The car gets parked up tantalisingly close to the edge of a crystal clear Alpine stream. If we’d been directed back another foot or so, we’d have been swimming. Up above the suspension bridge carries walkers, cyclists, inline skaters.
The residents have made the effort to welcome the Tour with shop window displays and some rather larger scale demonstrations of devotion to le Grande Boucle.
Sometimes, smaller really is better, as the understated milestone said all that needed to be said about the marriage of race, history and location.
We’ve got an invite from the Cervelo Test Team to come and meet the riders to discuss the race so far, and the Hotel Florimontane has put on a grand spread of pastries and coffees, so the Pez expenses budget will be under control for another day.
I reluctantly sat myself down with a mountain of cake, a sugary hot chocolate and L’Equipe to catch up on yesterday’s heroics. The headline about Lance sums things up nicely, and fans and conspiracy theorists will be able to read whatever they want into the paper’s choice of words.
Geert Broekhuizen, Cervelo’s PR guy, welcomes us and arranges for some time with Thor Hushovd. Sitting alongside me is Lorenzo Franzetti from Ciclismo magazine in Italy. I ask if the recession has affected circulation? “Not really … cycling is always good. It’s always popular. Ivan Basso winning the Giro certainly has helped the sport at home.” But apparently, motorsport titles are feeling the pinch a little.
We’re gathered around a table waiting for the riders to finish their breakfast, which they’re wolfing down in between reading the sports papers. These guys love their Nutella (other chocolate spread brands are available), and bread.
Carlos Sastre emerges and looks in his usual genial form, especially given that he climbed very solidly up to Morzine yesterday. While everyone else chews over ‘the end of the Armstrong era’, Sastre is quietly going about his business. “I think the Pyrennees are going to be hard, but the Alps haven’t been easy for anyone. We’ve had really warm days, going really fast. Tomorrow is not going to be easy …”
We’re given a few moments with Thor Hushovd and I try to make my questions at least passably interesting. Was Thor inspired by starting the Tour with your national champion’s jersey?
“Yeah, but up to now, I haven’t worn it so much. I’m proud of wearing it because it is six years since I won the championship last time and, for sure, it is something special to have the champion’s jersey at the Tour de France.”
Thor wasn’t too keen on the idea of another breakaway, like last year’s points-gathering expedition. “I think it’s too much … it’s the only time I’ve done this in my life, I think it was a one-time happening! Tomorrow is a really hard day.”
I asked Thor how the Tour ‘virgins’ on his team were getting on, i.e. Jeremy Hunt.
“When we put the team together I was very happy with the team I had around me. Jeremy Hunt is an experienced rider, like you said, but first time in the Tour … but from our team he is really the rider I need so I’m happy I have these people around me.”
Marcus Lundqvist, with Finland’s Hufvudstadsbladet, asked about Thor’s relationship with Cavendish. The answer was entertainingly direct: “He’s just a contender.” Do you speak to him? “No.”
Did Thor watch the World Cup which Spain won against the Netherlands last night?
“Yeah, I watched it! I know that Carlos and all the Spaniards are very happy, and that some of the Dutch people on the team are not that happy! I think they’re weren’t too happy when it was first over but when they woke up this morning they knew it wasn’t the end of the world.”
Considering it was such an early call, there was a fair number of press crews and representatives present giving the whole affair a very international feeling, but without the attendant mania of some other press calls I’ve attended.
Afterwards, I spent a few moments shooting the breeze with Marcus Lundqvist. He was bemoaning the bad luck of his countrymen Jussi Veikkanen (FDJ) and Team Sky’s Kjell Carlstrom, who missed out on the Tour through bad luck and illness. Marcus’s passion is cycling, but the foreign news pays the bills, and at least he’s had the chance to come to the tour for a while even if he won’t be able to report on a win for his own country.
We had a quick word with Dan Lloyd to see how things were going: “Sometimes you don’t get the same perspective on the Tour when you’re on the inside as maybe someone in your position. when you’re on the inside looking out you’re kind of protected …” Stay tuned for more with Dan soon.
Before we left, we had a quick chat with Steve Smith, brand manager for Sportful, who sported an impressive plaster from a ‘chute’ at the Ironman Germany event. It wasn’t enough to stop him driving up from Italy to the Tour, though. That’s iron …
Cervelo were charming hosts, and were sharing their hotel with Liquigas-Doimo, who had their very own mini-Basso racing around outside the hotel. Janis might just be a bet for the 2030 Tour de France if he keeps this up.
Out on the street, Footon-Servetto are taking it to the people, stopping for a coffee on the busiest road through Morzine, and spending much time signing autographs as relaxing. This is what sets this sport apart – from families dining in the same room as the stars to the kids who get the signed caps and shirts outside the bus, they know they’d never get as close to the names of other sports.
The dashboard read-out hurts to look at it: 43° Celsius when we return to the car and crank the AC up as far as our little Citroen C3 can take it. The heat is a topic of conversation for everyone, and I’m glad the locals and pros are feeling it, too, not just me.
Overhead, cable cars are ferrying mountain bikes across the valley, and we see a constant stream of sweating, armor-clad downhillers rolling into town.
Tyler Farrar cruises by for a leg stretcher ahead of another tough day, and Danilo Hondo coasts through the traffic with a German fan giving him a running commentary.
We’ve got one more stop in the Hotel L’Equipe to see what Saxo Bank have to say, but it’s sweaty, claustrophobic and utterly packed. The press pack scent an announcement and it comes … sort of. Sungard are stepping up as co-sponsors, with a title name to be announced. Just not yet.
Fabian Cancellara looks fried, but it’s been a hard week for him. The pressure to win the prologue, the ‘story’ about the bike motor, the defence of the yellow jersey. He might have needed guidance from the Heavens before, but he looked happy enough when we saw him this afternoon.
Andy Schleck is fielding tough questions about where he’ll be next year given that the Saxo Bank team will continue in another guise. He handles things very well, especially given Bjarne Riis’s earlier mention on ‘turbulence’.
We sneak an escape through the hotel kitchens, receiving a gentle, good-humored scolding from the manageress on the way out, but there are no hard feelings and she offers us a few cherries before we go.
Outside, away from the hubbub, sit the victory flowers from yesterday’s stage, a reminder that sometimes a story is not the one everyone else is staring at. Congratulations to Andy Schleck, who took another giant step forward on the day that the sport’s super champion finally fell.