Mountain High

There is a new colour in the Team Sky camp – yellow. Amongst the team’s usual colours of black and blue, small flashes are appearing everywhere. It really started when the team was awarded yellow helmets, to signify their position at the top of the team category of competition. On Sunday morning there was a particularly significant addition to our new favorite colour as Bradley emerged from the team bus, wearing the symbol of everything that Team Sky have been working towards since their formation in 2009 – the race leader’s Yellow Jersey or ‘Maillot Jeune’.

Rewind to Thursday in the team camp and a rather more nervous situation. The mechanics and I once again had our eyes glued to the screen in the team motorhome, our fondly named ‘Black Betty’. We heard over the radio that a massive crash had blown a hole in the peloton. This was only a day after we had lost Kosta, so when a couple of yellow helmets were spotted around the pile up, hearts once again jumped into mouths. Stage 6 in 2011 had been when Bradley crashed out of the race, and a repeat of that would have been devastating. It was only half an hour later that we breathed a collective sigh of relief by confirming that everyone was okay. One of our Australian riders Richie Porte had gone down but survived with only a few bumps and bruises, while Bradley had been kept safely at the front of the peloton and avoided the crash altogether. Everyone was a bit shaken that evening and apparently Mark had suffered a puncture whilst emergency stopping to avoid bikes flying through the air at him. The riders may have seen this all before, but it certainly doesn’t make things easier when so much is at stake.

In keeping with the cycle of highs and lows, Friday was a huge high for the team. They scattered the competition all over the road by keeping the pace at incredibly high levels for nearly the whole day. To top it all, Chris Froome managed to summon the last of his strength and rocketed forwards in the last hundred metres to win the stage and ‘King Of The Mountains’ jersey, as Bradley climbed to the top of the GC rankings to take the Yellow Jersey in perhaps the most exciting stage so far.

Not that I saw a single minute of this. As Froomey won the stage, I was so wrapped up in ensuring the cars were all running perfectly that I missed the whole thing, and completely forgot to go back to the team camp to watch the finale. Credit also to the ever-helpful Neil Thompson back at Jaguar for helping me out, and I managed to get back to the team camp before Bradley to find everyone grinning ear-to-ear from the news. On Bradley’s arrival, he bounded out of the team car and shook the hand of every single person on the team, including yours truly. It was a real mark of the respect that exists between the riders and their support team, and made my day after missing out on watching the stage. Luckily I had the team there to relive every second for me whilst watching replays in the hotel after dinner and a debrief from our Team Principal Dave Brailsford on the challenge we now face.

Meanwhile, the Alps lie ahead. They have been on the horizon physically and metaphorically for a couple of days now, and Saturday was the first real foray into the medium mountains.  (‘Medium’ is not the word I would choose for them!).  It’s in the high Alps and Pyrenees that Bradley will fight to keep his hold of the Yellow Jersey during the weeks to come, and I swear every now and then you’ll spot one of the team staring at them, wondering what’s going to happen. The only comfort is that Bradley and the team are probably the only riders in the world right now that relish the challenge.  For today, it’s another time trial and the specialist bikes are back out. I’ll be sure not to miss Bradley’s turn, as he’ll be really putting the hammer down to try and get a time advantage over his rival Cadel Evans (wearing his new yellow time-trial suit, of course). After that there is a rest day and an opportunity for me to catch up with the family on the phone, and double check that the cars are prepared for higher altitudes.

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