I said this morning that I would talk to you from Caen; well it’s actually Lisieux, around 50 kilometres east of Caen, here on Le Tour de France 2006.
It took the usual hour to get to the start this morning. Beauvais was ‘en fete’ for le Tour – not the grotty part of Beauvais you encounter en route to Ryanair’s tent at the airport but the nice, old part complete with Gothic cathedral.
A thing I noticed today was that the dreaded, large plastic PMU hands, which were ‘banned’ after one nearly cut Thor Hushovd’s arm off, were being distributed with gay abandon at Beauvais. Safety is all very well, but you can’t piss the sponsors off.
One of the golden rules of journalism is to focus, don’t get distracted by pretty girls or ‘local colour’ shots — just get those damn bikes.
My piece for the day was to be on the bikes which will probably be doing the winning in a fortnight in Paris.
I targeted ten — Evan’s Ridley, Sastre’s Cervelo, Leipheimer’s Specialized, Landis’ BMC, Hincapie’s Trek, Moreau’s B2win, Mayo’s Orbea, Kloden’s Giant, Menchov’s Colnago and Alabasini’s Bianchi.
It was that old patience thing again — wait and explain to the team PR man, slowly (remember I come from Kirkcaldy, sir!) and politely that you are doing a feature on the bike to win the Tour and can they pull out the leader’s velo from the row of team bikes?
Sometimes you are lucky, like when Levi Leipheimer came back from signing-on and leaned his little Specialized against the team car in splendid isolation; it even had the chainset facing towards me.
The normally aloof T-Mobile guys were great. I was handed Kloden’s lovely Giant and left to get on with it; within minutes I was trying to fight fans off the thing and get it back safely behind the ropes.
Just before the roll-out whistle blew, I had my 50 pictures and it was time to bolt.
Rebecca and James wanted a McDonalds so we nipped into the drive thru and ordered two ‘Beeg Makz’. I resisted the temptation though.
The scoffed them, went quiet, said they felt sick and then fell asleep as I pointed us at Rouen.
It was cooler today, in the mid-twenties for the first time in days and I had the air-con set low.
Even by the mind-numbingly boring standards of Tour stage transfers it was a sore-one; the first part was especially grim, stuck behind trucks and tractors. One good thing was that it poured with rain for about two minutes, just long enough to give us a nice, clean windscreen — I had every known species of French aphid splattered on there.
I also bought some fresh-baked garlic bread and fruit roll at the roadside, it was at rip-off tourist prices but absolutely delicious. The A13 wasn’t too bad but we were on the road for around four hours — dire.
The press room was good though, big, cool and with beautiful catering, although I didn’t get much chance to sample it.
I watched the stage finish on the monitors today, which is more than I managed to do yesterday, when ‘Little Robbie’ gubbed everyone again.
Today it was Oscar Freire back on form and giving Rabobank something to smile about after Erik Dekker ended-up in hospital the other day. Boonen is trying so hard but even with an awesome lead-out from Van Summeren he couldn’t get the win.
I got wired-in to my piece, but I allowed myself to get talked-into leaving the press room early so as we could get back to the hotel.
I agreed, but only if I was guaranteed internet access at the digs so as I could email my piece and 50 pics off to Canada.
You can guess, can’t you – after another hour on the road — no internet at the inn.
On that trip we stopped for gas; the guy had pumps on both sides of the road and had to keep crossing back and forward across the road to serve people — only en France.
The prospect of driving round a strange town in the dark to find an internet caff which might not exist is not one I was not going to explore.
The piece is written and the captions are organised so tomorrow the plan is — up early, coffee in Lisieux, miss the start, drive to Vitre (scene of the stage finish) drop James and Rebecca in the press room, email my stuff off, then drive to Rennes on my own and cover the route of Saturday’s 52 kilometre time trial course so I can write a preview.
I had planned to bike it but I’ll have to see how the time goes – then back to Vitre to write and submit the preview — simple!
It’s gone 12.20 a.m. Friday now, with no dinner, just the bread and cheese we had in the car — that’s the glamour of Le Tour for you. I’ll let you know how the master-plan works-out later today, bon soir.