First up was the latest edition to our PEZ crew, Mark McGhee and his memories of fellow Scot Robert Millar carving up the mountains in France,
1989 Stage 10: Mark McGhee
The sight of the skinny barman with the shaved legs jumping up and down in front of the TV in the Crofter’s Rest bar in Arisaig would normally have been a very unusual sight for tourists and locals alike but not that day in July ‘89. Scottish cycling hero Robert Millar was up the road on the final climb to Superbagneres with only Pedro Delgado and Charly Mottet for company. The winner was going to come from this trio and Delgado was looking mighty. Still smarting from his blunder at the Prologue where he turned up 2 minutes and 40 seconds after his start-time he was riding very aggressively and looked the strongest of the group.
About 2kms out from the summit Delgado got visibly very angry at some of the spectators who were running alongside and surged forward instantly opening a 20 meter gap. Millar was knocking out a constant tempo and waited for Mottet to cross the gap but Charly was rocking back and forth and just didn’t have it so Millar rode around him and slowly came back up to Delgado’s wheel. The effort must have been immense; as they came under the red kite it looked like the elastic was snapping and Delgado was riding away again.
Robert Millar and Pedro Delgado had many great battles over the years.
Seen from the helicopter the gap opened to about 10 meters but then stopped as Millar continued to tap out his rhythm. Slowly, inexorably, he rode back up to Perico’s wheel until with less than 50 meters to go he came out of the saddle and passed Delgado on the outside of the bend. They were both slow-motion sprinting but there was no way Delgado could hold Millar and as he crossed the line and slid to a halt up against the barriers the bar in Arisaig went wild and everybody was a cycling fan and proud to be Scottish that day.
There was more to come though. Just after Millar and Delgado crossed the line drama ensued behind as Fignon attacked the group with yellow-jersey wearer Lemond who was already looking isolated. And Greg cracked in spectacular style. Rocking about on his bike, desperately trying to turn the gear over, he kept looking behind for some sort of help which eventually came in the form of fellow American Andy Hampsten. He managed to get onto his wheel but Fignon wanted yellow and there was no stopping him.
Fignon took the jersey that day and held it all the way to the final stage in Paris, the controversial last day time trial up the cobbles of the Champs Elysees. Of course this was the stage where Lemond famously used aero bars and helmet for the first time and the sight of Fignon riding along the gutter, bouncing around the drain covers and ultimately losing the Tour by 8 seconds is one that most Frenchmen will never forget.
The ’89 Time Trial. Simply unforgettable.
From Robert Millar’s point of view the win at Superbagneres was especially sweet as it was against his old adversary Delgado, the man who profited so richly in the 1985 Vuelta a Espana, a race that should have been Millar’s first grand tour win. Often referred to as the ‘stolen vuelta’ Millar lost that race due to a combination of collusion between the Spanish riders from different teams and a lack of communication from his team management at the crucial time. Ironically, Millar was always quite relaxed about the outcome and said he would have done the same in Delgado’s position.
Both men have remained hugely influential in their own countries in cycling terms and for one skinny ex-barman, Millar remains one of the best cyclists of the modern age. Needless to say, there were several rounds ‘on the house’ that day.
2008 Stage 11: Gordan Cameron
Aaah, the 2008 Tour de France. My first time reporting roadside and it was a mayhemic, sink-or-swim headspin of an experience. The last of 14 straight days on the race was boiling hot, and started off in Lannemezan where Barloworld’s Moises Duenas was booted for an EPO positive.
I took a detour off-course to get to the finish in Foix and the car parking was an Ironman sprint/hike to the line. As I got in sight of the crowd barriers, the soundwave came bowling towards me. They’d been riding like hell, way fast. Screeches of excitment, a flash of four figures seen as I passed the team cars’ exit from the course. Somehow I just knew, just knew, the day’s winner was a tactician, a rouleur, a worker … and a gentleman.
