Monaco was just starting to come to life as we went out to get a few scenic shots for today’s story, meandering our way towards the Casino.
But we got waylaid by activity at the Novotel Monaco, temporary base for teams Cervelo, Katusha, Liquigas and Ag2r. Cervelo were just getting ready for a last-minute reconnaissance of the TT course and I took the chance to grab a few words with current season sensation Heinrich Haussler.
The Aussie/German has had a stellar year, but has a job to do at the Tour. “It’s all for Thor. It’s the only thing that makes sense because if we’re to have the best chance of winning the green jersey and beating Cavendish in the sprints, we need to work as a team with one leader and that’s Thor.”
What do you reckon to the course today? Any chance you could do something: “Nah, I’m feeling good, but it’s too hard a course for me. It doesn’t look that hard on paper, but it’s climbing straight away, then a flat, then climbing again … it’s going to be tough to find a rhythm and then it’s really steep up from the Casino.
I’d have to take the downhill full gas, but you can’t make up too much time … you gotta be careful because the corners are slippery, there’s oil on a couple of them.”
Who’ll be the top Cervelo guy? “Maybe Thor … he has such a big motor that he can just drive up the climbs when they’re around 4 or 5%”
Just then Brett Lancaster emerges … if the TT today was a bit shorter and flatter he’d be in with a shout.
“Nah, he’s too fat!!”
Brett tries to grab his mid-riff but is definitely not carrying too many excess pounds.
“Today’s a day for Cancellara, Tony Martin, Kloeden …”
Brett chips in: “Wiggo (Bradley Wiggins) could win today.”
“Yeah, he’s climbing well.”
“Yeah, but so is Kloeden.”
The Cervelo guys then had to go and train, and the job should be much sweeter on their shiny new Cervelo P4s.
We opted to hang out by the hotel for a while watching the teams roll by in mini-pelotons. It’s always entertaining watching the pros cruising and the enthusiastic/foolhardy amateurs trying to slipstream them.
It’s also fascinating to see how the pros interact with each other. The banter between Haussler and Lancaster was like the way you joke with the guys you grew up with. No malice, a bit cheeky …
Flecha rode by chatting to Bert Grasch – even when the riders are on different teams, with wildly conflicting aims, there’s a camaraderie.
Languages shared across teams, or communicating in a third language altogether, seems to be no problem. I think I once heard that Laurent Dufaux (French-speaking Swiss) and Alex Zulle (German-speaking Swiss) found it easier to speak in Spanish!
Phillipe Gilbert lives down Monaco way and came along to train and hang with his team-mates. Here, Gilbert and Johan Van Summeren give a textbook display of how to balance until a red light goes green. In fact, Gilbert was really old-skooling it today – he had a spare tyre in his back pocket.
In one of the more astonishing revelations of the modern age, Ag2r have pulled off the impossible – they’ve made a predominantly brown kit look good!
We also caught a quick chat with Willy Balmat, chef for the Cervelo team, who knows everyone in the sport. and the all knew him, with lots of waves and shouts from the riders as they went by.
Even though Haussler talked himself down, Willy reckoned he could do a good ride today. “Haussler was second in Milano-San Remo and will be good. Carlos Sastre must do a good ride, so as not to lose too much time …
Carlos Sastre signing just one of hundreds of autographs he’s given out so far in Monaco.
… you know, Carlos is such a nice person, so quiet, he doesn’t make a big show. But I must tell you, the day after Blockhaus at the Giro this year he stood up and apologised to everyone in the team because he felt he didn’t do so well. The stage was too short for him, but that shows you what a classy man he is.”
Who’s going to win today … Contador? “No! No! No! I’m Swiss and even if he’s not on my team, I say Cancellara because he’s Swiss! Contador will be close but he won’t win.”
How about Lance? “Well, I’ve known Lance for many years, I worked with him and I know how determined he is. I hope he does well.”
Willy’s a fascinating guy who has worked with Astana, Slipstream, 7-Eleven, Motorola … there’s not much he doesn’t know about bike racing, and he’s fascinating on natural history and economics, too! He gave me a phenomenal breakdown of Kazakhstan’s mineral resources in global terms, and how you could practically fit the entire European continent inside the Kazakh borders. All that before 10.30 in the morning!
If all goes well, we’ll hopefully catch up with Willy again on Tour.
