It was one of those days where the plan changed as quickly as the sky, with the clouds scudding in an out over the starting ramp. One minute, glaring sunshine and boiling, the next dull but still boiling.
We’d planned to get out on the Team Time Trial course, but with a couple of hook-ups we’d organised being delayed … we stayed in town, and left late on, only making the press centre steps about 10kms away as, in the distance, Cancellara towed his Saxo Bank team over the line for third place on the day.
So it was a day for people watching, and chatting. If you’re lucky enough to live in Montpellier, maybe you’re lucky enough to have a balcony overlooking the starting tribune. Maybe you’re lucky enough to look up at this poster when you go home each day, which might be better?
The fans stacked the barriers early with a pretty late 19th-century backdrop. This junction marked the take-off point for the Team Time Trial and what a place for it.
The security caravan didn’t look too garish compared to the historic facades, when it inally started rolling at lunch-time.
The security was taking no chances, and no amount of pleading or pointing was going to get you onto the route, even if you lived just up the road.
One thing that has become abundantly clear is that if the Tour was won by fan power, Cadel Evans and Michael Rogers would be in with a big shout.
Canberra residents Daniel, Anjo and Ross are touring Europe, making the Tour and cheering on their near neighbour (Rogers) a priority. They’re by no means the first Aussies we’ve seen and they won’t be the last either.
This is a French event though, and the home fans are still as passionate as they ever were. Cйline is 21, she’s from Lille… and she is a proper Tour follower. She’s chasing the whole three weeks, every start, shouting for her hero Bernhard Eisel. Her Columbia/Eisel banner was hanging over the barrier when we spoke to her.
“It was so exciting when Cavendish won the sprint yesterday with Eisel helping. When I saw that I was …. so excited.” She waves her hands, and cheers. This is what the Tour means to the fans – everything. Celine is basically taking a whole month off, to explore France, and I’m sure she’ll discover plenty about herself, too.
She’s a big fan, but she’s realistic about her boy’s chances today. “Columbia can win, but Astana is the best with Lance and Contador, Paulinho and Popovych.” As it turned out she was right.
The Americans are super prominent this year, too. The Gluckmans have come over to Europe for a holiday and are seeing the Tour here and in Barcelona in a couple of days. They’re happy to see Lance back and this year’s course offers an interesting dynamic for them with Mont Ventoux coming so late. Can Lance do it? “Never bet against a Texan!”
And why would you when you’ve even got paintings of Lance hanging over the Tour, you can’t escape the man’s presence.
In fact, Lance is everywhere. On everyone’s lips, in their thoughts, haunting some – probably Contador. Acres of newsprint have been dedicated to Lance’s ‘coup’ yesterday. It’s just like the old days.
Back at the team buses. The Liquigas crew were in good spirits, and masseur Roberto and driver Bettoni reckoned their boys would do them proud. “Yes, we can do it. Why not? But we must remember Columbia and Astana,” reckoned Robert as he got the fans built up to keep the guys cool as the got ready.
Just beside the Liquigas bus, Svent and Annalise Thomasen are keeping an long-held promise to their neighbour’s son. “When Brian (Vandborg) was young and starting to ride his bike and do well, everyone in the town said they would go to see him in the Tour de France. And now we are here. We’ve known him since he was a little boy.” It’s passion for the racing, and support for the person that has made the drive all the way from Denmark to see Brian Vandborg race the Tour.
Saxo Bank were in air-conditioned safety until the last possible minute, but like the proverbial German holiday makers, they had the towels out early. They’d need them to soak up the perspiration just getting off the bus.
All the time the riders were getting Bjarne Riis’s instructions inside, there was a permanent, high-pitched chorus going: “An-dy Schleck! An-dy Schleck! An-dy Schleck!” Maybe they’re still going? They were in no mood for stopping when we snapped them.
The riders weren’t in too much of a mood to chat, so we took some snaps of the Rabobank crew and left them to their warm-up. Not that a warm-up was too essential today.
Wandering down to the start ramp, we saw Cervelo looking tense, but ready – once lucky charms had been kissed and the cross had been signed. They did OK once they were off, coming home just 90 seconds down on Astana.
The last team we saw off the premises was Liquigas, disappearing under the hanging baskets, past the shoe shop, the cafe and the patiserrie and into the sun.
I was starting to fry and so were the fans, with this little guy giving in to the temptation … after all what’s a bike race when you’ve got this to do?
He wasn’t the only one. Maybe the adults were giving him bad habits.
Hopefully, the Thomasens saw their man, and are happy with the result. We’re happy with our day.