The weather turned a bit average today, so everyone in the press corps seemed happy enough to stay indoors at the Parc de Exposition where Team Columbia unveiled their Tour line-up, resplendent in their rather smart new kit.
The team personnel were dishing out the freebies like candy, and there appears to be no shame in grabbing whatever’s on offer and tearing into the bag to see what you can usefully take home. So here’s the evidence …
Today’s haul was a drawstring bag, containing a Columbia Sportswear-branded t-shirt, cap, sweets and sundries. By stage 6, an extra t-shirt will mean that I won’t have to frantically batter ‘Launderette’ into the Sat-Nav’s Point of Interest category in the hope that a ‘laverie automatique’ is going to loom over the horizon.
With Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen in charge of proceedings, there was a lot of interest in the ‘new’ Team Columbia, so Kristy Scrymgeour had her work cut out: “It’s my first time on the Tour and we were only expecting about 50 people …. but this is so much bigger. That’s how the Tour de France works.”
Everything at the Tour has a protocol. Everything is designed to work a certain way. The road books and regulation guides make Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’ look like a novella he banged out in a couple of weeks.
The Schleck bros drew a barrage of media attention.
At the press conferences I checked out, it went like this. The team enters to a flurry of pictures – got to get one in the bag – before everyone calms down. No one gets in the way of the TV guys as they film from midway down the conference room.
Once the formalities of the Q&A are out of the way, it’s a free-for-all and ends up looking school’s out for the summer. Everyone with a bit of kit charges the stage in a frantic scramble of bodies, cameras, cables and mics.
CSC-Saxo’s leader Carlos Sastre stays cool in front of the press.
But … somehow it works. The TV guys get their footage, the press get their quotes, the photographers get what they need. The Tour and the teams get the publicity and everyone’s happy.
I spoke to a couple of the guys from Team Columbia, and here’s what they had to say ahead of tomorrow’s Grand Depart.
Thomas Lovkvist with his physio Armin Brucker (l) and Jeremiah ‘The Hat’ Ranegar.
Thomas Lovkvist: “I like the new kit. It goes pretty well with the Swedish flag … just a pity I didn’t win the national title last week. Maybe next year!”
“I know the deal now, as I’ve done 2 or 3 Tours, so I don’t stress about it. It’s hard to say how far I can go, but I climbed well in the Tour de Suisse. I’ll be working for Kim Kirchen and I’m happy to do this because he’s such a nice guy. It’s like this for the team as a whole … we get on and I was sitting at home cheering when they were winning stages at the Giro.”
We snapped a few pictures outside as Thomas horsed about with his soigneur Jeremiah Ranegar and physio Armin Brucker. Apparently, Jeremiah struggles to pronounce ‘Lovkvist’ – when I asked how to spell Ranegar, Lovkvist was shouting: “Just write ‘Rainjacket’ …!”
How do they get on? Jeremiah reckons it’s fine because Lovkvist looks good, but Thomas reckons they might be “ … a bit tired of each other in three weeks time!”
Pez fave Adam Hansen was in heavy demand from the press but it was OK to talk because: “They said I had to go 10 minutes ago, but Cav is still over there talking!”
How does it feel to be on the Tour? “It’s pretty exciting. But I’m just looking at surviving it, and doing the best job I can for the guys. I’ll do what I can.
“We’ve got pressure on us to do well, but we deserve that pressure cos we’ve got the best team here. Strong leaders, good climbers …. and we’ve got the fastest man in the world, too!”
George is suited and booted for some local miles.
And with that, they were off for a final leg loosener before tomorrow. I dodged back inside out of the rain to check out CSC Saxon Bank’s conference. It was all pretty orderly as the questions came, but I felt a bit sorry for Nicki Sorensen and Volodymir Gustov. They looked pretty lonely on the end of the line as the questions came for the Schlecks, Cancellara, Sastre and Voigt.
As pandemonium took hold and the (bigger) stars vanished under a forest canopy of TV cameras and lights, I grabbed a few words with Kurt-Asle Arvesen. “I’m looking forward to being back on the Tour again. It will be hard racing, but everyone is behind Carlos Sastre. I’d love to try for a stage but it depends on the energy I have.”
And what about the legendary Kurt-Asle fan club, usually one of the most vocal and visible presences by the roadside? “Well, some of them will be there. Not all of them unfortunately!” But when they do show up, we’ll all know the real Tour will have begun!
Team Columbia’s new Giant TCR Advanced SL’s – coming to a dealer near you later this year.
Laughs of the day: Paul Sherwen has reached Kim Kirchen in the Team Columbia presentation and suggests that Pez-diarist Adam Hansen can ride for the overall. Back down the line, Hincapie and Hansen give a perfectly timed comedy double-take.
Bernhard Eisel’s reputation as a lady’s man. Sherwen cheekily refers to his support of, and interest in, the women’s team at a High Road training camp. “Why are you asking me about a women’s team?” laughs Bernie, rather unconvincingly!
CSC Saxo Bank’s Jens Voigt sits through a chunk of the conference reading a newspaper before skillfully and passionately answering a question on the doping issue. Referring to all the bodies he’s been tested by: “AFLD … NADA … WADA … de nada! To go any further, someone would have to move in with me!!”
You know it’s a bog deal when they put an actual boat in the local restaurant.
Lesson learned today:
When it comes to questions … think questions before you ask ’em. Bjarne Riis was very polite in pointing out that even with Stuey O’Grady, Team CSC Saxo Bank doesn’t really see itself as a sprinter’s team, and they don’t expect to be pulling the peloton along in the final 3 kms. And, no, it wasn’t me who asked that.
Smilin’ Bjarne – happy to be back on le Tour.