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Tour de PEZ: TTT Tension
Roadside St. 2: It’s all about seconds today, handfuls of them. For the yellow jersey contenders, it’ll be about ripping that kit off Philippe Gilbert’s shoulders. For the likes of Andy Schleck, it’s about whether they can further distance Alberto Contador. For Pez, it’s a day for zipping around the teams’ compound checking out who’s looking strong, reading the body language.

Pulling into the start town of Les Essarts, we’re overtaken by BMC riders, with Cadel Evans at the head of affairs. Cadel is just three clicks of a second hand off the yellow jersey this morning and checks in with the team car for advice. It’s a long, long day for BMC, out on the course before twelve – not racing until nearly five o’ clock.

There’s not only athletic preparation going on; all the bikes have to be scrutinised and verified by the UCI commisaires to ensure compliance with regulations. Only this morning, the rules on saddles seemed to have been changed. They all have to be “0.00 degrees” horizontal, nose to tail. This, I was told, was not the case in the Dauphine or any of the other races where TT bikes were recently checked.

This led to some fantastic gesturing from BMC directeur sportif Fabio Baldato, pleading the case for Manuel Quinziato who rides his regular road saddle on his TT set-up. A change like this for Manu could have spelt big physical problems over a longer distance than today’s 23 kilometres.

The technical area is a scrum as all available team personnel – soigneurs, masseurs, managers of all shapes and sizes and both genders – are shanghaied into taking the TT bikes for scrutiny.

Those with confidence shipped two bikes down to the start line at the same time, and at speed! With that value on the line, it’s not a job I’d have taken!

The main festivities in the start village were about a twenty-minute walk away from where the teams had circled their wagons in an industrial park. Time to hit the trail to see what was going on. As we head up, Garmin-Cervelo swish past, with Jonathan Vaughters opting for dress down TT wear as opposed to the fabulous threads of the teams’ presentation.

We saw Thor Hushovd in regular kit, and in his maillot a pois skinsuit, before he got to pull on a different kit again post-stage victory. More costume changes than Beyonce, that guy.

SaxoBank, were a source of fascination, like endangered zoo animals. After yesterday’s problems, the press and fans looked on in curiosity. Contador was still a very visible presence, sweating it out with the rest of the guys.

Matteo Tossatto gave off his best hardman’s stare as the countdown began. Saxo were off first today; last year, they had Cancellara, Voigt, O’Grady, and this year Gustav Larsson is at home. It’s not the powerhouse TT squad it was or might be.

Gradually, the riders began to drift into the bus to towel down. Contador continued to spin the pedals, trying to stay cool.

Round at Leopard-Trek, the guys were nicely shaded and with the bus angled in towards a warehouse, it minimised the to and fro of distractions. Frank Schleck enjoyed the perks of stardom as he had someone to hold his iPod for him as he slipped into his ice vest. Linus Gerdemann, whose ridiculously gorgeous model girlfriend, Louise, was in attendance cracked a few jokes with Andy.

I nabbed a word with their boss Brian Nygaard. Is Frank’s comment about “winning the Tour, not beating Alberto”, still the philosophy after yesterday’s events?

“100%. One very important point about yesterday is that there are a lot of stages coming up like that. It’s better to be ahead than to be behind but it’s only, in my opinion, a real advantage if it’s still (80 seconds) at the bottom of the first Pyrenean climb.

You have to beat every team. The Tour brings a lot of surprises and yesterday was another reminder.”

BMC’s mechanics are taking scrupulous attention to detail, triple-checking all saddles again for every possible regulatory variable.

FDJ’s Arthur Vichot has obviously been busy with his scissors. Maybe his mummy should have told him that if you mess about you can ruin your best clothes? Obviously, the undershirt was just not cool enough …

Thomas Voeckler didn’t win in his home region yesterday, but he still has a future in politics of he wants it. Once he’d finished hanging out with family, the two-time French champion went straight over to the barriers, signing autographs, sharing jokes, posing for pictures. He made this little girl’s day by signing her home-drawn artwork. Nice touch.

Saxobank are out on course, so it’s time for a wander over to see what Rabobank are up to. Taking pre-TT preparation to its logical conclusion by doing the same as everyone else. My sister was phobic about cotton wool when she was younger; just as well she didn’t want to be a pro cyclist.

Luis Leon Sanchez has come off a national TT championship win and will be a key driver for the team as they try to get Robert Gesink round safely. LLS had his ice vest on for about one minute, no more.

To find out why, I quizzed Koos Moerenhout, recently retired from racing and now in the team car, and Adri van Houwellingen, team boss.
“It’s not so hot today on the course, but it’s important to keep the body temperature cool, so they need the ice vest but not as much as if it was a really hot day.”

And how does the team line up? Who protects Robert Gesink?

“Do you want the start order? Or the finish order? (They kill themselves laughing!) The starting rider is Juanma Garate, then Carlos Barredo, then it’s Lars Boom. Then Martin Tjallingii, Robert Gesink, then it’s Grischa Niermann, Bauke Mollema, Luis Leon Sanchez and Laurens Ten Dam.”

Saxobank are in, after a twenty-five minute charge around the course. Chris Anker Sorensen shrugs an OK when he hears the time. Contador is back, almost under the radar …

… until first one press photographer, then a hundred notice.

Regardless of what he may or may not have done last summer, or at any time before, it can’t be a fun way of life. But if you live that life in public, the scrutiny will be intense.

HTC-HighRoad are a favorite for the day, and Allan Pieper is busy noting split times in the team car. He’s confident that they’ve done their homework. They trained here a month ago, and with sprinters like Eisel and Cav to get the train rolling, it should be quick.

Unfortunately, it went wrong pretty early with Eisel going down in kilometre one and that’s the luck of the day. If you do everything right and have no bad luck, you’re Garmin-Cervelo. If you don’t have it all go your way, you miss out. Cav will have better chances towards the end of the week, though.

Ag2r are not favourites and post a fairly unspectacular thirteenth on the day. John Gadret is pretty good going up steep hills, but windblown Vendйean countryside is not his bag.

Some spectators cram the barriers for hours to get the best spot, others just wait for the atmosphere to come to them. This little lady was seated, just uphill from the start line, on Rue de Calvaire, a street that one day all Tour riders must ride along.

We’re getting close to the end of the day. Leopard-Trek hurtle down to the start line, with the Fabster himself leading the procession. When you’ve got this locomotive pulling the train it’s going to be a hell of a ride.

We check behind us at a little crossroads and it’s Omega Pharma-Lotto, last up by virtue of having the top guy yesterday. Valerie comments that it never ceases to amaze her that all that athletic and sponsorship value just has to take a chance on the road like anyone else as official and semi-official vehicles whizz up and down.

It wasn’t quite Calvary for Phillipe Gilbert today, even if he lost his yellow jersey. The Belgian superstar was an incredibly popular figure again, with the barriers ringing to cries of “Philippe! Philippe!” as the Omega Pharma-Lotto leader paraded up and down waiting for the start.

It’s those precious seconds again; a decent ride from OPL and he might be able to stay close enough to get the jersey back tomorrow. The commentary rings around Les Essarts like thunder. Omega Pharma-Lotto approach the stage, line up … and GO!!

And that little old lady up on Rue de Calvaire will have known all about it.

Au demain,



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