After checking out of the hotel, I opened the door to the car park, and was hit by a blast of freezing cold wind. Every day thus far has been sunny, hot, and beautiful from the time I’ve woken up, until the time I’ve gone to bed. This being my last day chasing Le Tour, was different, and it was cold and grey.
It was a chilly morning, but later in the day the sun came out, and it was hot.
The plan for the day was to drive the majority of the 218KM stage, and try to catch what was most likely to be a bunch sprint at the finish line. I met up with the caravan in a small town called La Croixille, where people of every demographic were out in full force to cheer on the Tour, and try to score some goodies from the caravan like laundry detergent packets, portable Bic ashtrays, and condoms. Today the caravan staff were bundled up, wearing winter jackets, hats, and even gloves. It wasn’t that cold on the ground, I was wearing shorts, and a thin fleece, but the caravan does travel quite fast at some points around the course making it feel even colder.
I’m going to miss the absurdity that is the caravan.
Both old & young enjoy Le Tour in La Croixille.
Today’s course was not the most exciting one I have seen during my stint covering the Tour. It had a few rolling hills, a few tight corners in a few the towns, but it was clearly built for a bunch sprint. It was quite windy, and some of the traffic furniture was blowing around, which will definitely make things interesting for the riders later in the day if the wind keeps up. The racers won’t quite have as nice of a view as yesterday’s stage around Mont-Saint-Michel, but there were a few nice spots with: pastures for cattle and horses, wheat fields, as well as castles off in the distance.
Views of today’s stage, there are always plenty of giant bicycles along the route…
I’ll also miss the crazy fans…
And no, that’s NOT Ed & Martin…
I have really enjoyed going behind the scenes of Le Tour, and had a chance to catch up with Geoff Brown, the head mechanic for Garmin-Sharp. A fellow Canadian who calls Ottawa home, Geoff has been a mechanic for 30 years, and has been working as a mechanic in the pro’s for 20 years with various teams. This is his 17th Tour De France as a mechanic. His first Tour was in 1994 when Miguel Indurain won that race. Mr. Brown started out as a mechanic in the pro league with the Motorola team, then with USPS, through all of the various incarnations of it, through the beginning of Radioshack.
Garmin-Sharp head mechanic Geoff Brown outside of his office.
He knew Jonathan Vaughters, and always got along well with him when Vaughters was a rider on the USPS team, and that is how he got his current position. I asked Geoff about the interesting things he has seen over the year, and he told me: “I have seen the whole gamut, I’ve seen super things, like well, they were victories, not any more… but you know l did my job, he had to get there you know. I’ve seen terrible things, I was there when Fabio Casartelli got killed on the Col de Portet d’Aspet in 1995, which we passed the other day.”
“When you’ve done as many tours as I have, its only natural to see good things, [and] bad things. One of the most interesting things you see is the country yourself. It’s a great way to actually see France. During the event itself, there’s no real down time, but when you are in the back of the team car following a stage for 5-6 hours a day, you have time to notice it, whereas a rider is always thinking in the moment.”
Geoff was really excited to see Mont-Saint-Michel, even though he has seen it in the distance in past years. Yesterday’s stage was the closest he has been to it. I asked him if he was not working as a pro mechanic, which other career path he might have taken. It turns out that cycling is in his blood. He told me: “it’s what I do, and it’s what I’ve grown up with, there’s a history of cycling in my family. Some families are hockey families, I grew up in a cycling family.”
His father, Ian Brown was from England, and was one of the very first British pro cyclists to come to race in Europe back in the early 1950’s. His father is now 82 years old, and still manages to do 300-400 km a week on his bike. He lives in Ottawa, Canada as well, and his favourite ride is close by in Gatineau Park, where does a few laps everyday when he can.
Later in today’s stage, I pulled over in the feed zone to try to talk to an English speaking soigneur. I found Kevin Pfeifer of Germany who works for Argos-Shimano. This is his second Tour De France, and he tells me that it’s a big honour to be selected to work in the Tour. There are three crews, and it’s a reward for good work to be chosen to work here. He is a physiotherapist/ soigneur, but tells me “I have to do almost everything”. Kevin does the massage in the evening, food preparation, handing out musettes during the stage in the feed zone, and then working at the end of the stage to guide the cyclists to the podium if one of their riders finishes well, or guiding them to the busses for a shower.
Argos-Shimano Soigneur Kevin Pfeifer shows Pez the goods.
I asked what happens if a cyclist from another team wrongly grabs a musette from him in the feed zone, but he told me that hasn’t happened to him yet. He did tell me that it can get confusing when one of his team’s riders is wearing a special jersey, like the polka dot jersey. Kevin is so concentrated on spotting his team’s colours from the peloton, that sometimes he won’t recognize his own rider in a special jersey. That is why there are two soigneur’s in the feed zone. If a rider misses the food bag from the first man, there is another opportunity a few hundreds meters away from the second soigneur. The Argos-Shimano Tour De France team is made up of 16 staff members plus the 9 riders, and things can get crazy. He tells me the most important thing is sticking together as a team.
