The Tour de France can seem such an overwhelmingly physical endeavour, and it is, but that's not to say the mind is bereft in a race like this. More often that not, in fact, it's the very thing that separates winning from losing, writes Anthony Tan.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

Let's, for a moment, take away all the fawning, flattery and waxing lyrical we've seen and heard over the performances of Michael Rogers and Vincenzo Nibali in recent days at the Tour and drill down what they said - because when translated into everyday vernacular, it says quite a lot.

Rogers, Stage 16: "I knew that once I got to the bottom of the last climb (of the Port de Balès), then the race began for me."

Translation: I was one of 21 riders in the break, but I knew I was one of the strongest.

Nibali, Stage 17:
"My condition is very good and I'm ready to push right to the end but when I get to the end of a stage I'm not giving everything because I don't have to, and I've also had an eye on the next stage."

Translation: I'm at a level above everyone else. I've tried to be modest about it but c'mon, I have a near five-and-a-half minute advantage over my closest rival! And on Friday, if the break is caught before or on the final climb of Hautacam, even though I don't have to, I'm going to win again, like I did on La Planche des Belles Filles and Chamrousse.

Rogers: "I knew (Thomas) Voeckler would be hard to beat. I tried to drop him on the climb but couldn't... (so) I knew that I had to outwit them on the final."

Translation: When there were just three of us - me, Voeckler and Jose Serpa - left, the history of the climb told me that I needed a 30- to 40-second gap over the top of the Port de Balès if I was to win solo. Voeckler had won here before, in 2010, so he was the most dangerous. When I couldn't drop him on the ascent I knew I had to drop him on the descent.

"If Chris Froome or Alberto (Contador) were riding I would need to push much more but then I would also have to manage the race differently and play more of a waiting game. When they attack they are more explosive so I would have to be careful."

Translation: It would have been a totally different race if Froome or Contador were here. They're the only two guys who would have presented any significant threat to me.

Rogers: "He (Voeckler) had a team-mate behind and started playing that bargaining chip. But I wouldn't have it - I said: 'Listen, don't play with me, because you're not going to beat me today, no way!'

Translation: I pretty much told that Frenchie who wags his tongue like a Labradoodle on heat to get stuffed. He wanted me to cooperate with him to the finish in Bagnères-de-Luchon because he could probably beat me in the sprint. When I told him off for insulting my intelligence he then instructed his team-mate Cyril Gautier to attack. It was then up to me to chase...

Nibali: "My objective since the beginning of the year was to be ready for the Tour de France and everything we did, we did it together.

Translation: Don't forget, this is my twelfth Grand Tour and since 2009 I haven't finished out of the top 10; besides, I've won two already. And despite pressure from the team's general manager Alexandre Vinokourov and the media for not producing results till I won my national title on June 28, I knew what I was doing.

Rogers: "On the descent, I said (to myself), I've been in this position too many times not to win (today) - I'm going to crash, or I'm going to win."

Translation: The top of the Port de Balès to the line in Bagnères-de-Luchon was 21.5 kilometres - not dissimilar in length to the descent where I won a stage into Savona at the Giro this year. So, if I could get a 10-15 second gap, I knew it was possible to hold them off. The Port de Balès, though, is a far sketchier downhill. But today, I was riding on rails.

Nibali: "We created a good group not just in terms of the workplace but as friends and that's our strong point."

Translation: We are not like Team Sky (think Wiggins and Froome). Nor like Movistar (think Valverde and Quintana), for that matter.

Rogers: "This year, I think I've changed mentally. I know I've changed upstairs... (I'm) more hungry. Opportunities seem clearer to me now, and I'm not scared of the outcome anymore. Previously, I was scared to try something because I was already scared of failure."

Translation: After all I've been through the past six to eight months, nothing scares me anymore. Nothing. Life can sometimes seem unfair, but whatever happens, happens. There is no point staying angry or exasperated - it is far better to channel your energy into what can be changed, as opposed to things that can't. The most important thing is to believe in yourself; anything else is a bonus.

So, what is the greatest strength of Rogers and Nibali, you ask? What separates them from the rest?

Their mind. As Scott McGrory so rightly said the other day, 'The greatest performance enhancer is self-belief.'

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