high cadence style changed the way a lot of riders pedal, British riders going to race in France would be advised by their wise old French Svengalis that the revs must be high before the up-shift after a climb.
We want pics, and move up to the commissar’s bike, he beckons us up but embarks on a whistle frenzy way before we would expect it, he’s probably one of the guys from the amateur ranks who aren’t used to wiles of the pro world.
Adam is out of the tuck for the first time as he bombs down a descent, 80 as he sweeps through the S bends.
There’s the time check, I can’t be sure, but I think he’s gone through fastest.
The ribbon of grey chipped tar rolls through ‘la France profonde’ (the real old, rural, France) and the big Australian is gobbling it up – 60 on the flat, 80 on the dips; we make the cadence 120 and he looks good.
The grey VIP Skoda Superbs arrive like a school of hungry sharks, bullying us plebeian journos out of our place in the string.
Soon they tire of watching the back of an estate car, motor bike and occasional glimpses of a cyclist’s bum – there’s a packed lunch box to explore and they pull off the course.
We checked Adam’s last five K split: 5-57- when ‘I were a lad,’ only the very best pro pursuiters could crack six minutes for five kilometres; Riviere, Bracke, Porter.
There’s a rider coming back at us, it’s Steegmans and with around 25 to go, Adam gets his man.
When Adam was catching the Flandrian, we could see that his pedalling was laboured, but Adam’s arrival has given him a new lease of life, now he has something to ride to and he looks smoother.
But our boy opens the gap; we ask the commissar if we can hop past the Belgian and go back up behind Adam; ‘reste la!’ he tells us.
We’re getting more pics of Steegmans now than we did of Adam!
The straights are long, the sun is out, it’s 22 degrees, there’s very little breeze – an ideal chrono day.
Big Gert stabs at the pedals and Adam isn’t really distancing him, meanwhile the camper vans look like a wall along the roadside as we pass 15 K to go mark.
The only real hill of the day sees Steegmans come back at Adam but over the top it’s the Aussie who finds the groove quickest and the gap begins to yawn as we enter what could be the ‘bocage’ in Normandy, with it’s high hedge rows atop earth banks and tunnels of trees.
Another drag, that five K split was 7-58 as we pass the 10 to go board.
We’re growing tired of looking at the back of the commissar’s crash hat and the back bumper of the Lotto van; without warning the motorbike zooms away, we give the QuickStep guys a ‘toot’ and we’re off to see Adam, but not before I stick the camera out of the window; ‘smile please, Gert!’
Adam is revving this long sore, drag, he keeps shifting in the saddle, trying to find the sweet spot, at five to go he’s out of the saddle, to ease the discomfort.
It’s downhill all the way now; 60, 65, 70, 75, four kilometres to go, 80 – the tar is smooth but a bit damp under the trees, not that he seems to notice as he freewheels around a couple of tight bends at 60, inside knee well out in classic style.
There are two to go, long, fast, flat straights – 65 then 70; its ‘full gas.’
The crowd is sparse, but it’ll be mayhem along here when Evans and Sastre end their duel, later in the afternoon.
A 90 left, a roundabout at 400 to go, 250, we’re off course and Adam charges for the line.
It’s over for Adam – so, that’s it for the day?
No chance, now he has to talk to Pez!
CHASING ADAM:Part Deux – The Post-Race Interview
Outside the team hotel, handily placed, five minutes from the finish, one of the team officials shouts across; ‘how did it go?’
‘I finished, and I didn’t crash!’ he smiles back.
PEZ: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us right after the race, first up, what was your mindset today, Adam?
Adam: In long TT’s I have problems with my position, I get sore on the saddle and can’t get comfortable, so really the first thing I have to do is to establish if it’s going to be a good day position wise or not, today wasn’t the best.
PEZ: Do you feel the responsibility of wearing the national champion’s jersey?
Adam: I do a bit, unfortunately! The thing about riding a TT in a stage race is that it’s completely different to a one day time trial, which you can prepare specifically for. In a Grand Tour I have to work hard for the team and it’s really down to what’s left!
PEZ: Are you ‘intelligence gathering’ for Kim Kirchen during your ride?
Adam: No, we have team personnel who devise the pace strategy for the day, they drive the course, video it and constuct a plan for how the course should be ridden – where to go over max, where to recover and such like. It’s all good in theory, but a lot of your ride is in how you feel on the day and that can’t be pre-planned.
PEZ: Brad Wiggins is in the team, do you talk time trials?
Adam: Yeah, during the Giro we had a good chat about crank lengths and equipment, he has heaps of knowledge. I’ve seen him absolutely dead in the Giro, then going out and place top five in a time trial. He said; “I’m going to go out and ride at 440 to 450 watts today!” and he just went out and did it for a top five finish. He’s an example of how a good athlete should be, a bit of a role model I guess.
PEZ: Do you have a pre-race ‘ritual.’
Adam: No, I’m not superstitious, I think if you have really rigid plan or ritual and you go out and ride badly, then you start wasting time and nervous energy thinking about what’s wrong with your plan.
PEZ: Do you train on your TT velo?
Adam: Once upon a time! The last time I rode it was the first time trial in the Tour, and before that it was the TT in the Dauphine. There’s no doubt that my time trialling has suffered because of my intense race programme. But when you’re not one of the top men in the team then you just have to get on with what the team management tells you to do. You give a lot of energy to helping Cav for example; that means that it’s not there for other things. Everything you do has a price and part of that price is that you’re not able to prepare for time trials as you would like.
PEZ: Are you fussy about equipment?
Adam: I used to be, for example when I won the Aussie Nationals I prepped the bike myself and got it just how I wanted. The bikes we have just now are good, but this is only the second time I’ve ridden it.
PEZ: What’s breakfast on chrono day?
Adam: I have a good size breakfast, oats, honey and soya milk – when I think about it, I’ve had that for the last 20 days! I try to have little bits of food through the morning, so as I don’t get surges in my blood sugar. I want to hit the race feeling not too full, but not hungry either.
PEZ: We noticed your warm up was quite brief?
Adam: In a super long TT I don’t think that you need a long warm up. When I was young, I was a runner and it taught me a lot; I think your carb store is about one hour at that sort of level and if you warm up too much, then you’ll use up what should be for the race.
What’s on my iPod for the warm up? Ministry of Sound.
PEZ: What’s your race strategy?
Adam: I try and start below normal race pace and ease into the effort. Our pace strategy guys say that you should sprint up the hills and recover on the descents; also sprint out of the corners. I try to ride at a more even pace, most of the time I’m in 54 x 13 or 14 and I try to keep the revs up.
PEZ: Warm down?
Adam: Normally I’d have a 30 minute warm down, but tomorrow is the last stage and it starts in a very relaxed fashion, so it’s not something I need to worry about today.
PEZ: Give our readers a few tips for TT riding, please.
Adam: Always ride within your zone, don’t over-pace, many people tend to go out too fast at the start. Listen to your body and don’t ride on pulse or heart rate; you might go out and ride at 400 watts, but you’re having a really good day and you could have ridden at 420. Or you might go out and ride at 400, when it’s a bad day, when maybe you should be at 380 and you’ll blow.
The soigneur was waiting, we had a deadline to meet – time to go; all that’s left is to thank Adam for his time and patience over the last week of the 2008 Tour, we hope you enjoyed his insights.
How did he finish?
Adam took 61st place at 5’52”, just another day at the office.