The Spanish star has won five (or seven depending on your viewpoint) Grand Tours, and he knows all about this race’s demands, and everyone wanted to hear what he feels ahead of the event. He’s looked more like his old self this year than at any point since the 2011 Giro. Things are lining up for a very interesting battle with Chris Froome.
But away from the racing, we’ve also been out and about for a little coast through Leeds city centre, to see if the place has turned as Tour yellow as Belfast turned Giro pink. The honest is answer is … not quite.
Belfast really had a lot to prove; maybe Leeds isn’t quite in need of such a good news story. The shops and businesses are having little promotions and Wagamama is running a Tour de Noodle thing.
The universities have been going to town on the advertising – there is a big stand about Sheffield Hallam in the permenance and Leeds Metropolitan are advertising their imminent redesignation as Leeds Beckett via the medium of cake. Vanilla-topped cupcakes. You can hardly move in the UK these days for recipes to do with cupcakes. Now, about the obesity ‘epidemic’ in this country …
The famous statue of Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince, has been decked out in a yellow jersey for the occasion, which makes a nice change. Normally, British town center statues would be clad only in a traffic cone. That wouldn’t be fitting for one of Edward III’s sons, a great military leader in his time.
Around city hall, four telephone boxes (yes, public payphones still exist) are painted, white, green, polka-dot and yellow to celebrate the routes the Tour is taking through Yorkshire.
There are some very nice juxtapositions of local dialect and French, which will probably leave most overseas visitors baffled. Bill posters advertise a play about legendary women’s star Beryl Burton who routinely trounced men, too. A really intriguing one mentioned Cyclism so, of course, we just had to go find out more.
The Gallery Munro House & Café 164 on York Street and Duke Street has a neat gallery space filled with all sorts of very cool artworks on everything bike. It’s a perfect place to while away an afternoon being inspired and drinking nice coffee.
There were some great limited edition prints from Mick Marston, and anyone looking closely will know exactly what days like that feel like. After two stages in the Yorkshire countryside, it might feel like that for the peloton when they reach Sheffield, never mind Paris three weeks later.
The rather knowing collection of maillots by Milltag, speak to those who like culture-jamming or brand-repurposing. You can’t get much more inspired than this take on the old Mapei jersey.
Contributors such as Neil Stevens, Rapha and Studio Makgill have rustled up a series of maillot jaune-inspired musettes which looked great. (See them at www.progresspkg.co.uk/feedmyride)
Great patatas bravas soup, and cakes, too.
Time to put the coffee down and return for the Belkin Procycling face-to-face with the media in a slightly under-represented conference. The main man for them – just like last year – is Bauke Mollema. If looking rail thin is a guide, Mollema could be on the podium. “I think this year is harder than last year, with more mountain finishes.” But for Mollema and co., the pressure is off for a while – or at least until the Netherlands come home from the soccer World Cup.
If you need big motors in your team for just Wednesday’s stage five, then you can have few better guys than Lars Boom and Sep Vanmarcke. The more severe haircut of the two (Boom) had this to say:
“I think it’s going to be exciting and I hope we can gain a lot of time for the team, and for Sep and me, that we can do something. First of all, you try and see how the cobbles are looking and then the last few kilometers until the next section … it’s going to be really hectic.”
The wonderful Wolverine hair of Peter Sagan appeared in the press center prior to Cannondale’s conference; from what I gather, there was some pretty surreal stuff about superheroes, what they represent and the characteristics of bears. I think it was probably a little like being stoned.
Orica-GreenEdge have their presser in the early afternoon, and the full line-up is there. Only without Michael Matthews who hasn’t made it – his replacement is Christian Meier, described by team manager Matt White as a “ …. super, super team-mate”. Losing Matthews doesn’t affect the team strategy though as they’ll target exactly the same stages as before.
Simon Gerrans noted that his preparations for stage two have been more or less the same as for the Ardennes Classic races. The ride from York to Sheffield is a huge chance for Gerrans to grab the yellow jersey again, but it’s not a given. As the Aussie hardman said himself, he also has to be right up there on stage one to give himself a chance.
It would be remiss not to quiz Svein Tuft about his bodyart. It’s not your average design; it’s not even one of those phrases tackily rendered into some language that the bearer doesn’t speak and which you’re never entirely sure captures the sentiment the bearer is trying to capture.
“It has a lot to do with life in general, rather than anything specific. We pass a lot of moments in our lives, as people and as bike riders. We’re always focussed on something down the road, the next thing and the next thing. It’s important to remember the now.
When you’re riding the full mix, it’s different. When you’re away from all this (I think he meant the pro hoopla) you can reflect a bit more, and think about important things.”
Tuft has struck me the couple of times I’ve met him as a fascinating character, and maybe having lived the life he has – where the bike was truly a means of escape and exploration – has given him a perspective that many of his peers simply don’t have.
The slender young Englishman who’ll be learning from the likes of Tuft and Gerrans, Simon Yates, was pretty realistic about his expectations for the Tour. “I think it’s a really big opportunity to have the Tour de France starting in England … on home training roads. A huge opportunity and I’m happy to be here.
I think going back to the Tour of Turkey with the broken collarbone, it was a blessing in disguise. I came here feeling fresh … I’m looking forward to getting started.”
Depending on how you classify them, there are either four Brits in the race or one Englishman (Yates); one Kenyan (Froome); one Manxman (Cavendish); and a Welshman (Geraint Thomas), taking the start in Leeds. That way as soon as the one-to-one interviews were announced, Yates was in big demand.
The forecast says chance of showers tomorrow – well, it’s the north of England so that’s no surprise. What will surprise the world will be the warmth of the reception, whether the heavens open tomorrow or not.