There was another familiar face in the Novotel Monaco this morning – Simon Gerrans, stage winner in the Tour last year was along to lend support to his buddies.
“I live here all the time, so it’s easy for me to come and see the guys train with them and support them at the race.”
How do you feel about sitting out the Tour – Disappointed? Jealous? More motivated? Relieved? “All of the above except ‘disappointed’. I’d much rather be racing all the time.”
How are the guys feeling ahead of the start?
“They’re feeling good. Everyone’s really laidback and relaxed.”
When will see Simon Gerrans back turning the pedals in a race? “Well, I’m on a training block just now. I’m going for altitude training in St Moritz, then back racing at Denmark. For me, that race will be all about preparing for the Tour of Spain and the Worlds.”
How about the Worlds? It looks like a good circuit for you.
I haven’t seen the whole route for the race yet, but all the information I’ve been given is that it’ll be a demanding course and that suits me perfectly.”
And Monaco? What’s the cost of living like? “Well, you can spend as much money as you want to here, if you have it! I don’t have a high-rollin’ lifestyle so it’s fine for me! I live moderately.
It’s actually a really great pace to live, for the climate and training. There’s a really good group of riders here that I ride with, all the Aussies that live here, plus Jez Hunt is here, Thor (Hushovd) lives here.”
We left Simon getting ready for a meeting and rolled down onto the course to check out the rders going by. Alessandro Ballan’s Lampre squad looked good cruising by with the world champion’s jersey gleaming in the morning sunshine.
Danilo Napolitano had his eyes on much more important things, and was still rolling up the Casino climb in a manner mere mortals would kill to emulate.
2006 Tour champion Oscar Pereiro is riding without pressure. There’s no Valverde in the team, Caisse d’Epargne’s young guns are still too young to trouble the top five this season, and … we’re all just glad to see him back after his horror crash at last year’s Tour.
“Hey, guys … who are you here for?” we asked spotting a Stars and Stripes.
We caught a quick chat with Denver, CO, native Ryan Rudisaile and Jennifer Nam from San Diego, CA, who’d staked out a prime roadside viewing spot just uphill from the Casino.
Ryan was thrilled to be fulfilling a lifetime dream by seeing the Tour live. “I’m about as happy as it’s possible to be right now! To see Lance win would be absolutely fantastic!”
But he had a few reservations laughing: “I don’t know … I hope Lance comes through but I’m afraid he might turn out like Michael Jordan did!”
Jennifer isn’t a huge cycling fan, but wanted to come along for the experience of seeing the Tour in the flesh – and what dedication to the cause! They’d only been in Monaco for a matter of hours, as they drove from Prague where they’re teaching English!
Anyone planning a Euro trip where you might not want to bike everyday should check Prague out: “A great city with wonderful history and not too touristy,” according to Ryan and Jennifer.
Nice guys, good to meet them and hopefully they’ll have a safe trip back to the States next week.
The Casino and grounds looked pretty sweet as the fans started coming in.
Even if some of the garden furniture is a bit avant-garde. No garden gnomes here, like you find in little Britain.
We meandered on before grabbing this picture. If you look closely, I believe you can see the sport’s greatest ever exponent pictured on the right. The legendary Eddy Merckx was just ambling calmly on his way, checking out the course in peace and quiet but was gracious enough to stop.
On downhill towards the 1km to go banner, and we saw a Scottish flag. of course, we had to chat and it turns out that Mike Mace (for that is him proudly waving the Saltire) and his wife Julie live …. just down the road from us on the Isle of Skye!!
They’d driven all the way to Le mans for the 24 hours motor race, taken a trip through Tuscany, Venice, Rome and were now in San Remo.
“We’re here for David (Millar) obviously, but also for the other Brits, Cav (Mark Cavendish) and Charly (Wegelius). We hope they’ll all have a great race.”
The rough plan today was to get some PeloPics in early and work on our story ahead of the race start – so obviously the first port of call had to be the restaurant! Agneau (lamb) today and rather splendid it was, too.
Now it’s all about getting everything done and dusted before it all lights up from 4pm this afternoon – it’s a slightly maverick running order with some big names/top TTers going out early. Lance is off seventeenth this afternoon and Leipheimer is 38th, so it’s time to go and stake out a good viewing area, and we’ll catch you tomorrow.