It was utterly baking when myself and my wonderful assistant/ photographer/ girlfriend (not necessarily in that order) Valerie bowled into the money pit this morning, with but one thing on our minds – securing the holiest of journalistic grails, the Tour de France press pass.
A gently roll downhill along the Boulevard de la the Princesses Charlotte and the Boulevard d’ Italie took us onto the Avenue Princesse Grace. The Med shimmering in the background all the time suggesting a hot day at the Tour would be the better of a dip in the waters.
And, oh look …. there’s the Casino … concentrate, concentrate.
Finally, into the Grimaldi Forum, just a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean (and, no, I won’t be testing out that theory as I can’t afford the fines). Thankfully, it was a good 15 degrees cooler than it was outside.
So, we’re in the Permanence, and it’s time to look up legendary Pez pal and Tour de France fixer Dominik Englert, an all-round good guy.
Pez-Man Gord & the ASO’s Dominic – our man on the ‘inside’.
It was great to see Dom again a year on from meeting him in Brest, and he was in fine form, enjoying being back on the Tour. After he handed over the goodies we were on our way, car stickers to be closely guarded until we hit the road, press passes around necks and a freebie volume on the beautiful, tragic Princess Grace of Monaco safely stashed in a creakingly heavy backpack.
Time for recovery in the Salle de Presse, a visit to the Team SaxoBank press conference, a bit of work, and we were off out into the heat once more to see check out the teams’ presentation down at Port Hercule.
This is just down from the famous tunnel used in the F1 Monaco Grand Prix, with the squillion dollar yachts rolling on the rippling sea behind. It’s a total contrast to the launch in Brest last year, with the crowd in fleece jerseys and jackets rather than t-shirts. But the reception for the riders was terrific, especially old warhorse Christophe Moreau, looking good in Agrutbel blue.
One of the highlights of the evening was the riders’ parade around the presentation venue, coming out on quieter roads behind the man grand stand. Moreau and his team-mates practically wiped each other out in a mass pre-race crash when ol’ Christophe eyeballed a bus load of luscious young ladies taking photos of them! Would have been hard to explain that to the sponsors.
The grandstands were heaving, and looking up at the perspective, you get an idea of just why Monaco is so expensive per square foot of territory – there ain’t much of it, and buildings and streets and developments are all piled on top of each other. There are fans on the roadside, in the grandstand and on balconies up in the stratosphere.
This pic of an Agritubel rider giving it some TV face time gives you an idea of the scale of the city.
Other riders getting big cheers were the Columbia squad – noticeably loud for Mark Cavendish which is good considering some the media seem hellbent on portraying him as an arrogant so-and-so; the fans know a rider when they see one.
Big cheers too for the affable Bernhard Eisel, who’ll be busy leading out Cav in the days ahead.
The Danes were out in force, with a raucous racket somewhere up behind me when Liquigas’ Brian Vandborg is announced. They’re equally vociferous when SaxoBank roll on stage. There’s plenty laughing and joking from Bjarne Riis’s boys with Jens Voigt telling Nicki Sorensen the joke about the veteran German rider who can still rip peoples’ legs off …
… before spotting someone he knows up in the stands.
Frank Schleck was having a thoroughly good time, knowing fine that if he isn’t up to the job of winning the Tour, then Andy probably is. After all, as Bjarne Riis said earlier, it’s not a problem to have two leaders if they’re from the same family.
Lampre will have to rely on stage winning opportunities as they don’t have anyone for the overall.
Rabobank will have multiple chances with Menchov for the overall, Friere for the sprints … and the ever smiling Juan Antonio Flecha for just about everything else!
Alessandro Ballan was in good form throwing his cap to this pair of jokers – quite what they were advertising and how they got away with being on course I’m sure we’ll find out in days to come.
They got this reaction from Cadel Evans as they wibbled a small cuddly toy cow over his shoulder!
There was more livestock on show here than in Brest, come to think of it – check out Nike the sheep, let loose among the unsuspecting punters.
Eventually it was time for Astana to hit the stage. I was hanging out just downwind of the podium and got a few moments to say ‘Hi’ to the Aucoin family from Nova Scotia – always good to see a French-Canadian presence on the race. Parents Ginette and Marcel had daughter Louise on one side with Andre and Julien on the other – apologies if I’ve mis-spelt your names guys. It was right in the middle of Lance-frenzy!
Lance’s voice boomed over the tannoy: “I don’t have the same confidence that I had before … but I come with an extreme sense of excitement,” before extolling the virtues of Monaco as a start point for Le Tour. Who said the guy wasn’t a diplomat?
Big Tex’s name was read out to …a fairly resounding wall of positivity from where I was sitting. A few boos, right enough, but not the catcalls I bet a lot of folks were expecting. What we did expect and got in spades was the total scrum that followed his every move. I hear Contador was there tonight, but he didn’t get too much of a look-in. Hard to believe hat he can look this focused on the bike on a parade lap before the race has even started!
Once Lance was gone, it was pity poor Cervelo, caught in the eye of the Astana press hurricane – Carlos Sastre and co. will be hoping to make sure that doesn’t happen out in the race.
Lots more to come tomorrow – au demain, Gord.
Keep it dialed to PEZ – your ticket to what’s really happening at Le Tour!