The winner of the 2018 supercombatif prize takes us through some of the highs and lows of his Tour de France.
STAGE 6: THE WIN
I really didn’t know what to expect from this stage. On paper I was a favourite, but after my metamorphosis into more of a pure climber I have lost some of my explosiveness since I got second at the Mûrde-Bretagne in 2015. My race instinct returned though. I made a plan, knew exactly when to attack, stayed calm all day – even when the race split in the wind, and had enough in the legs to carry the attack through to cross the line first. It was an amazing feeling. The podium, media zone, press conference are all now a blur but that stage-winning feeling is never forgotten.
STAGE 8: THE CRASH
I rode my luck during the first week. It was calculated risk taking. I could have asked my team to ride in the wind at the front for me all week, but I wanted to save their energy and also save my mental energy. It’s incredibly tough to fight for position all day, every day. The concentration required is exhausting, let alone the physical effort. So I sat back a bit and tried to feel the race and sense when it was important to be in front. I managed this until 17km to go on stage 8 when I crashed. Somehow I got back on my bike and my team limited my losses. But in the bus after, such was the pain, I was convinced I was going home, until all the scans came back clear.
STAGE 9: THE COBBLES
Before the race, stage 9 was intimidating but exciting. Maybe it was strange for a climber to have that attitude but when else would I ride the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix?
I had lost my confidence in the peloton though, and in the first 50km I was terrified of crashing again. My back was shredded and still leaking through my jersey after the crash. Once we got to the first section, I relaxed – adrenaline maybe? And with every passing sector my confidence grew. By the end I felt almost at ease on the stones, my condition clearly excellent, my team flawless in looking after me. I finished dirty, dehydrated but happy. My body was still working and I was conscious there was still a lot of racing to be done.
STAGE 17: THE SHORT ONE
A 65km stage with an F1-style grid start? Gimmicks perhaps, but I was excited for this stage. My philosophy this whole Tour was to enjoy every minute. The Pyrenees is a region I love. I’ve always raced well here. The grid start didn’t change the race but I think the added visibility of the top riders to the fans was good. It was different. Fun. The race was fast. There was too much wind to attack early and the incredibly difficult last climb also deterred attacks. I attacked from the bottom to put pressure on my competition. I was confident Sky would let me go, and I turned the climb into a TT to the top. It was epic. I rode the whole climb 15-20 seconds behind Quintana. Being second best on the hardest finish in the race meant I was content… but still, what could have been?
STAGE 19: THE EPIC DAY
What an incredibly daunting profile for the final road stage of the race. High mountains. Famous passes. These roads are the history of the Tour - the mist shrouding the final two peaks added to the drama. Long-range attacks by GC contenders forced a high tempo while the best riders in the race rode exhausted but aggressively, attacking like juniors. Then a break-neck downhill finish. It was one of the scariest downhills I’ve ever done – not because it was unsafe but for the speed that we took the corners. The good road surface and open curves made it very technical. I hoped to sprint for the win but Roglic had escaped, and when the finish line appeared I didn’t have the legs anyway. I loved every minute of this stage.
STAGE 21: THE PODIUM
The ride into Paris is always a day to savour. But to stand on the final podium, as the supercombatif of the race, still leaves me speechless. I race for fun, because I love it and attacking comes naturally to me. The fact people enjoy and appreciate that is humbling. To be rewarded for it blew me away, as did starting on the front row, my red numbers attached and beginning the procession alongside my junior sparring partner Geraint Thomas in yellow. It almost made the cobblestones of the ChampsElysées bearable knowing the experience that awaited at the finish and that my wife would be waiting after the line. The most beautiful podium in cycling on the greatest avenue in the world. What a way to finish a rollercoaster of a race.
Dan ensures his Tour is successful as he sprints to the stage 6 win