But it was Lotto’s finale and they deserved the win; Gilbert more than honoured the green jersey with his late heroics and their giant German surfed the wave of chaos best, as Cav’s men tried in vain to control a super fast and technical last couple of kilometres.
We were holed up in the Cafe de Centre; but to tell the truth, we’re not sure where – Rieupeyrox, we think.
A great resumption of hostilities after the rest day – and that’s when our story starts.
The flights were as good as you can expect from a budget airline; the car hire went smoothly – we got lost coming out of Rodez – but bought nice maps, corrected and high tailed it up to the ice rink at le Lioran to collect our credentials at the permanence.
So far, so good.
Ed and the car, no problem – Martin; ‘you must wait until tomorrow.’
Ah well, what’s a two-and-a-half hour drive each way between friends ?
Since Martin’s creds were going to be at the finish of stage ten we decided that there wasn’t a lot of point driving all the way back up to Aurillac in the morning.
Tuesday morning and first up was tune to Radio Nostalgi – Mungo Jerry, ‘In The Summertime,’ that’ll do fine – then breakfast in Espalion and catch up with the papers.
Monday’s l’Equipe had a great picture of Voeckler ‘en jaune.’
And so did Tuesday’s – with his young son Maй on the handlebars.
This is the Europcar man’s best ever year; eight wins, to match 2004 – but that was the year of his ten days in yellow and some of those were post Tour crits . . .
This year though, there’s no arguing with the quality of his results; stage in the Tour of the Mediterranean, GC Tour du Haut Var, two stages in Paris-Nice, GP Cholet-Pays de Loire, stage Giro del Trentino, stage and GC Four Days of Dunkirk.
And now a nice yellow jersey to wear – not a bad year at all.
No doubt to the deep despair of Viktor, when we realised we were within spitting distance of two of ‘les plus beaux villages de France’ we couldn’t resist doing the ‘tourist thing.’
Estaing snuggles into a bend of the River Lot, the Gothic chateau on the hilltop dominates the village and if you want lovely architecture coupled with old fashioned peace and quiet, this is the place to come.
Conques is half-an-hour away and sits high on the side of the valley above the Dourdou river.
This is one of the ‘great sites’ of France and it’s like stepping back in time – once you’ve paid your three Euros to park, that is.
There’s been a religious site here for well over 1,000 years and the remains of Ste Foy meant that the village became a stop on the long pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.
It’s a beautiful place, worth the effort to find it and even the gift shops aren’t too OTT.
Two ‘plus beaux villages de France’ are enough for any one day; now we need to eat, track down that bike race – and Martin’s creds!
Cransac, Cafe des Sports four courses 12 euros, with water, wine, coffee and the flirtiest of well rounded waitresses – but she was gone before we could get a picture.
C’est la vie.
We snuck on to the course at a handy roundabout, courtesy of some very helpful gendarmes.
You forget how nice it is to be on race route – the happy faces, the flags, the cheers, the general ‘good vibe’ of it all.
I can hear Viktor now; ‘Bah! Humbug!”
Cote de Villefranche-de-Rouergue; the third categorized climb of the day; it’s nippy steep at the bottom but eases off towards the top – a 3rd cat with 58 kilometres to go.
The Norwegians are gradually taking over from the Dutch as official race ‘crazies’ but the ones we stop beside were pretty calm.
It made their day when Dag Otto Lauritzen stopped for a chat.
Dag Otto will soon be much in demand for his opinions on l’Alpe d’Huez – a mountain he once conquered.
It’s not long before the break appears; six strong – Remy di Gregorio (Astana & France), Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil & Italy), Arthur Vichot (FDJ & France), a Cofidis, an AG2R and a Saur-Sojasun.
They look to be riding within themselves, saving ‘full gas’ until the wick gets turned up behind them.
The peloton is two minutes back, gutter to gutter, biding its time.
And is that Ivan Basso smiling for me ?
There’s a Sky and a Cofidis in the cars and a sore looking John Gadret (AG2R) is swaying dangerously, way back – for a frail man like him, the Giro was surely enough?
We hop the tail end of the race and find the Cafe de Centre; a great finale – we even have a start sheet for a beer mat.
The break succumbs, Tommy and Phil impress, Greipel rejoices – Cav?
It won’t make good listening.
But we still have Martin’s creds to sort out.
It takes an age to get to Carmaux, through the civilian traffic – but Kylie helps us with, ‘All the Lovers.’
We get lost – naturally – but eventually we find the permanence.
The girls ‘hum’ and ‘haw’ a little, but eventually the precious lime green rectangle of plastic and yellow lanyard get handed over.
We’re in business – see you at the start, tomorrow.