As expected, stage six of the Tour was all about staying in the right place, not being caught out, not losing time. It was a pretty nervous, stressful day and it required one hundred per cent concentration for the whole stage.
While it was the flattest day of the race, it also travelled through areas where there could be strong winds, and that posed a risk. The stage started off in a pretty relaxed fashion. That lasted for the first 25 kilometres or so, then it sped right up. It was bizarre in that while the average speed probably doesn’t look incredible, that doesn’t tell the story at all. We did just 30 kilometres in the first hour, but then in the last three hours we covered a total of maybe 150 kilometres. It was really intense.
There was a heck of a lot of wind out there, blowing at 50, 60, 70 kilometres per hour. That can be more dangerous than hills sometimes, as when diagonal lines of riders called echelons form, things can really break apart. In the end that didn't happen, and I think that reflects the strength, organisation and professionalism of every team in the race.
Keeping things together
There were five or six leadout trains on the front the whole time and I think they kind of cancelled each other out, keeping things together. In addition we were also kind of lucky with the wind. There were a lot of crosswinds, but they were a long way from the finish, so it was not worth trying anything then.
After that, there was a tailwind for the final 30 or 40 kilometres. It was a very, very fast stage and that makes things very nervous.
My Garmin-Sharp team worked really well to keep me well positioned. I was happy with that, and also with the way that I was able to concentrate for the whole stage, remaining focused. In the past, that is something that has been my weak point – I have always had a 15 , 20 minute spell where my concentration has drifted . . . it was like I needed a mental break halfway through the stage. But that wasn’t the case on the roads to Montpellier.
For those of you who followed last year's Tour, you'll know that there is always the danger of big crashes, particularly on stages like this. Fortunately that wasn't the case, although I did see a couple towards the end of the race. One of them took down the sprinter Mark Cavendish, who ended up on the ground when the rider in front of him slid out at a roundabout. I was right there behind him when it happened and that was a hairy moment for me, fortunately I stayed upright. I was very happy to get through it in one piece. Overall, it was a good day.
It was also a good day for one of my best friends, the Orica GreenEdge rider from South Africa, Daryl Impey. He took over the yellow jersey from his team-mate Simon Gerrans. I lived with Daryl for a year in Marseilles when we were both with the VC La Pomme amateur team, and he now lives in Girona, where I also live.
We spend a lot of time together, we train a lot together, and he is now in the yellow jersey. So I am a happy guy about that result.
Daryl has had a fantastic year. I have always been one of his biggest fans. He is almost like a brother to me. I was at his wedding last year, going to South Africa for it. We are very close, and to see him in yellow is fantastic. I hope he enjoys it now. It’s been a big year for him – he just had a little boy as well, with his son being born in May. He is winning races, he has the yellow jersey, and he is a long way away from 2005 when we were both living in a terrible apartment.
I was also pleased to see my team-mate Christian Vande Velde get through the stage okay. He fell heavily on Wednesday and suffered a blood clot, as well as a problem with a plate he had put in after he broken his collarbone before. A screw came loose with the impact, and the team were not sure how he would do as a result.
Fortunately he was able to do the whole stage. I just hope he is going to be okay for the mountains, as he is invaluable, in terms of his experience and also the support he gives as well. He has got an incredible amount of confidence in me, and gives me a lot of self-belief. I guess he is like a big brother to me. I really hope he can just get through these upcoming mountain stages and get through the rest day. Hopefully he will be okay by then. The Tour is all about survival, and no more so than when you are injured.
As regards the next stage, I haven’t thought about it too much. I’m trying to keep relaxed, take things day by day, not think too far ahead. I think a big sprint is possible, but it could also be pretty hard beforehand with the terrain making it possible for a big break to go clear.
After that, rumour has it that we have one of the worst hotels in France after the stage. So that is something to look forward to.