We took a tram/train combo to get into Monaco from Nice today – we had been advised that the principality and such a huge volume of traffic as the Tour generates just isn’t the recipe for a happy breakfast.
It’s an escalator ride up, up, up from the Gare SNCF before you hit the street, but the views are worth it. There are a few billion pounds worth of ocean-going kit lolling about on the gentle waves … and this picture is probably as close as I’m ever going to get to any of it!
If you live in Monaco and don’t know that the Tour is visiting, the chances are you’re on life support – there are posters and reminders everywhere.
In fact, I should drop in this little snap of Cervelo training yesterday on the Avenue Princesse Charlotte as further evidence.
Loads of other names out and about as we walked, namely David Zabriskie with his Captain America-style disc wheel.
…and Erik Zabel, sprint adviser to Mark Cavendish – he must be doing something right! – looking very trim.
Of course, there were plenty of friendly fans around who wanted to get some screen time!
How about a little old skool/new age interface or you?
As we walked into the Novotel Monaco – words I never expected I’d type in this lifetime, or a few others if I ever get reincarnated – we spotted the future of the sport. Not a twenty-something young hotshot with the most tricked out bike and the haircut to match … but a kid of about six or seven, camped out by the door.
Laurent and his Papa had ridden their bikes up to the doors and the youngster was pouring over the centre spread of rider photos from L’Equipe, pointing out this guy and that guy. We asked for a pic – Laurent was a wee bit shy, so it’s thanks to Papa for giving us permission to take the snap.
Just feet away, Team Katusha were loading into the people-carrier, and Pozzato was looking a bit glum.
Danilo ‘The Hulk’ Napolitano was similarly downbeat until Valerie asked him to smile … must be the allure of a woman photographer?
Cervelo, Katusha and Liquigas were all staying in the hotel, and riders were hovering in the lobby, ready for training and press commitments. It looked like Laurent and his dad were there for the duration, with their bikes propped up, a bag of supplies beside them.
We rolled in for the photo session/press conference with Cervelo and moments later spotted Laurent in a ‘little and large’ moment, asking to get his picture taken with the genial Aussie Brett Lancaster – yes, Laurent is small, and, yes, Brett is very tall!
The weird proto-Daily Distractions sculptures that lurked in the background of the hotel ground’s didn’t distract from the photographers’ frenzy as Carlos Sastre and co lined up for pix.
Back inside, the Cervelo press conference was something of a revelation – and a good one at that. How many team owners have the honesty and guts to stand up (well, sit down, but you know what I mean) and say … we didn’t start a team to win the Tour loads, and if we don’t win it, it doesn’t matter?
As a sign of how far Cervelo have come and how quickly, the room booked for their press conference is waaaay too small and waaaay too packed for comfort. As Gerard Vroomen, the owner of the team and the company says: “It’s our first Tour de France and it seems you guys have noticed us already!”
“It’s unique that a bike company owns a team, it’s the first time in 40 years.” He then admitted that it had seemed a crazy, even stupid idea when it was first considered last year.
Carlos Sastre will be starting out with first of the prime numbers on his back tomorrow, and he couldn’t have been more laid back, filling in one journo’s question for him about an adjective some say doesn’t apply to Carlos, to much laughter: “Aggressive.”
Carlos reckons that “ … starting with the number 1 on the yellow jersey makes a big difference. I feel confident in myself and my team. Can I win again? Yes, why not? It’s a really strong team that has given me confidence and calmness for the start of the Tour.”
In the fresh spirit of co-operation that seems to hold sway at Cervelo, Sastre also outlined that it was the same team for him and for Thor Hushovd’s Green Jersey bid – not half and half effort for each.
Vroomen rounded things off with “We’re not desperate to win the Tour de France … if Carlos rides a Tour at his fastest and is happy with what he’s done, we’re happy with that. There’s more to life than the Tour. (Our Tour) is a success because we’re already here. The success of this team is not dependent on winning races … It wasn’t our life’s goal when we started this team to win as many Tours de France as possible.”
Now some people will say … “Why the hell are you here if you’re not desperate to win?” I reckon we should be asking why more people aren’t displaying the same attitude? Life is about how you choose to define and quantify success, and for me it’s more of the experience and less about how much I have or ‘win’.
Emotionally refreshed by Vroomen’s words, we made our way down to the waterfront for the number 6 bus for Laverotto, which would deposit us back at the press room in the Grimaldi Forum.
The riders were out training on tomorrow’s TT course, and Francaise des Jeux hammed it up for the cameras with this guy grimacing for all he was worth then turning round and shooting as a wink and a laugh as he calmly motored away uphill.
Alberto Contador looked much happier on the bike than he did later in the press conference.
The restaurant reserved exclusively for the press is totally heaving when we arrive at about 2pm – there’s a fortune’s worth of steak flying out of the kitchens and, of course, it never does any harm to remember that what passes for ‘medium’ in France would probably be cured by a visit to the vet in the UK. Still, tasted great.
There were just a few moments to allow lunch to settle before Johan Bruyneel and Alberto Contador took to the stage for the Astana team press conference. Alberto looked like he’d rather be just about anywhere else, but he did hear Bruyneel say; “I absolutely have confidence in him.”
I can’t honestly say that anyone there learnt a lot other than: Johan admitting that Alberto speaks much better English than is generally acknowledged, even if he didn’t use any of it; that LA and Johan had agreed that Alberto deserved the number 21 as team leader, as he’d won his last three Grand Tours (LA’s pretty shabby record now reads just 7 of the last 8); that any time Contador so much as twitches the photographers use up a 1 GB memory card of pictures; and that Alberto starts ALL of his answers with “Bueno …”
I have to tell you this, to wrap the day. Cervelo had some of the team personnel, including the efficient and helpful Yvonne, handing out team goodie bags – once we’d gratefully wrapped ours round our necks, we grabbed an extra one for young Laurent, the patient fan camped outside the Novotel. Valerie made the handover outside the hotel’s revolving doors …
… and it was like Christmas for the kid. He looked like he couldn’t really believe he was getting all that swag for free, and the team cap was on his head before we’d said ‘Au revoir’.
Maybe one day Laurent will be a great champion himself, having young fans looking up to him. Maybe little things like this, and Gerard Vroomen’s attitude, will create a new cycling philosophy, the kind we all want to see.