Up and at ‘em

Starting the Tour correctly is as important as finishing it correctly.

The first week of the Tour de France is always marred by crashes.  Many times it’s the first few days that end the dreams of many Tour riders. In years past the race started along the coast for the first couple days. The flat, fast roads are nerve-racking as the riders have to worry about many things.

To start with, the first stage is a road stage and the yellow jersey will be up for grabs. This means all 180 starters will think they have a chance for glory and they will fight for it tooth and nail.

Besides dealing with each other there is the insanity of the speeds, the fans, narrow roads, and they often have to deal with the coastal winds that could change the outcome of the race in a blink of an eye.

Frankie Andreu leading a peloton

By not having a prologue, to sort the general pecking order, the first day is as important as ever.

No one knows which team will control things, who will chase the breakaway, and who will start the lead out. It’s a huge list of unknowns including who will be able to get on the podium in Yellow and also for the KOM.  The final kilometer will be a straight flat run in and every sprinter will be counting on their team and their own legs to get them to the finish line first. It will be chaos and probably be one of the best stages to watch during the first week.

Twenty some odd years ago, in 1996, my Tour almost ended before it started.

The Tour started in Holland with a prologue, and stage 1 was a twisty convoluted circuit that went all over the Dutch countryside. Stage 1 started quickly and the amount of fans lining the road was incredible. There were plenty of crashes but not because the riders were taking each other out.

Veteran Cyclist Frankie Andreu when on the Motorola Team

The road furniture in Holland is everywhere and the narrow roads combined with constant roundabouts and dodging curbs took its toll on the peloton.

My crash took place about 50km from the finish as the peloton was strung out in one long line. We were right up on the edge of the curb, going 50km/hr and my radio chirped some information to me. I looked down to press the button to speak back and in the amount of time it took me to look down and back up I had piled into the wheel in front of me.

I slid across the road tearing open my skin, shredding my clothing, and somehow ripped a large hole in my ankle. My ankle was the big problem but I was bandaged up, put back on the bike, and sent off to make it to the finish. When a team starts with 9 riders they expect to have 9 riders on day 2. I didn’t want to climb off either but day 2 through 7 were hell as my body tried to race and recover from the injuries at the same time.

Frankie at the Tour

When you see the white gauze bandages on riders you should know they are struggling more than usual.

No one want’s to hit the ground at any point during a race but it’s especially important to start the Tour on a good note. This year's race will surely see plenty of bandages, and early on we will see a few lead changes to go along with the crashes.

Not every rider will wear yellow but every rider will have a cringeworthy moment during the first week of the Tour. Neck muscles will be tense, hands will be sore, headaches at night, and deep fatigue sets in because of the stress of trying to not crash.

Physically the first few days are hard but mentally it takes everything a rider has to make it to the next day.

 Frankie at the Tour