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Tour de PEZ: Leaving Luchon
Roadside St.17: Luchon is from another age, a spa town with wide boulevards, old money, health giving waters, Pyrenean air, Salons du The, and elegant street cafes. On this final day of mountains at the 2012 Tour, we mixed it up with the teams as the circus got ready to leave town…

It would be so unhip to ask for a beer or Coke, so naturally we ordered kirs – light and refreshing on a July afternoon after a morning of working the start straight.

But the day started in another country, Espana.

We couldn’t get digs near the Luchon finish/start so holed up across the border in Vielha; the San Miguel was cold, the tapas were good and the wi-fi was passable.

And in the morning we ‘got ourselves a convoy’ with Lotto-Belisol all the way to start. The Pyrenees towered over us, the sun shone and fluffy clouds clung to the peaks – going to work should be like this every day.

At the head of the buses lined up in the main street was the Sky bus. It’s journalistically incorrect to ask your readers rhetorical questions, but why do they all look so damn unhappy?

Whilst on the one hand, it’s easy to say; ‘Froome knew exactly what he was signing on the dotted line for, back last autumn,’ he’s human and it wouldn’t be natural if he wasn’t tempted by immortality.

Word from our sources is that Brad was anything but chuffed when Froome distanced him on La Toussuire.

Other sources tell us that Froome and Cav will be off come this winter – you heard it here first.

Over at Europcar it’s a different story, Tommy is at the centre of a wave of media attention and you can feel the fan love – there’s even a Tommy song, which a section of the crowd was happy to sing for us.

This race owes a big debt to the man for his bravado.

If Tommy is the man of the moment, Cadel is yesterday’s man – but despite that, the media are there in force.

The Aussie puts a brave on it, but his heart must be heavy – especially with another tough day in the Pyrenees in prospect.

It’s not just Cadel who has to endure interviews; managers perhaps face even more awkward questions.

Bennie Ceulen the PR guy at Argos-Shimano can’t even drive his car without a camera getting stuck in his face.

Brian Holm at Omega-Pharma is the ‘thinking man’s DS’ no rapid fire answers from Brian; to do the question justice he’d really need his pipe.

Bjarne Riis walks down the bus steps – he can sniff us journos out!

Working the start means you bump into old friends – one of the last of the Flandrian Hard Men, BiG Bert Roesems is with Shimano these days, as a marketing man. But I can still remember him bludgeoning the winning break into life in the Three Days of De Panne.

New Shimano products? – if we told you, we’d have to kill you; but we can tell you that no team is on 11 speed Shimano on this Tour. However, there will be Shimano 11 speed (non electronic) groupset equipped teams at the Vuelta.

But you can’t help with ‘the double takes’ – is that Thomas De Gendt? The Giro revelation is here to visit his team mates – we could have done with one of his ‘exploits’ in this Grand Tour.

And there’s Robbie McEwen, he’s with GreenEDGE these days and working as sprint coach; a role which incorporates recon-ing the finales for Matt Goss and Co.

And of course, no wander through the start is complete without a look at the hardware. Down here, even the cops have a view on equipment, checking out the Euskaltel Orbeas.

And we were just saying that Ulrich Schoberer of SRM has to be a rich man, ( we interviewed him way back in 2006 ) and that time he told us that there were no ‘freebees’ for the pros – given that perhaps 90% of the peloton rides SRM, you can work that one out for yourself.

We checked out the rear brake on the new generation Treks – and the battery box mounting for the DI2 – soon, old guys like me won’t recognize road bikes.

It’s always good to be around Euskaltel; it’s more than a pro team, the riders always have time for the fans – which is much more than can be said for many others.

As start time approaches, the last minute things need to be attended to.

Self sufficient Russian, Denis Menchov is happy to adjust his own front brake.

But Jelle Vanendert calls for the mechanic – it would never do for a picture to be seen in the Belgian Press of Jelle messing with his own brakes.

Some even multi task – Frenchman Mikael Cherel loosens his legs, smiles at the baby and chats to the wife, all at once.

Before you know it, ‘wagons roll!’

The man charged with organising the chaos needs a large brandy to calm his nerves; ‘tous le monde! derriere!’ he screams – ‘everyone behind the barriers!’

The riders roll, the cars rev, the buses rumble and stage 17 is in full effect.

Daniel Mangeas, ‘the speaker,’ strides down the start straight, he has to head for the finish, ‘tres vite!’

And the greatest annual free show on earth leaves town.

And for those who want information about Peter Sagan’s bike – ‘there’s a storm coming . . .

– a demain –


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