“Brian, I need you to do me a favor. I need you to call Unibet.” Brian was Brian Holm, my Columbia Sportswear team’s Danish directeur sportif, and Unibet was an online betting company. Brian knew what I meant. I could tell from the way he was smirking; but sitting next to him, my other directeur, Rolf Aldag, thought he’d either misheard or that I’d gone insane. He leaned over Brian in the passenger seat to get a clearer view and asked me to repeat what I’d just said. “I need you to call Unibet and put a grand on Mark Cavendish to win today’s stage. Got it?” Now Rolf was laughing. . . .
A hundred kilometers to go. A hundred kilometers and not much more than two hours until the most important ten seconds of my life. Hopefully. I spotted the huge bundle of varicose veins that belongs to my teammate George Hincapie, and I kicked through a little window of daylight between the bodies and on to his shoulder. “Hey, George, I just went back to the car and told them I needed them to call Unibet for me. . . .” By the time I’d finished the story, he was laughing so much he nearly fell off his bike.
Ninety kilometers, 80, 70, 60 to go. It was hot—the first really warm day of the Tour, and the sun happened to have showed up on a day when there was precious little shelter, just endless wheat fields acting like giant solar panels. Drink, Cav, gotta keep drinking. Four riders were still off the front, but now wasn’t the time to start fretting. Not yet. At the 50-kilometers-to-go mark, I’d start picking my way through the maze and into the top twenty or thirty positions, close to my teammates and as far as possible from danger. My teammates might not see me, but they’d see my long white socks—the socks I wore deliberately so they could pick me out in the melee—I’d drift on to a wheel, maybe George’s, maybe Bernie’s, maybe Kosta’s, then the thinking, the planning, the wondering would all stop and the focusing would start. Nothing would count except the next turn of the pedals, the next shift of the gear lever, the next tweak of the handlebars, the next inch of tarmac.