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Tour de PEZ: Battles & Battlefields
PEZ Roadside Stage 4 – It’s a three-week war, with battles fought every day. The ‘07 Tour marches on like an army on wheels across the fields of France. Today we journeyed south and west across old French battlefields, chasing the Tour’s battle on the roads.

The day begins at the start line in Villers-Cotterets. We’re about an hour northeast of Paris, but it’ll be another 2 weeks until these boys get this close to the city of lights again.

We can’t forget that bigger battles than just a bike race have been fought in these fields. Major conflicts of both the First and Second World Wars ravaged this region in the last century.

Remembering people who sacrificed their lives in the Great Wars really puts bike racing back into perspective. Thousands upon thousands of French soldiers lie buried here. It’s a sobering sight to see.

In the next field, row upon row of German war dead are entombed. Thankfully, the international battles that will be won and lost in this year’s Tour de France are far less serious.

Less serious, but painful none the less, are the battle scars worn by the cyclists in the Tour. Road rash is almost a badge of honor among the riders in the peloton. George Hincapie landed on his left knee on Monday in Belgium, and he has the wounds to prove it.

Fast Freddie Rodriguez went down on Monday, too, and we first thought his collar bone was broken and Tour done. But Fred marched on…no broken bones, but a couple of nasty gashes on his left side.

Freddie’s not happy… at all… with the way the Tour officials are running their race, and he’s fighting ‘em head-on, telling me, “I don’t think the Tour de France organization has any respect for the riders. They put pave in the last few kilometers of a race like this… they can’t do that if they have respect for the riders.”

You can bet that Rodriguez will battle on, but his injuries might impact Predictor-Lotto sprint star Robbie McEwen.

Robbie was counting on Fred to be his lead-out man in the Tour and the last guy to lead Robbie to the line. But with Fred not quite fit, Robbie has to re-think his plan.

“It doesn’t really change the plan, it just makes it more difficult to complete the plan. And the same goes for me. I’ve been banged up since my crash on Monday, and even though I won immediately after it, the first night sleeping everything stiffened up and I’ve been having real problems the last couple of days. I just can’t get full power in the sprint.”

Like Robbie, and Freddie, and George, Norwegian sprint king Thor Hushovd is banged up, too. But Thor tore into the final kilometer today, just like he tore into this pre-race water bottle in Villers-Cotterets.

Thor knows what it’s like to battle with pain. Remember last year when one of these big greens hands clipped Thor on the right arm in the last hundred meters of a sprint? He was bleedin’ like Rocky Balboa at the finish. Last year, these green hands were made of a plasticized cardboard… this year, they’re just foam. You can bet they made the change because of the battle wounds suffered by Thor Hushovd.

Talk about playing with pain… Francaise des Jeux rider Remy Di Gregorio (and PEZ-picked Four Youngs Guns) slammed into the street with this knee in the last 25km before today’s finish in Joigny. The pack passed by, and left Remy to suffer alone. But he soldiered on, and made it to the finish – albeit 7:58 after Thor – as the final rider of the day.

Remy had to be helped from his bike then battle through the press pack to get some attention in the medical truck. He’s banged-up pretty bad, but it looks like he will be able to start tomorrow.

The battle among the press photogs is intense… witness they way they surrounded Remy Di Gregorio. Just a few meters past the finish line, they all wait like hungry sharks hoping to get the one killer finish line photo that’ll be seen around the world.

The leader of the race has to fight yet another daily battle. Fabian Cancellara must wade through this post-race line of hungry TV-types every day he’s in the yellow jersey.

Every battle should eventually lead to peace and happiness. So what better way to sign-off for today than a jump for joy at the finish line. Kristin Wingfield, our more-famous-by-the-day PEZ-driver and translator, struck a pose at the podium, signaling the end of another day of battle on the roads.

Yes, this is the world’s most important bike race… but it is, after all, just a bike race. The thrill comes not only from the racing, but for us the simple joy of just being here.

The battle continues tomorrow, from Chablis to Autun. And we’ll have a special “only on Pez” treat for all the devoted PEZ-Fans… up-close and personal with the podium girls.

Au revoir, for now.


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