The middle week here is just mentally hard, even from the start. Now we're in the Alps. People are tired, even the staff. They wake up at something like 5 in the morning. You feel like it's the neverending story. You are feeling like, you can't even think about Paris yet because the race book, it's thick when you open it. It's like a Bible. Normally you pull out a page every day like you're counting down for Christmas. But right now it's still thick, so you have to be strong mentally. At breakfast, it sounds like people are going to a funeral. People are tired and it's very quiet now. They even walk slower than the first stage. You can see it.
You always need goals and motivation for the last week. Everybody needs a task, something to do. The only thing to do now is to guide them along so they know what they have to do. So basically they now need a task to keep focused, to know what they have to do during the race. You can see the riders, they sit at breakfast and they can hardly eat their food, they're so tired.
We make it clear for the riders on the first day: We have 30 riders on the team, and only spots for 9 riders at the Tour. They went through a selection. The eye of the needle they went through. I always tell them, they're going to regret they went here (laughs) because it's going to be hard. Every bloody day we're going to squeeze them.
You have to know the riders. You have to know which buttons you have to push as a Sports Director. We have a way with them. As long as we work with the riders, the easier it is to push them. Sometimes you even split them up, because all of us know, as Sports Directors it's not possible to have a solution for 30 riders. If you start to think you can deal with 30 riders mentally you are probably wrong. So we start to split up the group. Sometimes they need a little kick in the butt and a little motivation. Of course motivation a little different, an American guy and a European guy, how you deal with them. How you talk to them, everything, how you're thinking. As long as you work with them, you'll do what you have to do to get them from A to B.
The fighting spirit of this team? There is nothing wrong with the fighting spirit. Only one thing that can really make me upset as a sports director. That is people not trying. If they don't try I can be quite upset. If they are trying and they are dropped, I would never, ever have a problem. If you can't, you can't, but you can always try. You can always jump in at the start and do your job. But if you don't have the feeling, and you don't even try, I would be mad. Every stage here, from day 1, this team has been trying. You can never accuse the kids of not trying. They are digging deep. Peter Velits did a fantastic ride at Stage 11. Even Pineau was trying to bridge the gap. Pineau tried, Levi went out there, and they basically died. They could not give any more. That stuff, we think about afterwards: What went wrong, why they couldn't do it. But they're trying and that is what everything is about. There is not one day here where I got the feeling where anyone didn't really bother. That is what is most important.