Kurt-Asle Arvesen had been a charming guy to talk to, from when I’d met him at the Tour of Britain to when I managed to get an interview standing under a tree as a torrential downpour battered the Breton press center of the Grand Depart. Today, as I’d melted in the car, Kurt had been on the melting roads, working his way into the break, and doing over Elmiger, Ballan and Moerenhout.
Arvesen leading the break earlier that day.
A couple of sparring attacks, slow down, speed up, fan across the road … and then a tight, tyre’s width sprint win. Sometimes nice guys do finish first. Not necessarily an epoch-making stage win, not necessarily the most dramatic in Tour history, but Arvesen was the top and tail to my debut Tour de France and his win brings back happy memories. And if you’re in any doubt about what it meant to the Norwegians, check out the video below and the simply crazy Norwegian commentators calling the action.
1992 Stage 14 Alpe d’Huez: Edmond Hood
Johnny and I drove up the night before, the roof was off the car and the smell of barbecues filled the air as we tooted, waved and smiled our way to the top. There was a party going on from hairpin one to 21 – ghetto blasters, guitars, beer, wine, laughter, bikinis – and those barbies.
We got what must have been the last hotel room in town, tracked down a pizza then settled down on the verandah of our room with a case of beers. It was a hunters’ moon and the snow on the peaks across the valley was magnificent under a sky heavy with stars. Shooting stars flashed above us and we had the best of sleeps that night in the sweet, clean, cool mountain air.
The next day it was hot, damn hot as we found our spot just before the red kite. There were no barriers, the crowd was immense and the expectation palpable. Journo’s cars – little did I know that I would be aboard one 15 years later – photog bikes, gendarmes and team cars whizzed past.
Then there was a pause and below us in the valley, the helicopter rotors hacked at the warm air. The lead car passed and we spilled out onto the tarmac. The gendarme motorbikes brushed us back but as one organism we were right back on the parcours, eyes straining down the grade.
All you could see was people, craning, screaming, waving, pushing – it was madness. The sea parted and there he was, an image flashed onto my memory forever – Andy Hampsten during arguably his finest hour.
So slim, so young, so stylish, on the tops, arms bent staring straight ahead, the sweat glistening on his face and arms, legs flowing with the ease that only the real Mountain Kings can conjure. He was oblivious to the mayhem he was causing; he had the rhythm, he had the focus and he had the gap – L’Alpe belonged to the man who came from those other mountains in Colorado, half the world away.
As fast as he’d appeared, he was gone. Behind him the race director was standing on the front seat of the car, torso out of the sun roof, screaming, waving – as if we’d take notice. The chasing group was riding tempo, they knew that the day’s glory had been stolen.
Indurain, imperious, the yellow jersey glowing as if internally lit. Robert Millar, our wee man from Glasgow right there with the Kings of cycle sport – it was hard not to get emotional. But the day was all about one man. Up until that afternoon, I’d never really been an Andy Hampsten devotee – but he gave me a special memory that day.
Andrew Hampsten – thank you and “respect,” sir.
1987 Stage 21 & 2006 Stage 17: Alastair Hamilton
There are two Tour de France stages that stick out in my mind, both for very different reasons.
My memory of the 1987 Tour de France is of the battle between Pedro Delgado and Stephen Roche on the summit finish on La Plagne on stage 21. The suspense was added on two fronts; first we couldn’t see what was happening down the mountain as the cameras were following stage winner and the big French hope; Laurent Fignon. We knew that Delgado had attacked Roche and had well over a minute in hand over the Irishman. Roche went “Full Gas” on the final part of the climb bringing his deficit down to 4 seconds to Delgado on the line. Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen were nearly speechless in the commentary box as the riders came out of the mist at the line, Liggett could not believe the scene as Roche collapsed just after the finish line and needed oxygen.
The quote of the day came from the revived Stephen Roche when asked if he was OK? “Oui, mais pas de femme toute de suite” (“yes, but I am not ready for a woman straight away”).
