Matthew Busche on the road. PHOTO BY GRAHAM WATSON
Matthew Busche on the road. PHOTO BY GRAHAM WATSON

He crashed five times in two days. Shivered in a cold rain that made cobblestones treacherous. Road rash makes it difficult to sleep or hold his handlebars. He’s tired. His team has lost three riders and his two efforts in the breakaway failed.

It’s easy to understand why Tour de France rookie Matthew Busche calls this “the hardest race I’ve ever done, everything from the speed to the course to the conditions.”

But the Wauwatosa native could rest on Tuesday, along with 179 other competitors still alive in the 101st Tour, after 1,105 miles and 44 hours in the saddle. He’s roughly half way to Paris, still in the biggest race of his life, something that can’t be said for defending champion Chris Froome, two-time winner Alberto Contador, sprint specialist Mark Cavendish or Busche’s teammates, Andy Schleck, Fabian Cancellera and Danny Van Poppel.

The crashes that took out a number of the top contenders have been 
the big story of the tour, and the Trek Factor Racing Team rider talked about that element in our chat.

: “I don’t know the specifics of comparing years. The Tour in general is always stressful the first week, or up to the first rest day. Small roads, narrow roads and lots of guys. This year maybe it’s been a little bit bigger because they lost some of the GC guys, and it gets more media attention, lost Chris Froome and Contador. We’ve had a lot of rain too. It could be any combination of factors. You have 200 guys that want to be at the front of the race and the road is only wide enough for 20 guys, maximum. There’s really no single reason. It could be guys taking unnecessary risks or road conditions.”

In stages two and seven, Busche seized the opportunity to break from the peloton in a small group, hoping to stay away and fight for the win at the finish. In both instances the time out front was short, and the effort left him fighting to hold on as the peloton sped past. He talked about that strategy and the cooperation on the road.

: “Generally, guys will work together well, at least until the end of the day, where it’s coming to the potential for a stage win or some guys get more tired and start skipping turns. At the end of the day we have a common goal, to get to the finish line. In general, if you’re in the breakaway you want to be there and you want it to succeed so you work together.

“I’ll try and continue to take the opportunities where I can. A breakaway is always a good opportunity to get a win and there might be more and more breakaways that get to the finish line. There’s going to be a fight every day to get into the breakaway. I hope I can get in more and get one home. That’s a lot easier said than done.

“You can’t say you pick the breakaway because you’re never guaranteed to get in. The ones I picked were sort of the wrong days. If you’re not there and it gets home, you’re disappointed.”

Like most cycling fans, I’m interested in trying to grasp the intensity of the pain, the suffering endured over multiple stages of sprinting and shuttling supplies and holding on to the peloton.

 “It’s hard to describe. Forcing yourself to suffer, it’s not a physical battle, it’s a mental battle. There’s the burning from the lactic acid in your muscles. There’s that little voice in your head that says, ‘I don’t want to suffer any more.’ How long can you fight that off and how many days in a row can you push your limits? That’s really what the race is about. You’re just suffering and trying to be at peace with it more than anything else, and trying to embrace it. There’s different moments in the race. We’re not going full gas all day. There are guys on the front who are pulling, doing more work than those of us that are behind. At the finish, if you’re the general classification guy, you gotta push yourself to the limit. For a guy like me, my job is to help the GC guys get to the finish in a good place, and get to the finish or the climb in a good place. You have different jobs.”

At the halfway point, Busche stood in 158th place out of the 180 remaining riders (196 started in Yorkshire). His goals have not changed.

 “I’m trying to stay in it every day; stay positive, get into a break and try to be in it every day. I appreciate everyone’s support. It’s been tremendous and I didn’t expect so much support. It’s pretty cool to see everyone back home voicing encouragement.”

Tom Held writes TheActivePursuit blog for Silent Sports.