But it is Bastille Day and like the guy in the late night pizza place said; ‘it’s the same day every year.’ In fairness to the man, he makes a mean ‘trois fromage.’
We fancied a nightcap but the DJ in the square was just too noisy for our tastes.
The good thing about staying in a hotel in a village like Bagnoles-sur-Ceze – unlike edge of town chain motels – is that you can wander along to the ‘presse’ shop for L’Equipe in the morning. L’Equipe – ah yes, well, make your own mind up on the headline.
Make of that what you will; but however you interpret it, Froome is only the second man in Tour history to win on the Ventoux whilst en jaune – Eddy Merckx was the first in 1970. But to fully appreciate your paper, you need a kir; our first one of the morning was made from poor quality white wine with not enough creme de cassis – disappointing.
We crossed the square in search of a better barman – ah! that’s more like it.
And it’s always good to know that you’re sharing your hotel with a Johnny Hallyday fan – ‘The French Elvis’ just keeps on rocking. We were listening to his version of, ‘Don’t Play Your Rock n’ Roll For Me’ on Nostalgi, today – awesome.
We decided to check out the Roman amphitheatre at Orange, en route the Vacansoleil ‘Mussel Party’ at the team hotel in Avignon. Orange is deep in ‘Roman France’ – the Romans came as far north as our home country of Scotland but apart from baths attached to army camps and earth work fortifications little of their presence remains north of the border with England.
However, that’s not the case in this part of the world; even by modern standards the Roman amphitheatre in Orange is big. Two thousand years ago it must have seemed other worldly.
We sipped a cool beer in its shade and watched the world go by for 15 minutes. They still hold opera galas within its ancient walls – the architects did a good job on that one.
The Vacansoleil-DCM Mussel Party is one of the high lights of our Tour. The team hosts a big party for journos at their hotel, each year on the second rest day.
This year the gig was held at an upmarket golf resort complete with fountains and space age golf buggies.
But no ‘jour de repos’ for the mechanics, scrubbing those Bianchis, just like any other day.
And we do like the colour coded KMC chains.
The mussels are driven down from The Netherlands the day before and are the first bottom reared crop of the season.
Up until this part of the year the mussels have been grown ‘mid water’ – that’s bred on ropes suspended in the water, rather than on the bottom. Bottom reared are meant to taste better and have stronger shells because they’re rolled back and forth by the tides and have to fight harder for their position in the beds.
The bottom reared season doesn’t officially start until July 24th and the cold spring has affected the harvest – but because Vacansoleil ‘only’ need 300 kilos for the party the little fellows went on their holidays to Provence early – where we ate them.
Mussels, frites, local rosé wine – it’s a tough gig.
We were sitting beside Vacansoleil management at the party and they explained that after five years with the team, they’ve achieved their goals for the sponsorship and whilst the awareness curve is still on the way up, it’s time to move on. They mentioned a camping-based ‘reality’ TV show as a possible way forward for their marketing ambitions – they’ve sponsored football clubs in the past.
It’s sad for those of us who love pro cycling – but you have to bear in mind that it’s all about market awareness and brand recognition for sponsors.
The team has various irons in the fire but understandably are keeping their cards close to their chest.
With Euskaltel also looking shaky, it’s going to be an interesting winter for many riders.
In amongst des moules, drinks, chat and laughter, you can interview riders – we chose Messrs. Danny Van Poppel and Juan Antonio Flecha. The ‘rookie’ counter pointed by the hardened veteran.
Danny is only 19, fresh faced and is in his first Tour – whilst he’s far from wasted and finished ahead of the autobus on the Ventoux the team has decided that he’ll be going home to recover, tomorrow. Two weeks of Le Tour was always the plan for the youngster – but the next Grand Tour he’ll be there to the bitter end.
With three top ten finishes, including a third place and a day in the white jersey it’s been a very promising baptism for the young man with the good genes – dad Jean Paul was one of the fastest sprinters of his generation, winning the green jersey in the 1987 Tour.
Whilst this is Flecha’s tenth Grande Boucle; his legs and arms battle scarred like some old gladiator. You’ll be able to read what they had to say on PEZ, shortly.
We also had a quick chat with Netherlands Elite Road Race Champion, Johnny Hoogerland – telling him he really suits that red, white and blue jersey and promising to send him the pics we took of him on the Ventoux.
Job done at Vacansoleil we couldn’t leave Avignon without paying a visit inside the medieval walls of the old city.
The Popes of the Roman Catholic Church based themselves in Avignon for one hundred years from 1309 onwards.
The huge Palais des Papes was built during that period, sitting beside the cathedral – the Place du Palais is a real assault on the senses when you emerge, blinking from the underground car park.
The annual Avignon Festival is in full flow and the Place de Horloge – the social hub of the city – was jumping with street performers, carousels and film crews all in the shadow of the beautiful old theatre.
Interviews and pictures in the bag, it was time to head for the hotel – last night was a late one for PEZ.
And sometimes, Radio Nostalgia just gets it so right, Sylvester with ‘Mighty Real’ to take us home – perfect. Back on the road tomorrow; 168 K from Vaison-la-Romaine to Gap with a third cat and two second cat climbs – and hardly an inch of flat.
Can the break stick? Keep it PEZZED to find out.