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Tour de Pez: Chasing The Race of Truth
Roadside St.19: Bradley Wiggins punches the air; the English couple at the front of the bar where we’re watching the race on TV, applaud as the maillot jaune crosses the line at the end of the stage 19 time trial of the 2012 Tour de France.


The tall, skinny Englishman who flattered us to deceive with fourth in the 2009 Tour de France has proved all of his detractors (including me), wrong – blasting to his second time trial victory of the race and securing the overall win.

Barring Acts of God, Bradley Wiggins will win the 2012 Tour de France.

An Englishman winning le Tour, I thought that was an impossible dream – but not to David Brailsford, Team Sky and Bradley Wiggins. I’m probably in a state of mild shock.


It was a day of three stages for us; firstly, we wanted to see the parcours at first hand, so stage one was to drive the course in pursuit of Michael Morkov.



After his taking time to talk to PEZ on both rest days, we really couldn’t choose anyone else . . .

Bonnaval, the start town, but the gate official is having none of it, we can’t drive down there without ‘le sticker.’ We try to explain that our ‘ami’ Jean Michel Morin has the sticker at the start – which is a kilometre down the road.

Shakes of the head – ‘we’ll park here and come back with the damn sticker!’



It’s forced march time, past Stuey on the turbo, past Dave Millar, Steve Cummings – all getting ready for 53.5 kilometres, alone and unpaced. We want to follow Michael Morkov, but need the vital ‘steeker’ to be allowed on the parcours.



I’ve got sore feet by the time we catch up with Jean Michel, a smile, a shake of the hand; he sticks his other hand in his pocket, et voila!

We forced march back to the Renault, but by this time the gate official has raided his packed lunch, lost interest and gives us a wave.

Sometimes . . .

Sticker duly stuck, our luck changes as we find ourselves right behind the Saxo-Tinkoff team car – perfect. Bjarne Riis himself is driving, which shows his regard for Michael. Michael’s little brother, Jakob is in the back seat, and there’s a mechanic in there, too.

We trickle down to the start house through the throng, the officials attach the name board on the Saxo-Tinkoff car, Michael rolls into view on his Specialized Shiv and it’s nearly game time. The mechanic trots across to the start house with spare wheels – just in case.



He checks both tyres on the Shiv, sponging them carefully.



Michael and mechanic are happy that all’s well with the rubber, the former King of the Mountains jersey holder saddles up, bumps the bike up the ramp to the start house, signs on and hands his fate to the time keeper.

We wait patiently, Michael rolls, Bjarne lets him get away then pulls in smoothly behind him.

The start is uphill, Michael keeps the gear low, the cadence high and he dances the rise, sitting down and getting into the crouch, just over the top. But he keeps the gear down; those legs will be tight after 18 stages and 813.5 K in the breakaway.

The tar is hot, the straights long and flat through the wheat fields. As he gets into his stride, the gears go up a little with 50 showing on the speedo.



There’s a VIP bus in our little convoy, but the driver isn’t greedy and lets us up for plenty of photo ops.

The wind is strong and on the left shoulder and we notice that Bjarne sits much tighter behind Michael than any other following car driver we’ve ever shadowed. Michael’s crouch is good; his aero helmet leads smoothly into his back to create a single form.



The sign reads 50 K to go, that must cheer you up if the legs aren’t doing what the head asks. We pass a herb field and the smell wafts into the car as Michael punches up the drags, out of the saddle, he keeps the cadence high so that he’s not labouring the gear when he sits down.

Through the woods; and a little more shelter but he keeps the gears down and revs – as you might expect from a trackman.



Michael drinks frequently, it’s hot out there – but it doesn’t stop the crazy Dutch guy from wearing his usual orange suit, complete with black shirt and orange tie.



The fact that Cadel’s not having the best of Tours and that Matt Goss has been having trouble with The Missile and le Gorille doesn’t seem to have affected the Aussie fans.

