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Tour de PEZ: Testing Times In Toussuire
On his mission to bring you all the Tour and a press pass have to offer as well as a review of the French law enforcement community, Pez contributor and espresso impresario James Hewitt reports live from the summit finish in La Toussuire…

Mad Dogs And Englishmen
After yesterday’s madness on the Alpe I was looking forward to a slightly less hectic day covering the stage’s summit finish in the attractive ski resort of La Toussuire. With the auto route closures and fog of Gendarmes covering the area it took some time to make our way to the foot of the final climb of the day. The 18km ascent was ‘only’ rated as a category 1 but was sure to provide a challenge in the heat of the midday sun. No comments about mad dogs and Englishmen please.


Discovery ds Sean Yates is known for riding everyday, ususally taking in the final kms of the stage.

Dropped By Sean Yates
We pulled the car to the side of the road, assembled the bike and just as I was about to secure the back wheel who would I see ride by but former yellow jersey holder Sean Yates. I jumped onto my vйlo cyclocross style cursing the fact that I had probably reduced my chances of fathering a child in the future by 50% and chased him up the road. Quickly realising I was securely engaged in 53×12 I made the elemental error of slamming the gear lever across to select the small chain ring and dropping down the 10 speed block. Clunk. The chain falls off the ring on to the bottom bracket and I’m left pedalling up the climb with no means of propulsion. Cue equally fast dismount, quick look around to make sure nobody saw, hand pedal the chain back on and I was on my way once again. How many people have seen the back of Sean Yates and suffered I don’t know but I soon joined the club. It was a hot day and I had no warm up. At least that’s my excuse. We pedalled along and chatted about the Tour etc. before parting ways. That’s the nice way of saying he rode off up the road but not before my dad got a photo to prove this encounter wasn’t a fabrication.




Meanwhile, my father/driver was having a great time having given a ride up the mountain to two German fans, Anja and Michael, as well as visiting the Fausto Coppi fan club who were camped out part way up the climb.




Promo Girls In Action
As is often the case when climbing the mountains of the Tour on race day it’s easy to find a partner in crime to share the suffering. Today’s lucky winner was Maurice who was riding some of the Tour enjoying the ultimate in corporate hospitality, courtesy of his company’s association with the Discovery Channel. We climbed together and were both pleased that my golden ticket (read press pass) allowed us to continue ascending on our bikes when other riders were forced by the seemingly omnipotent Gendarmes to dismount and continue by foot. Our fun was sustained until 3km from the line when a particularly aggressive member of the law enforcement community grabbed my jersey and made it abundantly clear that he did not want me to continue par vйlo. I have a sneaking suspicion that they are in cahoots with the international cleat manufacturing union. In a prime example of French bureaucracy whilst I was not able to continue by bike it was perfectly acceptable for me to put my bike in our car and carry out the final kilometres in our vehicle. I made the best of the situation and took the opportunity to snap a few shots of the publicity girls in action.



Somewhere in there is Carlos Satre.


Finish Line Riot
After a few relaxed hours enjoying the sun I made my way to the finish area to watch the remainder of the stage. The journalists assembled in the tent complete with 4 flat panel screens and demonstrated a master class in what could either be professional detachment or jaded familiarity as they watched the race. The only crack in the mask of neutrality came when Rasmussen over ran a tight bend on his final descent which resulted in a measured but audible intake of breath. After the stage finish the scramble out onto the road was a stark contrast to the sedated atmosphere of the previous hour. I rode the wave of bodies, cameras and microphones on to the asphalt and began searching for a story. Carlos Sastre crossed the line and was instantly enveloped in a bubble of journos and recording equipment. It was like a scene out of a horror movie and I feared that he might not be able to breathe in the core of the huddle let alone give a considered response to hastily prepared questions. Carlos has been thrown out of mediocrity into a the realm of potential tour winner in the space of one stage.



Seconds before this photo was snapped, you could see the tears in Bjarne’s eyes.

Bjarne Riis, Human After All?
Soon after Bjarne Riis floated across to his rider with his characteristic aura of Scandinavian self-control. I snapped a picture of the CSC manager but when I looked at his face I saw something I never expected. There were tears, the whites of his eyes were red. There was genuine emotion and in his voice you could hear it; genuine joy. An excited journo asked the former Tour winner, did he expect this to happen before the stage? “Of course not” he replied, and also explained that he had not ordered Carlos’ attack. He was happy about it, but Carlos had made his own decision. Whilst cautiously confident, the Dane’s renewed hope for a Tour redeemed was evident.



Saunier Duval-Prodir ds – and PEZ-Fan – Mauro Gianetti.


I also managed to grab a few moments with Saunier Duval manager Mauro Gianetti. I spoke with Mauro at length during the team’s Spanish spring training camp so it was good to catch up. He said that the team would have liked to win the stage today but it just didn’t work out “this is cycling, this is the Tour de France” he said but whilst philosophical is still confident that the team can come up with results in the coming stages. I also asked the classic question as to how the prodigal son was performing. Mauro is pleased with Millar’s condition and his performance and would like to see him secure a good result in Saturday’s time trial.



Floyd: seconds after the meltdown.

Floyd Chopped In Half
As the final riders rolled in I tried my best to take some shots in the riot of officials and media pros. I was lined up for a perfect pic of a dejected Floyd Landis before I was thwarted by yet another over zealous authority figure who decided to knock my arm and chop poor Floyd in half. After zooming in on the podium and soaking up the ambience of the presentations and their overstated trumpet fanfare I made my way back to the press room to file my report. So as I finish up here before I brave the parking lot that this mountain has become I will say а bientфt.



Ciao for now,

James

 

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