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Tour de Pez: The Hammer And The Nail
Roadside St.6: Love him or hate him, Lance Armstrong had quite a way with words … that line about sometimes being the hammer and sometimes the nail stuck with me. It should have been a relatively simple day out at the Tour. Go to the start village to see the sights and meet the people. It didn’t quite turn out like that. But from seeing a big, old sledgehammer swinging towards my day, the ending more than made up for a slow beginning.

The Sat-Nav lady was making optimistic noises about our journey time from Bruz to Dinan this morning. The traffic had other ideas as queues rammed nose to tail south of Rennes and the clock inexplicably fast-forwarded, meaning our plan to get into town before the caravan set off floundered before we got there.

Off the D137 and the N176, we find the mandatory passing point, which all race traffic is supposed to swish by, on its way to the Ville Depart, which today was Dinan. The race vehicles are diverted down a twisty country lane and we found ourselves in a long line of team buses, directors’ vehicles and press cars, before we finally pop out beside a beautiful waterfront. It’s a climb up by the old city ramparts to the off-course parking area before we can finally explore.

The look back down from the Promenade de la Duchesse Anne (of Chateaubriand) on the old city walls is worth the effort. The yachts, pleasure cruisers and fishing boats shine against the backdrop of the River Rance. Here, we’re just a few miles from the Cфte d’ Emeraude and sailing heaven.

We’re behind schedule and the start village is not exactly jumping when we arrive, mostly because of the weather. It’s dull, chilly and spitting with rain. Not the sort of conditions that bring the riders from their buses to flirt with the publicity girls.

There are a few interesting sights though. Framed in front of the PMU tent is a Movistar green jersey, signed last night by a happy Jose Joaquin Rojas. Today, Philippe Gilbert wears the green jersey after a revision of yesterday’s intermediate sprint results relegated a now-irate Spaniard out of the competition lead.

This long-time pal of Edvald Boasson Hagen’s parents will be very happy tonight after cheering her favorite on to his first stage win at the Tour de France. She’d known the precocious Eddy since he was a boy. I bumped into a horde of rival Norwegians up in the town centre brandishing a ‘Thor Hushovd – Simply the best!’ poster. Outnumbered, I wasn’t in a mood to disagree.

Jerome Pineau, just about the only QuickStep rider who didn’t fall yesterday, is facing three microphones in the interview tent. A brave posse of Francaise des Jeux riders bounce down the cobbles from the team buses to see what’s going on, and to catch up on the consequences of yesterday’s mayhemic stage to Cap Frйhel. The headline says it all … chute!

Alexandr Kolobnev, the chisel-jawed Russian is in the Orange tent calling home, looking pleased with himself. Liquigas’ Maciej Bodnar grabs a handful of Haribo goodies and stuffs his face as he takes advantage of the rather funky retro ’phone.

On the outside looking in, you’re never too young for your first Tour de France. It just goes to show that those freebies do come in handy once in a while.

The arrival of a band, featuring an improbably kilted bagpiper and a guy banging out tunes on a treujenn-gaol, a sort of Breton clarinet, livens things a lot. We even get a bit of a knees-up at the Skoda tent, but they’re soon starting to pack up for the long drive to the finish line in Lisieux.

The striking Cipollini-esque portrait at the far end of the start village has been left to its fate. There’s not a soul near it and we’re guessing that everyone has decided the main attraction is up the hill at the start line.

The riders stream through at 11.45am on the dot for their procession to the official kick-off of today’s 226km stage. Hushovd in yellow again, Gilbert back in green and Geraint Thomas guarding the white kit fill the frame as the field sweeps out of town.

The Dinanais had done a damn good job of welcoming the Tour, matching the Yffiniac folk of yesterday. Next time I need a haircut, I’ll try these guys, just to see what the patter is like. I actually had to go in to make sure it was a hair salon as it could have been a care home for all I knew. Every square inch of display room was bike-related.

Assorted shop fronts were painted up with scantily clad lovelies which always brings a smile to the face. The owner of one restaurant had a cracker painted in his front window. We told him that we thought it looked great. He nodded sagely: “Yes, I know it does.”

Just off the main square, though, it was lunchtime at the antique book restorer’s place and you’d be very hard pushed to know the biggest annual sporting event in the world had just rolled out. It was all a little bit sleepy.

You’d have to get up pretty early in the morning to catch this guy out, lolling around two storeys up. The feline attitude seemed to sum up the day. But there’s a lot to the place as a further exploration uncovered.

Dinan has hosted the Tour six times and is a lovely town to look at – its massive protective walls date back to the fourteenth century, boasting four huge gateways and more than a dozen watchtowers. It’s not just the medieval timber-framed buildings and Enlightenment-era houses that attract either.

There’s a modern, covered shopping arcade showcasing the best of the local produce: shellfish, meats, ciders, wines.

There were scores of boutique sales venues for the regional drink and crafts, everything from crockery to Breton whisky, which sounds a bit blasphemous, if you ask me.

The charcuterie staff weren’t the only ones done up in vintage cycling kit; most of the restaurant staff were sporting a range of classic shirts from Wolber orange to Faema red.

There was a real gem in the city Theatre chambers, up a flight of marble steps. A huge collection of cycling memorabilia dating back to the late nineteenth century, up to the Lance years: bikes, bidons, jerseys, photographs, pedals, derailleurs. You name it.

I did my best to squeeze some information out of the young attendant on duty. Either she really had no idea of the collection’s origins, or she was under strict orders not to divulge anything. All she offered was that Bernard Hinault had loaned a bike from his own collection. Everything else belonged to a person “… passionate about the cycling.”

Hugo Koblet’s Swiss champion’s kit; Erik Zabel’s green jersey; maillots belonging to Thevenet and Pingeon and Hinault; bikes belong to Maurice Garin and the great Fausto Coppi.

And, inexplicably, on the way out … a map of France, and this year’s Tour route, made up of 3772 British stamps.

After a mother of a drive, our hotel for the night was worth skipping the finish in Lisieux for … the Chateau du Cheronne has been in the owner’s family for well over 300 years. Some of the turrets date back much longer, and the building and its gatehouse had to undergo restoration following the German occupation of France during WW II.

It’s an incredible place – so impressive that I wiped my feet before getting out of the hire car. We got a great welcome from Michelle, from LA via Baltimore, who’s working here for the summer and showed us to our room.

Beats the press centre? Today, definitely.

Thanks for reading.

A bientot.



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