The funny thing was that although the start/finish area was mobbed as expected, just a few hundred metres down the course, there was hardly a soul. You could have parked a couple of monster trucks beside the route and still had space for a picnic table.
Lance sped by for a warm-up in Livestrong kit, just as Kenny Van Hummel was starting off the 2009 Tour de France a kilometer away and not many people were around to notice.
Whereas Lance had a mission later in the day, for some of the ‘others’, it was a case of staying hydrated, staying safe and getting round in one piece.
For Bbox Bouyges Telecom, it was a case of keep your head down and hope that you can get in a break … preferably the last 50 kms tomorrow, for the TV time!
We’d ducked out of the press centre through the garage entrance and out onto the seaside concourse to head for the finish area. The famous tunnel under the Fairmont Hotel proved a false mistress – cool, dark, alluring. Once we stepped out into the sun again, we were frying.
So were the riders … we got to the finish just in time to see Peter Wrolich close in on Kenny Van Hummel, but bigger fish were coming. Laurens Ten Dam looked wrecked, spittle-flecked … then the feeding frenzy.
You could practically feel the air being sucked out of you as TV crews, anyone with a press pass, descended on Lance Armstrong. Valerie braved the throng and picked off this cracker of a picture.
Lance grabbing onto his Astana team helper to help guide him through the mayhem. That’s how much it hurt Lance to ride a Grand Tour TT full-on for the first time in four years. 10th on the day … pretty damn good, I’d reckon, and four in the top ten on the day for Astana.
For us, it was snap pix, duck and cover to avoid getting flattened by the following cars. Total pandemonium … how the man himself puts up with it in any way is a total mystery to me.
Gustav Larsson gave everything he had, and wheezed to a stop. Sweat pouring off in buckets, phlegm foaming – for someone who’s got a big job to do for the Schleck brothers, he didn’t hold back.
What happened next just shows how priorities get mixed up in the hunt for a ‘story’, ‘a shot’ – Levi Leipheimer flies over the line and is pursued by the hordes. Not Levi’s fault at all as he’s gone 100%, too, and halts just behind Larsson. The cameras pile in bumping the Swede. His TT helmet goes flying and no-one is concerned with picking it up off the floor.
Larsson slumps exhausted against the barriers while the cameras whirl, film and shoot someone else just feet away. It’s part of the game. Hopefully, Mr. Larsson won’t be too offended by the printing of this picture, but it shows the real cost of maximum effort in the biggest race on the planet.
The finish area was mayhem, so we abandoned ship and took a tour along the quayside to check out the goings-on at the team buses.
Garmin were employing what looked like an ice vest to keep cool, and I can tell you that we opted not to show you Milram riders sitting in their ice baths!
Christian Vande Velde just seemed to be employing his own chilled out persona to prepare for the TT.
The temperature was just too uncomfortable so we made tracks back to the tunnel to recover. We hung out there to see about a dozen guys go by including Pez favorite Marzio Bruseghin. The big guy managed 35th today.
It’s always worth a picture of the singular Dave Zabriskie, looking focused and cruising to a top 15 finish.
Time to go back up to the Casino, and again, we found a prime spot to hang out to watch the last of the big guns go by. First up was Cancellara who seemed to be thundering, the low swoosh of his wheels hinting at how smooth he actually is.
Allberto Contador also looked good, and aesthetically, too – that Spanish champion’s kit is a cracker. We could see he was on a good day, and that he’d be well in touch with Fabian. More crucially, he looked like he was gaining on his rivals for the overall.
Back down to the barriers with one km to go and we were just in time to catch Cancellara hammering past again, looking every inch what he is – the best time triallist in the world.
Contador was keeping it together brilliantly and losing less than 20 seconds to the flying Fabian, and the Spaniard looks good for the next three weeks.
At the barriers, we grabbed a space beside Mike Foster and Kable Mitchell, fine representatives of the Manly-Warringah Cycling Club in Sydney, Australia, and Pez readers, which makes them very upstanding chaps in my book. Hope they enjoy the rest of their trip to the Tour.
That’s the opener done and dusted. Time for the train back to Nice … and bed time!