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Tour de PEZ: Hot Times In Carcassonne
Le Tour bakes in three more days of southern French heat as we make our way from the Pyrenees to the Alps. For stage 12, PEZ-Man James Hewitt swung by his old home-town near Carcassonne, testing the Look 595's ability to withstand his blistering sprint, and then taking in the finish line frenzy...

Sweat In The Citй
This morning I enjoyed a pleasant ride around the roads of my old home town Limoux, a mere 30km from the finish of today’s stage in Carcassonne. The purpose of this excursion was not simply a trip down memory lane, I also wanted to test out the machine that our friend Thor Hushovd would be riding this afternoon. Yesterday provided ample opportunity to assess the bike’s more than adequate climbing credentials, today I wanted to try a few sprints to push the vйlo a little. As you can probably expect, I have few complaints as the stiffness of the frame that propelled me up the Tourmalet transferred to impressive sprint performance on the flat. You are probably starting to question how impartial I am in this review but when you are riding bikes of this standard there is little to criticise. As you can see from the pictures, the build quality it exceptional, seamless bonds between lugs and tubes, immaculate finishing.

James runs a few sprints on the Look 595, while pondering where he left his helmet.

Growth Spurts?
My only gripe in the final sprint department are the handlebars. That anatomical shape that so well suited the ‘hor categorie’ climbs of the Pyrenees had the mildly annoying habit of hitting my wrists when the bike was leaning over to the extreme. Love-hate relationships are often said to characterise the social interactions of continental lovers. One feature of my new French ‘friend’ which provokes such emotions is the extended seat tube. It looks fantastic but once cut only provides relatively limited adjustability via a series of spacers. However, it eliminates the need for potentially damaging seat tube clamps, removes any possibility of your saddle slipping down and did I mention it looks fantastic.

Look’s new aero E Post looks swish, and still offers 4cm of vertical adjustablity after it’s been cut – note the red & black spacers.

I suppose the decision for the consumer is whether you intend to sell the bike in the future to someone with significantly longer legs than you or if you yourself need more than about 10cm of adjustability during the course of the time you own the bike. Personally I am a fan, and unlikely to grow much more in the near future without some pharmacological intervention from a dubious sports doctor. You can make your own mind up.

Stage 12 finishes in Carcassonne – another great French cite with a very cool medeival centre.

Back To The Tour
So before you think that I have forgone the Tour de France in favour of a bicycle study I should remind you that I am reporting on location in the Citй of Carcassonne. Presently I am trying to decide whether I was hotter yesterday, climbing the Tourmalet or here in the press room at the finish of the stage. It has been a swelteringly hot day for the peloton and journalists alike but probably not more so than for stage winner Yaroslav Popovych. More on that chap later.

Gimme Gimme Gimme!!!

Projectile Hats And Delirious Fans
I arrived at the stage finish in time to see the caravan pass in a flurry of projectile hats and brightly coloured candy. It never ceases to amaze me that so many people can be driven to the realms of delirium in pursuit of items that appear to hold less material value than the ‘free’ toys I used to find in cereal boxes. I suppose it’s the sentimental value... bah-humbug!

Fans are showered with polka dot caps.

Note actual Tour trinket. (On left).

Following this procession I made my way to the finish. Securing a prime location about 10 metres from the finish line I awaited the finale. In the calm before the storm Bernard Hinault hopped out of an ASO car to attend to some finish line business. The PA system announced, in a cacophony of excited French monologue seemingly without punctuation, that Popo was in the lead and looked to be on his was to a solo win. As the Discovery Channel rider flew into the finishing straight the expectant crowd erupted like a saddle sore as the free yellow baseball caps handed out by the caravan bobbed up and down on the heads of the maniac spectators lining the barriers.

Popo snags a stylish win, delighting the sea of yellow capped fans.

Meanwhile I maintained an air of British decorum and clapped politely and prepared for the arrival of the peloton. Well, actually, I didn’t. I jumped up and down in excitement and secretly wished I had pushed that small child out of the way earlier and not been magnanimous enough to let him have the polka-dot hat that was thrown from the publicity car.

Real Journalism
Following my brief lapse of professionalism I looked around coyly and slipped off to the team cars. I intended to redeem myself with a spot of ‘real’ journalism and get some post race sound bites. First on the schedule was Discovery DS Johan Bruyneel. I pushed through the crowd of hacks and ignored the mutters of discontent. In response to the question as to why a potential GC contender such as Popo was going for stage wins Johan retorted that he saw that “there is no reason why a good rider with good health and good motivation can not win a stage of the Tour.” He also expressed the fact that he was very proud of his rider and in a later interview for the benefit of the press gathered in the media centre, Popo revealed that Bruyneel had commissioned him to win a stage today.

Bumping Into Bjarne
Following my rendezvous with Armstrong’s former mentor I ran into Bjarne Riis by the CSC team bus. Well, I didn’t actually run into him, but by the look on his face, I’m pretty sure if I did he would have demonstrated some form of Ninja style spin kick in the direction of my face. I managed to slip in a question of my own. I wanted to know what he felt had to happen in order to come away from the Tour feeling it was a success for the team. In the clinical style characteristic of the Dane he replied that “I will think about that after the race, right now we are concentrating on doing as well as possible.” and when I inquired as to whether CSC had any specific targets for the remainder of the TdF? A simple “to do as well as possible.” What a unique insight.
[Ed note: perhaps Bjarne is still peeved about Ed Hood mistakenly stepping on his foot at stage 8.]

Popo Gives The Inside Line
Back in the press room we were treated to the round of post race interviews via a live link to the finish line studio. Popovych recounted the team meeting held this morning where Johan inspired the group by telling them that today “another Tour begins for our team.” Popo recounted the race: “In the first escape there were no Discovery riders but we chased to catch them. Hincapie was in the first, then I was in the second winning break.” He also responded to questions as to whether he thought he still had a chance to contend for the general classification this year. The question was a measure of how open this year’s Tour de France is as Popo currently sits in 10th place, 4’15” down on Landis. “We will see what will happen in the next stages.” he said. If I ride as bad in the Alps as I did in the Pyrenees, no chance.” “But” he qualified, “there is a long way to Paris so we will see what will happen.” That we will!

So after another mad cap day at the biggest bike race in the world I’m looking forward to my next culinary appointment this evening. Stay tuned for the latest news from la Grande Bouclй but from me James Hewitt, live from Carcassonne, stay classy Pez fans.


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