A Tour unspoiled by “positifs;” for the first time in the four I’ve covered – great! There were few “lows” for me on this trip, but here goes:
Astana: Alberto Contador came into this race having won his last three Grand Tours straight; for a team mate and management to adopt the “sort the leadership out on the road,” routine was appalling, nothing less.
But it was Contador who did the sorting – launching a pin point strike on Arcalis; employing heavier weapons on Verbier then rendering any questioning of his authority laughable with his charge around Lac d’Annecy.
Despite Alberto coming up trumps, it’s disconcerting to me that people should be given the wrong impression of our sport.
It’s open to question how many stages Cavendish would have won without the selfless riding of his Columbia band of brothers; but there’s little question it wouldn’t have been half-a-dozen.
That’s what bicycle stage racing is about – the ultimate team sport.
Ventoux: On a personal note, I wish we’d “passed” on the 19th stage to Aubenas and spent the day on the Ventoux instead, talking to fans and taking pictures of the landscape.
It was great to drive the stage on Saturday and be part of that amazing experience; but it would have been good to devote more time to Bedoin, the climb and Tommy Simpson.
Respect: Which leads me onto my final negative – the Tommy Simpson’s memorial is not the place to give interviews; It’s a place for quiet, introspection and to remember a great man.
Marc Madiot, DS at Francaise des Jeux, ‘thank you’ for the bouquet you placed at the memorial.
With those weights off my chest, let’s change the mood.
I’ve said it many times, for me, the biggest joy of being on the Tour is the race’s unique karma; the smiles, the joy, the expectation, the fun, the openness, the warmth, the craziness.
If you get the opportunity to drive even part of a stage, you’ll find it hard to be cynical about the Tour, ever again.
The ten stages we were there for are running together in my mind, but if one thing jumps to the front of my mind, it’s the morning of the Lac d’Annecy time trial.
We drove down from Pez Alpine HQ at Megиve to Annecy on the morning of the race. At the southern end of the Lac we had to pick up the parcours in race direction. Even although there were a couple of hours until first man off, it’s taboo to drive against race direction.
There were thousands out around the course; the camper vans stretched as far as the eye could see; the flags waving in the warm breeze; the smiling faces; the waiters out of cafes and bars, watching the show; the band on the climb, the picnics, the music.
We stopped to ask some Wiggins fans if he would win; “of course he will!” And “he better!”
We were in the ‘run off’ beyond the finish to see the “Heads” come home, that day.
The Schlecks, wasted; Nibali, frustrated, disappointed; Wiggins, nothing left; Armstrong, stunned by the severity of the effort and how distant he was from the win; Kloden, he always looks the same; Contador – he didn’t make it to us, disappearing under a human tent of media.
I’ve mentioned them already, but Cav’s Columbia Train is dazzling; so fast, so cool under fire, so dedicated and such a positive example of team spirit and selfless riding.
On stage 14, won by Ivanov, we ran into race route and had to stop to watch, there was no choice – it was great to be just another spectator for 20 minutes, to watch the break, watch the peloton and speculate about the result.
After the same stage, we tracked down Craig Geater, the Astana mechanic, at the team hotel – the man has been putting up with me since his CSC days – and we got all the time we wanted with Lance’s bike. Albeit, we had to be the butt of his laconic Kiwi wit.
Ok, not this Trek, but you know the black Trek we speak of.
I never used to be a Trek fan, but the 2009 machines are beautiful; especially the time trial bikes. Lance’s black ‘stealth’ that he rode in stage one, Monaco time trial could tempt me back into training.
Verbier; watching the race pass, then having Wiggins astonish us in the finale on the ‘Poulibar’ TV – memorable.
The Colombiere; just yards from the top, I could have reached out and touched the riders, the Schlecks trying their damnedest, Contador looking like he was on his way back from the shops – but such a shame to watch Carlos Sastre struggle.
The Ventoux; the early slopes were maybe just too crazy for me, but what an experience.
And I’m a believer, so it’s good to know that Elvis is living safely up there.
At the summit it was a real thrill simply to be there, on the road, just yards from the line – until I was evicted, that is!
The early part of that stage was memorable too, through. Dusty Provencal villages, fields of Lavender, glimpses of the Ventoux, with the thought; “I need to come back here,” in our minds.
It’s a shame for Didi, ‘the Devil,’ he’s the man who invented ‘the crazies’ and now he’s ‘common or garden,’ glad of the shout he gets from Pez every day.
Rudi Kemna, the Skil DS, enthusiastic, friendly, funny, knowledgeable, positive – hell; I’d give my all for him!
Hendrik Redant, the Silence DS, larger than life, open, fun – and he loves Scotland.
The riders, Charly Wegelius, Ryder Hesjedal, Tyler Farrar, Fumy Beppu, Kenny Van Hummel and all the others who gave us their time and insights – not one request to talk was refused. I find it hard to say anything negative about 99% of professional bike riders.
I really liked the guy who handled the “avance” (in front of the race) cars at the dйpart, laid back, nonchalant, no drama, setting you on your way with a nod and a wave.
Let’s not forget the Skoda Yeti, either – cool creatures, it was impossible to see their antics and not smile.
But it wouldn’t have been possible without Martin; maybe the most driving we’ve ever done on a Tour; his skill with computers; his compliance with my unreasonable demands for L’Equipe, every morning, before we were two kilometres from the hotel and perhaps most of all, my continual, disturbing lapses into ‘Euro Speak’ due to talking to Rudi Kemna, for sure! eh?
But there’s no point to it all without readers; there’s a huge buzz in knowing that the site readership is again at record levels – thank you, Pez readers!
And a final couple of ‘thank yous’ – to Jered for making it all look so good and to Richard for trusting me with the responsibility of taking you to the Greatest Show on Earth, again.
Here’s to 2010 and number five!