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Tour de PEZ: Ed Looks Back
I don’t really like when folks ask me about my trips to continental races; ‘I bet you got plenty drinking done over there,’ or 'all those boys are on drugs, aren’t they?’ I usually just force a smile, nod and change the subject. The Tour 2011 was different; ‘got your Cavendish tattoo done yet?’ or ‘can you explain how that green jersey works?’ and ‘I was really moved when the Australian boy who won dedicated it to his coach (Aldo Sassi) who died.’

It takes me back to 1984 when the big tabloid paper in Scotland – The Daily Record – positioned itself staunchly behind Robert Millar and his ultimately doomed bid to win the Vuelta; running full page spreads with race pictures on a daily basis.

It’s a ‘chicken and egg’ situation, if you get the rider, you get the public interest; but not just for stage wins; you need the totem – a special jersey or a big shiny Olympic medal.

What would this Tour de France have been without Thomas Voeckler?

Or the Norwegians for that matter? Thor Hushovd and Edvald Boasson Hagen combined to make for a magnificent Tour.

And in the Guardian – one of Britain’s ‘quality’ daily papers - you can buy your very own ‘Mark Cavendish Maillot Vert 2011 t-shirt’ – and ‘save Ј5 on the usual price.’

That puzzled me a wee bit – he only won the thing on Sunday, so how can there be a ‘usual price?’ anyway . . .

A different Tour, with no major drug scandals, a winner who speaks English, and Cav in green – it’s certainly done the Tour’s image in the UK no harm at all.

But this is meant to be a personal reflection on the Tour; let’s get the moans over with first.

The race route for the first week attracted a lot of criticism from the riders and staff we spoke to; with tiny roads and too much road furniture coupled with the speed and nerves, the crashes that felled many favourites were inevitable.

It’s a sport which involves much luck, but the strategy should be to minimise risk, not add more.

And many mentioned that the lack of a prologue time trial isn’t a good thing; the chrono establishes a pecking order from the start and trims the number of riders who think that they can take yellow on day two.

Something has to be done about the moron element amongst the fans; they endanger themselves and the riders – it’s only a matter of time before there’s a serious accident.

Many of the minor officials need to ‘chill;’ despite the Italians' reputation for getting excited, the Giro’s official ambiance is much lighter than le Tour.

Some of the post stage traffic jams are horrific; maybe the police could do more?

And on a ‘non-Tour moans list’ I’d have; the plumbing, can’t a country that gave us the best track frames in the world give us toilets that don’t come from a Gulag?; the prices are exorbitant, cross the border into Belgium and you realise how much you’ve been getting stung for during the last two weeks; the coffee is horrible; parking is an utter nightmare in most places – the over priced hotels that do have spaces have no qualms about charging you to park your car, despite the fact that you are giving them business; the standard of Wi-Fi from hotel to hotel is grimly inconsistent, working professionals demand this service, like it or not, it’s the way of the world – and finally, French radio - Nostalgi apart - needs Paul Kimmage on its case.

I feel better, now.

And on a serious and positive note here’s what I loved about the 2011 Tour:

This was a real race - very few dull stages and a thrilling finale – the top three was impossible to predict up until the last time trial.

‘Tommy’ – man of the match. French TV must be due him a fortune and even I was a asking; ‘can he go all the way to Paris?’

Cadel Evans was a dignified and deserving winner; he rode an effective and dogged race with a time trial that came straight from the top drawer.

And he’s even less scary, these days – ‘respect Cadel.’

Cavendish and HTC were magnificent, and as I said earlier have given the Tour a major boost in the UK.

The buzz of happiness and warmth you are caught up in on race route – but maybe some have taken it too far? – is special, uplifting and unique.

Just right!

France, away from the traffic and pressure, is wonderful with its vineyards, quiet, dusty streets, the smell of lavender – it’s a beautiful country.

The French have perfected the ‘al fresco’ lifestyle, don’t sit in the house, get out there and enjoy the sky, the sun and a glass of something locally produced.

Al Fresco.

Breakfast in the Tour village is a mellow, fun experience and a great way to start the day – and it’s not just ‘corporate,’ local folks who have done a lot for the sport are in there too, enjoying their day of rubbing shoulders with Pou Pou and the rest.

Bicycles; being surrounded by the best in the world, every day – paradise!

To be a part of it is fabulous. For all the hassles, driving horrors, and janitors, there’s just nothing else like it – ‘vive le Tour!’

And I do miss my l’Equipe in the morning.

Thanks to everyone for reading our Tour coverage - we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. Next up - La Vuelta!


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