Here is that video with the breathless commentary from Phil Liggett:
My second favourite was both elation and disappointment. Floyd Landis had appeared to have lost the 2006 Tour de France on stage 16 when he lost eight minutes, but the next day he rode for all he was worth in a do-or-die attempt to regain his lead. It reminded me of the exploits of the past, where riders threw caution to the wind and put himself back amongst the podium possibles.
I wrote the race report on the stage 19 time trial where Landis took the yellow jersey back for good and I opened with “This must be one of the best Tours de France’s in a long time, not for the nervous, we’ve had it all, scandal, attacks, come backs and epic rides. All that’s left to decide the 2006 Tour de France is 57 km of individual suffering. Lance has gone, there’s a new guy on the block, long live the King!” Well we now know the truth. I went from believing in the beauty of cycling again to back down to wondering where the sport was going. It was nice while it lasted and we have to believe that the young riders of today will be on “pain et l’eau” in the Tour de France.
Floyd goes like the wind on stage 17:
2000 Stage 11 Mont Ventoux: Alessandro Federico
The TdF stage I love to remember is the 11th in the Tour 2000 with the finish on the top of Mont Ventoux. I was there that day and I remember there was a lot of chilly wind in the final part of the climb. I even could’nt ride the last 2 km because of the strong wind. There were rumors that the stage was going to finish 6 km before the top at Chalet Reynard but at the end the organizers were able to maintain the original route. The Tour 2000 was seing the three big names of the grand Tours challanging one against the other. Armstrong, Pantani and Ullrich, the last three winners of Tour the France in the previous years.
The stage at Lourdes on the Pyrenees was clearly indicating that Armstrong was the strongest and that stage had seen Pantani suffer on a climb as never before. It was a sort of shock for us supporters. But Mont Ventoux, the giant, had to tell something more about the will to be the best. Pantani was dropped early by the yellow jersey group, he passed in front of me (just before the Chalet) almost 15 seconds down. I thought it was over again.
Marco Pantani passes in front of our man Ale with the toughest part of the climb still to come.
But then Pantani started to recover second by second in the later part of the climb, affected by the wind. He won on the top, but was clearly helped by Armstrong who renounced the stage victory. Pantani was not the kind of man able to accept such public present. He was ready to challenge the Texan in the Alpine mountains. I like to remember that day and I like to remember the evening when in Bedoin I enjoyed a local festival in the village, full of music, drinks and nice people. There’s nothing quite like Le Tour!
2004 Alpe d’Huez Time Trial: Chris Selden
This day back in ’04 was the second year straight that I’d been on Alpe d’Huez to watch the Tour and it was indeed a special day with it being completely different from the road stage the year previous where Iban Mayo won, this one was to be a time trial. The Alpe was completely shut down except for pedestrian and bike traffic and more than 1 million people were expected to gather on the famous slopes to watch the race.
After my experience from the year before I knew that the best way to actually get on the Alpe was to do a park and ride combo, parking the car in the town of Allemont 15km from the mountain and then riding in from there with the constant stream of International cyclists and fans that were flocking to Bourg d’Oisans and the mountain. I was with two lovely young ladies that day (no direct correlation to this being my favorite stage!) and before we set off on our bikes it was decided that I would go ahead and find the best position on the Alpe (corner 13 by the way) and then they would ride up to me later and we would meet up.
“But how will we find you Chris?”
“No problems, I’ll be the only one in a PEZ jersey!”
“Sure, I bet we see 50 PEZ jerseys.”
“Maybe, but I’ll be the only one in the full PEZ kit.”
At the time PEZ fans could only buy the jersey, not the full PEZ kit which was reserved for PEZ journos and with less than 20 of them around the world and no other ones planned to be riding up the Alpe d’huez that day I was confident in my statements and even bet the girls 10 Euros that they wouldn’t see anyone else in the full kit.
