One thing I have learned from my many years as a journalist is that, especially at the start and finish of race stages, I should only ask a few questions and the total interview should be around a minute. This is for several reasons. First off, there are other journalists who also want to talk to the riders. If I tie up a rider for five minutes, when time is really critical, not only do I keep other journalists from getting their story, but I risk having competing journalists evesdrop on my interview and then I loose a bit of exclusivity. So to be fair and to keep my interview as exclusive as possible I get and get out and let others do their work as well.
The second reason is that these riders have a job to do. Yes, they need to make themselves available to the press, but before or after race stages when chaos and anxiety are at critical levels is not the place to start asking about career goals and how they feel about the war in Iraq. So, out of courtesy, I try to keep it short and simple.
Today at the sign in for the stage from Bourg d'Oisans to St. Etienne I talked to a bunch of the riders who have been lighting it up in the Alps.
Carlos Sastre rolled up in his first day in yellow. BTW, Sastre's time for the ascent of the l'Alpe d'Huez was 39'29" for an average speed of 13 miles per hour.
Jens Voigt has done just about everything in this Tour from pacesetting at the front to climbing to initiating breakaways to super-domestique in the mountains. I asked him if is there is anything he cannot do. "I am really shite on a rainy descent. That's the only thing where I am absolutely hopeless. Apart from that I think I am doing well."
Jens was asked to describe his teammate Carlos Sastre. "He is just a peaceful warrior. He's hard when it comes to it(racing), but he is friendly and loyal. He gives a lot to the team so that is why everyone wants to help him."
Austrian Bernard Kohl of the Gerlosteiner squad will wear the polka-dot jersey into Paris. I asked him about what it was like on the Alpe, where he finished in the lead chasing group and sits third overall 1'34 seconds behind Sastre and one second behind Cadel Evans. "Yeah, it was really hard. It was the hardest stage in the Alps and after two and a half weeks of racing and after 200 kilometers (on that day) the race was really hard."
Who was he keying off of on the Alpe? "I had to look for Cadel Evans. He needed to keep the gap from getting too big for the time trial." Can Kohl defend his podium position or even move up a place or two in the final time trial? "No, I am not really the time trialer like Cadel Evans or Denis Menchov. I am a climber. I will try my best in the time trial and we will see."
Kohl's Gerlosteiner teammate, winner of the first time trial and former wearer of the yellow jersey, Stefan Schumacher, was especially active in the Alps with long breakaways on the stage to Jausiers and also to the Alpe. I asked him if he was trying to make up for his sub-par performance in the Pyrenees. "Yeah, in the Pyrenees I was not so good, but now I have a lot of time(he was way down on GC) so I tried. Also, it was important for the team to ride an offensive race and work for the mountains jersey. Bernard had the jersey and I controlled it at the front."
Danny Pate was in the lead breakway on the stage to Prato Nevoso and in a position to snag Team Garmin-Chipotle's first Tour stage win. I asked him who he was watching on the climb to the finish. "I was just watching the Euskatel guy(Egoi Martinez) because he seemed like the best guy." Both Pate's and teammate Will Frischkorn's breakway moves were big pluses for the squad and proved their worth in the Tour even if they did not win a stage. Also, having a rider contending for the Tour podium isn't half bad, either!
Save for one bad day, the stage to Huatacam in the Pyrenees, Alejandro Valverde would be a heavy favorite for a podium finish come Paris in four days time. I asked him what happened down south and why he climbed much better in the Alps. "In the Pyrenees I had bad luck and my legs were not there. In the Alps I felt better and could climb better as well. I am happy with how things have worked out."
George Hincapie crashed hard on the stage to the Alpe and on the day after he was wearing extensive bandages on his left side which were already showing stains from his wounds. He looked like he was in a lot of pain and confrimed it when he succintly answered my question on how he feels. "Bad." I asked him if he would soldier on to Paris and he replied that he would give it a shot. George is a true warrior and I hope he makes to to Paris for his 13th Tour.
The last of the 150 remaining riders to sign in was one of the true revelations of the race, Garmin-Chipotle cyclist Christian Vandevelde. He was oh, so close to the podium, and has still has a shot, but the emerging star recounted what happened in the Alps. "I had one bad day two days ago but I made up for it yesterday."
Most likely referring to the clinic Team CSC Saxo Bank put on during the past three days, when asked how it felt to leave the Alps, Christian was not convinced that the race had truly left the Alps therefore allowing the riders to rest up for the showdown on Saturday. "It feels good, but we are still in the Alps. We have to go to St. Etienne first."
Well, there you have it.