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Tour de Pez: A Damp Journey To Vittel
Roadside St.13: Haussler looks composed, in the saddle, then out, he slices across the wet tar towards us, just missing our toes. His immaculate white Cervйlo kit is now more “drowned rat” than hi-tech Castelli. Yesterday at the Vittel finish it was 31 degrees; today, on the summits, it’s seven. We’re high on a wet Col du Firstplan – last climb of the day.

Like moto photo journo and PEZ friend, Wessel Van Keuk said, when we met him in Vittel this morning; “when it rains in these parts – it rains!” He must have read the script; for most of the 180 kilometres we’ve driven today, it has teemed with rain.

Luckily, it was dry for the hour before the start, enabling us to chat to Tyler Farrar and half-a-dozen DS’s in our shirt sleeves. Six hours later though, with huge blobs of water dropping from the leaves above us, it’s hard to keep the camera and notebook dry.

The early parcours were tough but ideal barodeur country; rolling, twisting – a committed group would be out of sight in no time.

Half way through the stage, the parcours turned really nasty; with the Cat 2 Col de la Schlucht rearing up to 1139 metres followed by a long, wet descent.

No respite, as the Cat 1 1193 metre Col du Platzerwasel soared up into the weather system; more tricky descending.

The Cat 3 ‘bump’ of the Col du Bannstein, more gravity assisted stuff then the last dish of the day – where we are now; the Cat 2 Col du Firstplan.

It’s 2:45 after Haussler’s stylish passage that Chava chugs past, he looks composed, fluid enough, but he’s not going to get back to Haussler.

There’s not a lot of light up here on this grey Friday afternoon, but Amets Txurruka’s orange Euskaltel kit brightens things up as urges his Orbea up the slope.

Brice Feillu is in the thick of it again, his style is urgent and committed; Agritubel may be on the way out but Brice should have a new team for 2010 by the end of the Tour – the French need a new star so badly.

The bunch is well down and isn’t chasing; “riding like it was a Sportif” as Dave succinctly puts it, in an SMS from the old country.

Nocentini is right there, not looking stressed, and he still has team mates there.

At the start, most of the DS’s were saying that it would be the end of the cool looking Italian’s time in yellow, but not ‘Dima’ Konyshev; “today will change nothing” – he got that one right.

And, was that Hushovd in there?

Popovych must have been working hard for Lance, he’s been shelled.

It’s maybe 15 minutes before the next group appears, training pace and plenty of chat, big Ballan wears his usual smile despite the rain and gradient.

Another five minutes pass and there’s the autobus; Cav is near the front, stung perhaps by criticisms from his fellow passengers that he didn’t pay for his ticket through the Pyrenees – dodging his spells.

Time to go, or we’ll be trapped up here by the drunken hordes pouring of the mountain.

Martin tails the race traffic off the hill.

I keep in touch with Dave by SMS.

The finale parcours are ideal for a man of Haussler’s quality; a fast but not too technical descent then smooth, straight, flat tarmac into sodden Colmar.

We’re at five to go when Dave SMS’s to say that Haussler has taken the win; Chavanel has been caught and dropped; the Basque has taken second and young Feillu third.

Chavanel probably sat up to save it for another day, second places are no good to Patrick Lefevre.

Dave SMS’s again; “Hushovd top ten and re-takes green!” on a mountain stage?

The day the Tour really started – hardly.

Maybe tomorrow?

No, that’s for the baroudeurs; it’ll have to be Sunday to Verbier – let’s hope so.


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