Dealing with the good and bad of Stage 4

Updated: July 5, 2006, 4:00 PM ET
By Bobby Julich | Special to ESPN.com

Staying focused
After Stage 4
• My strategy continues to be the same -- conserve energy. If there ever is an "easy" day at the Tour, Wednesday was it. Hardly any hills and it was cooler than the previous two days, so you can recover a little more. I was trying to stay out of trouble. Respect the sprinter teams, but stay close enough where you don't lose any time. We are here for the overall general classification. It's a fine line.

• I am trying to sleep as much as I can. I am making sure my diet is right and that I am drinking enough fluids. I want to have the best legs possible for the one-hour, all-out effort for Saturday's time trial. Morale is big part of the sport. When morale is low, you decide to eat some things that taste a little better than what you'd normally eat. When you have good morale, it's easier to be serious with your diet. Stay away from the croissants in the morning! The thing that you start to think about in the last week of the race is your morale food, the things you crave. For me, it's Mexican food. One of the things I do once the race is over, I go to a place in Nice owned by an American from Texas called "Texas City." I'm sure I'll be there as soon as I can after the race is over.

With everything that has happened up to this point at the Tour de France, I was so happy to see teammate Stuart O'Grady on the bike in Wednesday's Stage 4.

Stuart cracked his fourth vertebra after a crash on Tuesday. It was a minor fracture and the doctors gave him the OK to race. I knew it would have had to been a real serious injury for Grady to pull out of the race. This is the Tour de France, after all. His morale was so high and he had a positive attitude the entire time. It's really what our team, Team CSC, needed. I pulled him aside after the race, shook his hand and thanked him for his attitude and effort. With everything that's been going on, his desire to race makes everything easier for the rest of us to focus on what we're going here and realize how important this race is to the team.

Our massage and body therapists are so important in situations like this, as well. Our body therapist, Ole Foli, helped me get through the 2004 Tour with a broken wrist, and he helped Stuart over the past few days with his injury. The team is here for us 100 percent, and just knowing that gives you the mental strength to at least give it a shot. Crashing is part of the sport. When it happens, it's never a good thing, but it's the Tour, and you'd rather finish it in pain than watch it on TV.

I had three serious crashes in that 2004 Tour. Every time, I had to dig deep. I made it through the Tour and went on to win an Olympic medal, so there's a reward for the suffering. Cyclists, especially at the Tour, really hurt themselves to be here.

The day after a crash is always the most difficult for a rider. When you crash and sustain a fracture or dislocate something, the body has a memory chip that stores fear in your muscles and your tendons and your psyche. You just have to pray hard that the pain isn't too much where you have to stop. After that first day, it gets better. It's amazing what you can motivate yourself to do. Mind over matter!

So, needless to say, Stuart's performance out there Wednesday gave us a huge boost.

One thing that isn't great for the morale -- Tour travel and hotels.

All of us are pretty simple people. We just want a room where we can lay down and be comfortable. We're not spending a lot of time in the rooms, anyway. But, I have to admit, after over 200 kilometers on the bike during Stage 4 and another 100 kilometers on the transfer and another 60 kilometers in the morning to the starting point, I was taken aback at our hotel. No air conditioning, not great air ventilation, and I was put in a smoker's room. Situations like this are a big reason a lot of teams, like ours, bring their own chefs to ensure we all are eating the right foods. Some hotels don't cook healthfully.

It's one of the things that gets me about the Tour. After all the work and travel, you would think Tour organizers, who buy the hotel space for teams, would find us a better room. Obviously, there are financial considerations and I've seen improvements after riding in nine Tours. But when you're at a nicer hotel, or in more comfortable conditions, it helps your overall morale.

Tuesday night, it was so hot in our hotel rooms, I almost wanted to take my mattress and sleep outside on the lawn! You can't sleep for more than 2 to 3 hours at a time without wanting to take an ice cold shower to bring your body temp down. You're sweating all day on the bike, you don't want to sweat all night in your room. It's uncomfortable. I think a little concession could be made.

Again, it's a working man's sport. We're not staying at five-star resorts or country clubs. It's another one of the sacrifices we make to be here at the Tour.

Bobby Julich, a member of Team CSC, will be providing an exclusive diary for ESPN.com throughout the Tour de France. The American has been a professional cyclist since 1992. He finished third overall in the 1998 Tour de France and won last year's Paris-Nice race.

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