He showed me the contents of the musettes, and we chatted about nutrition a bit. The bags contain 3 bars, and 2 gels, as well as 2 little cakes and the bottles of isotonic drinks and water. I asked him how the team celebrated Marcel Kittel’s win the other day, and if they broke any diet rules with a celebration. He told me that he wasn’t at the table with the team, but he’s sure they had some champagne, and the crew definitely did.
While on the subject about breaking the diet rules, we ended up speaking about Nutella. He told me that a lot of riders love the chocolate spread, but if they want it, they have to find it on their own, as the team doesn’t offer it (some of the hotels they stay at do have it though). Kevin told me there is a German expression “nutella macht schneller”, the gist of it is that Nutella makes you faster. A rider can perhaps have a 10% mental increase if he’s happy, that counter acts the negatives of the treat, which might be a 3% decrease with fat and sugars. Of course this is just his personal opinion, not recommended by the dieticians.
These guys were handing out cups of rosé wine to caravan vehicles like ours that were stuck in traffic in the last few kms of the race course.
After having a great chat with Kevin at the feed zone, it was straight to the finish line along the race course. I got completely blocked with my position at the finish line at the last possible moment, and only saw Marcel Kittel through my lens as he came into the media area ahead of Cavendish. I was able to get a few shots of Kittel celebrating with teammates.
Stage winner Marcel Kittel celebrates with a teammate directly after the win.
Chris Froome behind the podium as he speaks to the media.
At this point in the day, I still had to find a portrait subject for my portrait a day project. I waited behind the podium again, hoping to find someone interesting. I saw there was a bright green tent nearby, and figured I would try to ask one of the green jersey podium hostess’, as I thought it would look cool with green on green. I knew that shot would be similar, and repetitive to yesterday’s yellow jersey hostess, but I was getting desperate, having not seen anyone in the area that I wanted to talk to. I was about to give up, and find someone at the hotel, when I saw cycling broadcasting legend Phil Liggett walking towards me in a bright magenta NBC polo shirt.
Mr. Liggett himself.
Anyone who has ever watched Le Tour De France on TV in english has heard his voice. He is the voice of cycling. I discovered that Mr. Liggett has covered an astonishing 41 Tours De France including this year’s edition. It is funny that I ran into him, as I was just telling my driver that there were so many people on my list to photograph for my portrait a day project, but I never saw any of them. I could talk about Mr. Liggett’s accomplishments around cycling for quite a while, but I’d rather write about how much of a genuinely nice guy he is.
I met him for the first time last year at the 2012 Tour Down Under in Australia. He was one of the first people I met after picking up my credentials for the race, and we spoke at length about cycling, and locales all around the world. Even though I stopped to talk with him on his way out after finishing work for they day today, he was so gracious with his time, and is one of the best conversationalists I’ve ever spoken with. I didn’t want to take up too much of his time at the end of the day, but asked him how often people go up to him, and ask if he would record a voicemail greeting for them with his highly recognizable voice. He laughed as he sighed, and said all of the time. He can’t keep track of how many times, but he seemed a little surprised that no one had asked him during this year’s Tour De France so far. I won’t be the first person to ask him.
So that is it for my coverage of the 100th edition of the greatest bike race in the world.
I’ve loved my time in France as I’ve been trying to get a feel for the culture. I have seen millions of people lining the roads, and I don’t think I have ever seen so many people in my entire lifetime, as I have seen over the past 10 days chasing Le Tour. I have had a chance to meet some incredible people, stand atop beautiful mountains, and swam in both the Mediterranean Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean (the Atlantic was surprisingly warmer than the Mediterranean). I’ve learned so much – I think I’ve conquered my fear of manual transmission driving in the mountains. And I’ve eaten, and enjoyed many new foods, as well as discovering that ordering beef ‘medium’ in a restaurant in France, will get you a rare cut, perhaps still moo-ing.
Dave gets a taste of the podium for himself.
I love the French language despite the fact I butcher it every time I open my mouth. The French language sounds so beautiful when spoken, especially when spoken by a French woman. I was walking with my driver and we came across a woman who was walking her dog (that was wearing a cone). The dog was obviously injured, and he was starting to lag behind his master. The woman called out to her dog and although she was speaking quite fast for me and I didn’t catch everything she said, I assumed she was speaking words of sympathy to her injured friend. My driver, who heard exactly what was said, informed me that she ordered her dog to: “move your ass, you stupid fat dog”.
I can’t believe today was my last day reporting on Le Tour. It feels surreal now that I’m typing my final road side report. 2892KM were driven over the past 10 days, and well over 5000 images were created, consisting of 164GB of data. It was a lot of work over the past 10 days, but it was really rewarding as well. A big thanks to PEZ for having me cover the first half of the 100th edition of Le Tour De France, I really am honoured. A big thanks as well to all of the readers, I hope you enjoyed reading my reports as much as I did writing them. And a final thanks to my driver; we got lost a lot, but we never missed a beat!
Thanks for reading and tune in tomorrow as the race plows on across France, and look for more on the PEZ Facebook page and the PEZ Twitter page.