Having felt like a little hammer for so long on tour, it was only going to be a matter of time until I was royally nailed. That time arrived yesterday unceremoniously whilst tackling the relatively straightforward Stage 16, consisting of 110 miles and some rolling hills - a typical transition into the Alps.
Despite the rest day on Monday, the legs and mind just were not at the races. A wave of fatigued had rolled over me, generated from a series of poor nights' sleep, sickness, and not to mention the previous 1600 pedalled miles round France. Whilst you can usually push through a day when the legs feel sore, losing the mind and motivation spells bad news. There were a couple of times yesterday when I could quite happily have chucked the bike in a ditch and hailed a taxi home. All you can do is try and accept your day's role as the nail and grit your teeth.
The nail usually pays the heaviest price. Whilst the majority of the peleton were finished for the day, I was caught near the top of the day's last climb in what appeared to be the warm-up act for the apocalypse. The temperature plummeted, whilst thunder and lightning exploded around the valley, and the road became a river as torrential hail thrashed everything below it. Being so close to the finish I pushed on up the climb taking my beating, my arms stinging from the hail but suddenly riding faster and faster in a vain attempt to outrun the storm. The descent to the finish line was sketchy and by the time I arrived at the hotel I was verging on hyperthermic. In typical Tour de Force fashion my room mate Simon (Judas Morten is back on his single supplements!) helped me up to the room with my luggage. Whilst warming up in the bath I vowed not to be a nail again on tour. I had to get my mindset back to where it was. It is typical to have at least one awful day (just ask Sky's Richie Porte after last Sunday's stage), particularly after a punishing stage like the Ventoux massacre. In a way I'm glad it came yesterday rather than on one of the big alpine days. Ashamedly I took comfort in that I drove on through the hail whilst others stopped to take shelter. You've got to take your small victories at this stage of proceedings, however pathetic and self-serving they are.
The good news is that following this morning's Stage 17 mountain time trial it seems I'm back to being the mini-mallet. A good night's sleep, inspirational alpine scenery and a thumping playlist did the trick. With just three big mountain stages left, including the unprecedented double ascent of Alpe D'Huez tomorrow, and then the ceremonial ride into Paris, long may this new lease of life continue.
A couple of nails playing at being hammers on top of Ventoux...