"The tension is great and although we are extremely grateful to the people who are on the road, there is a great danger. Going at 80 or 90 km/h downhill and with the public having to go away (from the road), with people in wheelchairs, people with dogs... finishing unscathed each day is a victory."
Finishing unscathed each day is a victory... Now you know why Alberto Contador said this, as early as Stage 2 at the Tour de France.
That day in Sheffield, the Spaniard also remarked how important his team was, particularly Michael Rogers and Nicolas Roche, in protecting him from the clear and present danger that is the Tour's opening week, "because here," he said, "in the quiet moment, you can lose the Tour."
He does not need to do what Vincenzo Nibali did two days ago. "It is always important to be there and push a little bit, but today was not the day," said Contador last Sunday. "It was a day to pass without problems and so it has been."
By this weekend, come the hat-trick of stages in the Vosges, the time gained by the Italian in Sheffield - a mere two seconds - will mean nothing.
Besides, how much extra energy is Nibali expending in his premature spell in yellow? The press conferences; the doping controls; the onus on his team to ride at the front for the opening hours which you do not see on TV...
In its insidious way, it all adds up.
Every day has been like this. A veritable bundle of nerves.
On Day 1, we lost Mark Cavendish; in his desperation to win, he took things too far. On Day 2, we lost another top sprinter, Sacha Modolo of Lampre-Merida, who abandoned due to illness.
Wrote Modolo: "I have disappointed all those who believed in me. And disappointed myself first and foremost. Please excuse me."
On Day 3 we lost Andy Schleck, who fell on the slick roads of London and damaged his right knee, thus continuing his ongoing spate of crash-related mishaps.
He's becoming the peloton's Accidental Tourist.
Even BMC Racing's Daniel Oss, who finished tenth that day, didn't care much for the stage that finished outside Buckingham Palace, official residence of Queen Elizabeth II. "The rain just made it so nervous. Everyone has fresh legs, everyone can fight really hard. I hate those finishes."
And, on Day 4, Stage 4, apart from losing Greg Henderson of Lotto-Belisol whose knee "just exploded", we almost lost the defending Tour champion, who, when two riders touched wheels in front of him and collided, discovered the only place left to go was... down.
Down, down, Froomey's prices are down...
Look at the replay. It was a hard smack. On the same left side he landed on during Stage 6 of the CritÃ©rium du DauphinÃ©.
His Rapha shorts ripped open, as if put through a cheese grater, revealing some not insignificant gravel rash on his hip; his right wrist, which took the rest of the brunt, stinging in pain.
He was wincing. Believe it or not, there is an art to falling off the bike, and Froome has not yet mastered it. To be fair, though, he probably never saw it coming.
In terms of profile, we have seen only one difficult stage so far, so one cannot attribute blame on organisers ASO.
This is, quite simply, because it is the Tour.
And, after a three-year hiatus, the pavÃ© is back. Make no mistake: there will be blood.
Initially, two-time Paris-Roubaix winner Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle thought Froome had the psychological advantage going into Stage 5, after what he saw of him on the first stage to Harrogate, where, quite surprisingly, he placed sixth behind the irrepressible Marcel Kittel. "He showed Alberto Contador, Alejandro Valverde and all his direct rivals that he knew how to fight for position (in a bunch)."
Surely, now, though, Duclos has revised his expectations.
"With Froome, Alberto and Nibali we'll see. Sure, it's going to be tough. Who's better or not, I don't know," he said. "I saw Valverde riding a few Classics races in the spring and he did quite well in these races. But the other three riders, I don't know, let's see, but it will be interesting, I think."
Three-time Roubaix champion, Fabian Cancellara, thinks the peloton may approach the first pavÃ© secteur of the Carrefour de l'Arbre even faster - yes, faster! - than in 'the Hell of the North'.
"It will go, in my opinion, full gas, and that's also why the first sector we go in will be big chaos. That's the biggest problem, that maybe the bunch goes not at 60 (km/h) but 70 into the cobbles."
70 km/h into the cobbles!
As for Niki Terpstra, the most recent winner of Paris-Roubaix (who also happened to crash on Tuesday's stage to Lille), the secteurs are too short and too few to make a comparison with the race that bore his name on April 13 this year.
Forewarned the Dutchman, "You can't compare it - don't expect it to be a Classic!"
But Niki, other than what happened four years ago, we have little else to compare it to.
It may not be a Classic, Niki, but it will be hell.
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