With the first 9 stages now behind us, I can tell you that there many teams and riders breathing sighs of relief.

The first 10 days of the Tour de France are notorious for having everything to lose and nothing to gain for the general classification contenders.

Pre-race favourite Richie Porte certainly lost everything crashing out on Sunday's showcase stage 9 to Roubaix, while those aiming for the podium in Paris showed immense character.

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They fought back continually from punctures, crashes and mechanicals to arrive well down on the winners of the stage but all within a stone's throw of each other - riding with all the guts yet no glory.

Yes there were some small time differences but in 9 days time when the race winds its way through the Alps, we will be talking about minutes not seconds of differences.

The intensity of a day like the cobbled stage 9 to Roubaix is something that resonates throughout the entire team here to prepare and support the riders in these demanding circumstances. Equipment options are something the mechanics have been painstakingly preparing for, ever since the course was announced last October.

The night before stage 9 was mayhem, with all cogs spinning flat stick: the mechanics worked till 10.30pm preparing and fine-tuning equipment, medical staff strapped and dressed wounds, ensuring riders were healthy and prepared; and soigneurs prepared food and bottles for the road.

During the race, there was team support on every pavé sector, waiting with spare wheels and handing off extra bottles. We called in a dozen extra people on the day just to make sure we had all the critical points covered and even then much of the outcome still lay in the hands of the gods.

After the stage, the riders were whisked away to the airport to catch a charter plane down to Chamberey, where the French Alps lay in wait after the rest day.

For auxiliary staff, the day's pace didn't lose momentum bikes were hurriedly loaded onto the team trucks and team vehicles refuelled for the 900km transfer - with a short sleep stop in Troyes - before arriving at the team hotel in Aix-les-Bains to have training bikes ready for riders by 11am.

The rest day came and went at warp speed - and it was anything but restful. Mechanics were kept busy meticulously cleaning the dust off everything that may have penetrated the nooks and crannies of the racing machines.

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Away from all the hype of the Tour this week, I had the honour of attending a World War 1 remembrance service with NZ Embassy representative Roger Dungan, Tour organisers and the Mayor of Arras, in the start town for Stage 9.

On behalf on the NZ Embassy, Roger and I laid a wreath at the monument dedicated to those who fought. The service was for those cyclists who had ridden the Tour de France and fought in WW1.

It was a very humbling experience learning that of those competitors who raced the Tour de France pre WW1, two previous winners lost their lives in WW1 and up to 50 other competitors of the Tour until that time were known to serve in the war; many cycling on the front line carrying out their duties on their trusty steads.

It certainly made me think that although our guys seemed tough and were put through some hard yards at the end of the cobbles - many of which ran through the battle fields these soldiers fought on - it seemed to pale in comparison to those that came before them.

After the epic first week, the middle week of the Tour has three alpine stages and three transitional or medium mountain stages as we head across to the Pyrenees toward the back end of the week.

There is no doubt the next few days will be critical as the big boys draw their swords for what it is shaping up to be an epic battle. Outcomes will be less in the hands of lady luck than the the training, preparation, team support and individual capability and flair.

The real race to win the Tour has now begun.

Julian Dean is a former New Zealand professional cyclist now working as high performance manager for Tour team Let's Go-Scott