And then in stepped James, our part time writer that year who just happened to be riding up the Alpe and was surprisingly chased by 2 young ladies shouting “Pez man, Pez man can we have your photo for proof for Chris?”
Yep, this guy cost me 10 Euros.
Oh, well. I thought it was a good bet at the time.
Back to the race though, although that for me is not really what this day was about – it was the atmosphere on the mountain itself. As I rode through each corner on the Alpe the atmosphere changed depending upon the dominant nationality of the crowd at that point with the Dutch outnumbering most, followed by the Texans, New Yorkers, British, Aussies, Italians, Germans and more with the French being somewhere down the bottom. In fact amongst the 1 million + people that day I’d say less than 20% would have been French. It was an international melting pot of cultures, ideas and beliefs but at the end of the day we were all there to see the race. We settled into our place on the mountain with no barriers holding us back or the thousands of others around us and just soaked up the day.
An interesting fan’s video of the race from further up the mountain than me where he was well positioned to see Armstrong overtake Basso.
Lance Armstrong of course dominated the time trial catching and passing his 2 minute man Ivan Basso and going on to win another Tour de France and the top ten that day kind of reads as a who’s who of doping enquiries except for a brave performance by David Moncoutie who finished 9th.
As I said though it wasn’t the race itself that was memorable for me but the atmosphere which included the highly eventful ride back to the car after the road was reopened. There were simply so many people up on the mountain that getting us all down took hours and riding in a 100,000 strong pack going down the Alpe d’Huez at 10kph with brakes fully on and tyres popping everywhere under the heat of the braking was another simply unforgettable experience.
This year’s race with its two ascents of the mountain should be magic too – get there if you can!
1992 Stage 9 ITT Luxembourg-Luxembourg :Leslie Reissner
Defending Tour champion Miguel Indurain, who had come out from the shadow of Pedro Delgado the year before, had not yet established his pre-eminence in Grand Tours although he was coming fresh from his win at the Giro d’Italia. He rolled down the start ramp for the 65 km individual time trial some four minutes in arrears to Yellow Jersey holder Pascal Lino. Indurain had won the Tour prologue but gave up the leader’s jersey the next day.
The gently undulating roads of the Grand Duchy provided the springboard Indurain needed and averaging over 49 km/h for the stage he stamped his authority on the race, humiliating his opponents as he took the win three minutes ahead of the next-best rider, Armand de las Cuevas. I remember watching the television broadcast of the stage and marvelling at the power, speed and poise of Indurain, who kept his upper body motionless as he flew down the course. The reaction of the peloton was pure astonishment. Gianni Bugno famously called Indurain “an extraterrestrial; “ Greg LeMond had thought the timing devices were not working properly; Claudi Chiappucci thought Indurain was not going like an airplane but more like a rocket; two-time Tour winner Laurent Fignon saw Indurain, who started six minutes after him, overtake and remarked afterwards: “I was going 60 km/h when he went by and I could only follow him for a moment. It was all I could do.” Stephen Roche said he had never seen anything like it.
Four stages later Indurain took the Yellow Jersey and held it for the remainder of the race. His only threat was Chiappucci, who was two minutes behind until the final time trial, also won by Indurain, and the Italian ended more than four minutes off the overall winning time. Another race favourite was Bugno, who took the third podium place 10:49 behind Indurain.
Perhaps one of the finest Tour time trials ridden, the win at Stage 9 marked the ascendancy of Miguel Indurain as the most powerful rider in pro cycling for the coming years. The only racer to have won five consecutive Tours he was characterized by a certain stoicism and complete unflappability, never panicking and never looking distressed. Unbeatable in time trials he was a surprisingly good climber, having won Tour mountain stages in 1989 and 1990 but except for those two all his Tour stage wins were time trials. Although he won the Tour five times , as well as another Giro and a lot of other races, the image that remains to me is of that unstoppable ride in 1992.