But first; what the experts think:
Rudi Kemna, DS Skil-Shimano: I think it’s a day for Wiggins or maybe Contador or even Armstrong – but the weather will play a big part.
Wilfried Peeters, DS QuickStep: I don’t think Cancellara today, he’s done too much work in this Tour. It’s from Wiggins, Contador and Lance, I think.
Heinrich Haussler, stage winner for Cervйlo and early finisher: Conditions are good, there’s little wind, I didn’t do a great ride, but it wasn’t bad. I hadn’t ridden the course beforehand, so I hit the hill full gas and couldn’t get over it at that tempo. The winner? Cancellara or Wiggins.
Valeri Piva, DS Columbia: It’s a course for the specialist – I have been around with my riders – the start is very fast, the climb is difficult but the end is all downhill or flat, very fast. Cancellara is in with 48:34, that’s a very, very good time, but Wiggins is my favourite – or Contador.
It was time to look at the warring encampments, over at Astana, the weapons were black Treks, white Treks, zebra Treks and yellow Treks. We snapped the trick brakes, we’ve heard so much about.
The mood? Hollywood media scrum, and Lance’s lovely lady, Anna Hansen and new baby Max even put in an appearance.
Martin persuaded our Astana contact, Craig Geater to snap the great man in warm-up mood – nice work, Martin but how many beers did you say we’re due Craig? Bert? we never even saw him! Lance, in a word? Determined.
Over at Liquigas it was tranquilo, former Cipo lead-out man and DS Mario Scirea doesn’t admit to speaking English but seems to communicate with them pretty English speaking girls, just fine. Cannondale have been making bikes for a long time now and the Liquigas spray job complements the jerseys perfectly. Nibali – handsome, tanned, young, cool; but in a word – no!
At Chrono City – Garmin; PR Marya told us; “were trying to keep it relaxed,” but Matt White’s eyes looked a tad anxious to me. The matt black Felts looked cool, though; it’s all that time they’ve spent in the wind tunnel. Bradley appeared to a huge cheer – focused, intense; this is a man who’s been a world champion since he was a junior, remember. One word? Maybe?
At Saxo, it was hardware by Specialized and a funereal mood as Andy and Frank sat side by side but in different worlds; nervous, worried.
Meanwhile, on the fringe, Fabian charmed the media. And the word is, ‘no!’
The air was getting heavier as the afternoon progessed; warm, humid with big spots of rain and claps of thunder.
“Show time” and Pez was within metres of the start house.
Nibali: nervous, but ready.
Bradley: he can take the pressure and has a ‘minder’ there just to keep an eye out.
Kloden: the man who invented the Poker Face.
Lance: he comes as a package now, with two minders who trot alongside and stick their hands out at Pez guys.
Frank: slow, focused, nervous.
Andy: nervous, like big bruv; drinking – not a bad idea, dehydration will be a big worry, today.
Bert: There’s a big wait; he sprints down the street, no minders, no hype – he looks amazing but that all yellow kit plays havoc with our auto focus.
A sign from the Gods, a huge gust of wind swirls after Bert passes; I think it’s his day!
Time to move; the run off out of the finish, about 35 minutes later:
Brad’s first to appear; his momentum carries him through at high speed – he’s gaunt, drained but he must have nailed Nibali for three minutes.
Kloden’s face hasn’t changed; the UCI dope test chaperone is in hot pursuit.
Nibali has been way-layed by Italian TV; when he trickles past, the disappointment shows.
Lance is drawn, frankly, he looks like death; the cameramen, reporters and journos pursue him down the street at high speed and we get our spot back.
The Schlecks both have the same expression; tired – no, completely drained.
Bert nearly reaches us but does a handbrake turn – and disappears into a scrum of reporters, mics and cameras. Jeez, he’s won, wow! We need a shot of Bert to complete the piece!
Moreau ambles past, enjoying the attention – a good ride, today.
More Lance mania, from the other direction, this time, en route ‘le controle.’ One of the minders pushes Martin; I don’t remember Eddy Merckx having ‘minders.’ Lance hides behind big shades – no wonder, he ain’t used to being 16th. And the long compression socks ain’t a good look.
Andy Schleck heads for le controle.
We stake out le controle; it’s a long wait, but there he is, we get the shot – did I say King? Emperor!
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