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Tour de PEZ: le Village Dйpart!
A day at the Tour is never boring. For example, this morning I was rushing around the Village Dйpart taking in the scene which precedes the start and now, six hours later I’m sitting in a French Alpine hotel writing up my experience after spending hours stuck in traffic behind slow moving lorries on roads just about wide enough for Jan Ullrich after a sausage eating fest!

In the start town of every stage the organizers set-up what is known as the ‘Village Dйpart’. If you’ve been a spectator of the Tour you’ve probably noticed this area surrounded by fencing and guarded by a sullen looking ASO official who doesn’t like getting his photo taken. Well, thanks to my ‘service mйdia’ pass I was able to breeze through these hallowed gates and bring you the inside story! The Village Dйpart’ isn’t actually too much different to your average village. You can get a haircut, you can call you friends, hang out with your girlfriend, see your wife, feed your baby. Believe me, I saw all this today, and I’ve got the photographic evidence to prove it! In the meantime, lets start back at the beginning.


VIPs in the village start their day just like the rest of us – with a cuppa joe.

Dйpart: T – 2hours
No riders were around at this point, just some of the publicity staff, a few cameramen and journo’s. I bumped into the Cycling.tv guys and spent a few minutes chatting with them. They even got my roundup of the week on camera so check out their website later to see me in action! Most people were taking advantage of the free coffee at this point.



• One of the benefits of press accreditation is that we also get a free bag of newspapers every morning. The real bonus of this benefit is that your morning paper is delivered by two rather attractive French girls!



So I sat and caught up with the recent goings on in the sporting world and spied a commotion over by the band stand. It appeared that Jean Marie L’Blanc was receiving an award so I jogged over to snap a few shots of the big man at his ceremonial best.



• Also present was Bernard Hinault. I caught a glimpse of him a couple of days ago. Seems like the former Tour winner gets everywhere.


Dйpart: T-1 1/2 hours
As I was wandering I had a quick chat with Rahna Demarte, girlfriend of Ag2R rider Simon Gerrans. Rahna, also an Aussie, is at the Tour for the first time to support Simon and was loving the experience. It seems Gerrans has good moral and the whole team is happy with how the Tour is going despite a rocky start with the loss of team leader ‘Paco’ Mancebo. Rahna was quite a cyclist herself taking a junior world title on the track in the 500m TT. She’s now studying event management so this experience has provided a valuable insight into what it takes to run the biggest bike race in the world.

A few riders started to roll in and partake of the cafй and phone facilities. It was also starting to get pretty warm in Montelimar so I swung by the Aquarel tent to get a bottle of water. Imagine my surprise when I found out they were giving free ice-cream too. Imagine my shock when no sooner had I started to unwrap my chocolate delicacy than I spotted 5-times Tour winner Bernard Hinault enjoying a ‘glace’. Seems that retiring has its advantages.



Andre Grivko tries for an outside line from le village – unlike other parts of France, the phone connections here are quite good.


Over in the ‘communications booth’ some riders were partaking of the phone facilities to call home. Maybe to moan about the fact that they can’t eat the free frosted treats. This Milram rider didn’t look too amused.


Dйpart: T-1 hours
A few more folks are starting to appear. I wandered over to the official ASO area and noticed another rather attractive French girl partaking of the hairdressing facilities. Never one to miss an opportunity I had my camera ready and she was more than happy to pose for the shot with her new cut.





I also spied Pez contributor Magnus Backstedt with some of his team-mates. Last time I saw ‘Maggie’ was in the cycling.tv studios in London when the tall Swede was still off the bike recovering from injury and we talked coffee and comebacks. Now back on top in the Grande Bouclй the Liquigas rider is working hard. Unfortunately he has picked up ‘a bit of a cold’ which is holding him back a little. I asked him how his morale was and he said good but he was lacking a bit of energy. Not surprising after 14 stages which by this point, in his own words mean that he’s “so f*&%ed anyway it takes every ounce of energy to stay upright!”. After the Tour Magnus only gets a couple of days off then its over to the Tour of Denmark. If there’s no rest for the wicked I figure he must have stolen candy from a baby or something. Speaking of babies, in the relative calm of the village one of Davitamon’s riders took the opportunity to catch up with his wife and child.



Mario Aerts gets in some family time at he Village depart.


Dйpart: T- 20 minutes
At this point a few more pros start to appear. Most grabbing a last minute caffeine hit before rolling to the start. I snapped a few frames of the stars a they passed by. Tom Boonen pulled up for his espresso but was instantly engulfed by a swarm of groupies so made a fast exit.


Even if Tom’s sprint hasn’t wiped the board in the final kilometre this year, at least his sprint is good for something – like escaping the ‘village’ groupies.


I grabbed a bite to eat and made my way to the start line to try and get a view of the peloton as they rolled out. Well fed and watered I had become blissfully unaware of the carnage outside and was forced to balance precariously on a barrier to hang my camera out to see the riders. After the countdown the group pedalled out of Montelimar in procession to the cheers of thousands of fans.



Even if Tom’s sprint hasn’t wiped the board in the final kilometre this year, at least his sprint is good for something – like escaping the ‘village’ groupies.

On the drive to Gap I pondered the day and the most significant impression that I was left with after leaving the village was that of community. Outside the fence was the mayhem of the masses; thousands of fans stretching to get a glimpse of a star and grab a free hat. Whilst there was a lot happening inside, with much of the usual hustle and bustle of the Tour, it was unusual to see familiar faces in a more relaxed environment; many of the riders taking a rare moment to reconnect with their family and friends, a former Tour star enjoying an ice cream, a brief respite from the rat race to get a haircut. The village really was a little community of its own. However, before long it was time to make a move and get on the road once again. I’m sure I’ll remember my stroll through the populace in a few days when I’m teetering on a precipice on Alpe d’Huez with thousands of other unaccredited fans. Until then, keep it real Pez fans.

Ciao for now,

James

 

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