Health puts finishing tour in the balance

BEFORE Friday's stage of the Tour de France, I had never taken any medication from the race doctor, who follows in a car in readiness to help riders who have been injured or are suffering from illness or show symptoms of poor health.

EMBut on Friday's 13th stage, the first of two in the Alps, I had to ask for something for nausea  and it was the same again on Saturday for the tough 14th stage to Risoul.

After 20 kilometres on Saturday, I was almost vomiting. It was probably the roughest day I have had on the bike for a long time.

There was nowhere to hide.

It went straight into a 30-kilometre climb, the Col du Lautaret, and then the Col d'Izoard  two climbs with more than 200 metres of climbing, before the finish to the Risoul ski station.

It was a tough day, and now whether I finish the Tour or not suddenly hangs worryingly in the balance.

It all started the day after stage 5 from Ypres to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut  - the cobblestoned stage that was to prove such a turning point for so many riders  - when I felt a cold and went on antibiotics to try to knock it on the head.

My health did improve. But then it dipped again on Thursday, the day before stage 13 from Saint Etienne to Chamrousse, where I lost eight minutes and fell from second to 16th overall.

What I have is fluid in the lungs and a cold; then with the heatstroke I suffered during the 13th stage in the Alps it has got worse. It's been a bit of a rough trip really.

Looking back at this year's Tour, it is easy to ask if the first weeks wet weather had any role in how I am now. But the varying weather conditions during a grand tour are part and parcel of it.

I know its not what I had planned earlier this year - the health problem that impaired my preparation for the Giro d'Italia in which I was to have officially led Team Sky.

This is different, as our team doctor who has been looking after me said on Tuesday: ``Your lungs will not be able to breathe properly.''  And it has got worse.

Right now, my aim is to finish the Tour, but there is no point in absolutely killing myself to make Paris; and my condition will be judged by our team doctor on a day-to-day basis until then.

But to finish - and in good or better health - I will really have to look after myself.

Putting the Alps behind us left me hoping I could minimise my efforts in Sunday's flatter 222-kilometre 15th stage from Tallard to Nimes that is suited to sprinters, and recover in Monday's rest day at Carcassonne in the south of France.

It's not ideal, I know. I also don't want to make it an excuse for how my Tour ends.

Why I haven't mentioned all this so far is simple: you don't want your rivals in the Tour to know, even if they may see signs of something amiss by racing alongside you.

But at the end of the day, it's pretty difficult to keep something like this a secret; especially with the coughing and spluttering I have been doing in recent days.

It doesn't help racing in the mountains where you are climbing and it's hot, then you are descending and are wet and cold. It's a recipe for disaster if you are already ill.

Everyone watches everyone for any sign, which at this level of competition can convert to massive variances in performance.

I suspect I am not alone and that others have what I have going into the third and final week when so much can change.


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