But we’re a tad worried by their warning sign.



Its pan flat on these fertile plains south of Paris, with no hills for miles, so water has to come from wells and be stored in water towers, Michael spins past one with not a thought of what they are.

The second time check and it’s obvious that Michael isn’t on a ‘flyer’ – he’ll probably be trying to save as much as possible for JJ Haedo’s bid on the Champs Elysees, tomorrow.



With 20 K to go he’s out of the saddle as the amateur photographers try to bag a snap shot just like the pros.

The straights are long, heart breakers; the only place Michael has to leave his crouch is when he banks the Specialized into tight corners through the villages on the course. He dumps a bottle in one village to the huge cheers of the crowd.



Out of the village, he rides on the brake lever part of the bars, to give his back a break from that hunched position you need to adopt to be aero. We’re back in the trees and dappled sunlight plays on the blue and yellow of his jersey.



Coming in to the 10 K to go banner the road becomes narrower and the parcours more technical for a spell – but he pedals the Shiv nicely through the bends, keeping the cadence high.



And how many beers did I have, last night – I could swear I just saw Santa Claus?

We’re closing in on Chartres, we can see the spires but still he has to stroke those long boulevards and dodge the road furniture.



Inside two K and the speedo says 60; it drags, red kite, sprint!

Michael sprints, we take the deviation whilst he heads for the timing beam – he would end the day in 134th position @ 9:11 but safely within the time cut and looking forward to Paris, tomorrow.

Because we were on the verge of history being made, we thought we should at least see the start of Wiggins placing the final piece in the jigsaw of immortality – so it was straight back to Bonnaval for the second part of the PEZ day.

The crowds had thinned and so had the bus park, only the big hitters remained to start and many of the lesser teams had flown.



The atmosphere at Liquigas was tranquil, but along the road at Sky you could have cut the air with a knife. They had screens around the warm up area which you could see through, but not take pictures through – but they’d forgotten that we have long arms at PEZ.



Wiggins’ Pinarello sat awaiting its date with destiny as Mr. Brailsford stood guard.



Down at the start line, the tension was dialling up; Evans and van Garderen sat next to each other but there was no connection as they prepared for their hour of pain.





Nibali was the least stressed of the three ‘heads’ – he knew he was pretty safe from Van Den Broeck; and actually added to his cushion over the Belgian in what was a good ride.





It was different for the Englishmen in the Kask helmets; Froome went through his pre-race rituals staring somewhere into the middle distance, ignoring the cluster of photographers, all desperate for ‘the’ shot.

Some thought that perhaps Froome could get close to Wiggins today – his face certainly bore that message.





But it was obvious that ‘Wiggo’ was well ‘in the zone’ as he faced away from the fans and photogs as he awaited his call to the gallows.

He rolled though the start house in a trance, gathered his thought then dropped off the ramp like a bobsled down the Cresta run and was gone.

The third part of our day began – we needed a beer and a big screen.

The beer wasn’t cheap, but it was golden and cold; the big screen was perfect and we settled down to watch history being made.



Until the oom-pah band arrived, that is.

We repaired in to a bar with all speed; the manager was getting ratty with fans that were in to watch the time trial but hadn’t bought any beers. No such concerns about the boys from PEZ – the Affligem Blonde was perfect.

Up on the screen, the producer lingered on the French riders – whilst we fidgeted for sight of Froome and Wiggins. Eventually our patience was rewarded and the camera switched to the top two on GC.

There’s little I can add to what’s already been said about Wiggins’ ride – other than it was a demonstration of perfect time trialing.



His metronomic progress over the course was a joy to witness – I had expected it to be closer between him and Froome, but Wiggins’ roar of exultation at the finish spoke volumes about his motivation for today.

Just one day until we witness something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime – an Englishman on the top step of the Tour de France podium.

I think I’m still in shock.

A demain.

– Ed

 

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