Dominik Englert of the organising ASO, sorted out our early credential problems with a smile; he organised my ‘moto’ ride, always sought us out in the Press Room for a chat and has the best of hand shakes – as they say in London; ‘a diamond geezer!”
My ‘moto’ driver Gerard Dupin, one of life’s real characters, I’ve never seen a guy so well recognised and popular.
Columbia’s Adam Hansen, one of our insiders on the ‘chain gang’ – on the rest day he left his dinner to come and talk. Immediately after a tough 53 kilometres, ‘en seulle et contre la montre,’ he sat and answered my questions fully and thoughtfully; giving us valuable insights into his world.
Aurelie, the lovely little actress, spending the summer dispensing coffee from the Recore stand in the Tour Village every morning, bubbly, full of life and looking forward to rehearsing her Cocteau play in Lyons come September, she brightened our days – and the cafй au lait was great too!
And the real stars, not sitting on bicycles, but picnic stools, hay bails, kerbs, cafй seats, rocky hillsides or whatever else is to hand – the fans.
They travel across the world – Cadel had huge support – they wait for hours in the rain, the sun, or in the case of the Col de Agnel, sleet and gale force winds, with little complaint.
As we drove the Agnel, behind the race, as you will remember if you followed our adventures, we got held up near the top. A group of Italian guys were picnicking, we gave them a wave and exchanged a few words, a plastic cup of the worlds strongest grappa (at least I think it was grappa, it may have been dragster fuel) was thrust through the open window; salut! Wow!
The stage which Chavanel won was recorded as ‘uneventful,’ but for me it was, ‘moto day,’ one of the most exciting of my life. It’s difficult to understand how hard those breakaway riders have to work to force the gap, unless you are right there, amongst the action.
The importance of good timing, with just a pinch of luck, in cycling as in all things in life, was graphically illustrated when Chavanel and Roy had four minutes in no time, whilst the first, unsuccessful break had broken their backs to gain a scant minute, before succumbing.
Festina – a name with a history, but yesterday, in their publicity convoy, among the fans under the hot French sun, with the wheat and maize fields stretching out as far as the eye could see, ‘encroyable.’
If Beltran, Ricco and all the others break your heart, find a little village somewhere in Central France, go to the cafй, order a drink and in no time at all you’ll understand that the doper dinosaurs will become extinct one day, but le Tour will always survive – the fans restore your faith.
The ‘chrono;’ behind Adam, catching last stage winner Steegmans, the crowds, the barbecue smells, the sheer skill of the Australian champion as he flicked that most rigid of bicycles though tiny village streets and down nasty little descents.
L’Alpe D’Huez: I was disappointed by the crowd size and didn’t like the four kilometres of barriers, but it’s a legendary place and the memories of years gone by, with my buddy John and my Opel Manta with the windows and sun roof permanently open, came flooding back.
Talking of big climbs, you only think you’ve seen a climb, ‘til you’ve seen the Restefond, I likened it to Tibet in my piece – the ‘roof of the world.’
The mountain ranges stretch out all round, one behind the other, some so sharp and defined against the skyline that they look like cardboard cut-outs.
We met an Irish guy that day, sitting on a rock, high above our car; we bumped into him again at L’Alpe D’Huez.
Me, being cheeky; “Sure, we thought you was a leprechaun up der.”
Sharp as a tack, our Irish chum responded; “Well sure I am, but I’ve had a growth spurt since den!”
The Restefond should have been a great day’s racing, but it wasn’t and that brings us on to the action on the road.
Sastre’s attack on L’Alpe D’Huez apart, it was hard to get excited about what was happening on the road.
Riis played a chess game worthy of a Bergman film and whilst, ‘The Seventh Seal’ is one of my favourite movies, it’s not, ‘Batman Returns,’ and most of us do enjoy that ‘block buster’ action a lot of the time.
‘La Grande Illusione’ French TV called it, when Evans finally had to lay his cards down in the time trial; he was wasted, as was Menchov.
Maybe the new generation of drug tests have levelled the playing field so much that the day of the big ‘exploit’ has gone.
Sitting at home, watching it on the TV, sure it matters.
Sitting outside restaurant 107 in Pelussin with a cognac in your hand, chatting to Noemie and Laetitia, it’s not that big a deal.
With special thanks to:
Martin Williamson; my driver, IT expert, translator and buddy.
Richard Pestes, my editor, for giving me the opportunity to cover my sixth Grand Tour for him – thank you again, Richard.
Gordan Cameron: for doing the spade work on my ‘moto and Festina days.’
Dario Cioni of Silence-Lotto for the top deal on his olive oil!
And most of all, those thousands, roadside – I love you every one of you.
• Read ALL the PEZ 2008 Tour Coverage here.