The sun is hot even at 07.15, the autoroute is quiet, straight and fast; we’re headed for le Tour départ and then Loudenvielle Le Louron; Millie Jackson is telling us that her man is a “fine man” – what more could you want from life?

It’s 10.00 am now and we’re on the descent off the first climb of the day, the second cat, Col de Port (or Portet, depending on which sign you look at).

Loudenvielle Le Louron
Descending the Portet we stop to pay our respects to Fabio Casartelli.

Martin got his first look at le Tour village this morning, as always, the scrambled eggs were great and the coffee strong.

Loudenvielle Le Louron
The famous Tourmalet.

The views in the Pyrennes are wonderful, not that different from looking south from Poolewe down over all the ranges to the Cuilins of Skye.

The deal today was to take readers through a full stage – all 196 kilometres of it.

If you are a ‘civilian’ on the Tour you are really restricted to one spot to watch the race.

Loudenvielle Le Louron
Norse fans give us a wave.

The route and every last little lane feeding on to it are all policed by thousands of gendarmes.

If you don’t have the magic stickers, then you don’t move, full stop.

Loudenvielle Le Louron
That’s a fast descent.

We just thought it would be good to let folk see as much of a stage as we could, and talk to a few characters on the way.

Loudenvielle Le Louron
Mountain chalets.

It was a great experience and once again it was driven-home to us how hard pro bike racing is; in fact, it occurs to me that maybe the stages are just too tough.

But Dave Chapman would argue that point, he reckons it has to be super-challenging in order to be the Tour.

Loudenvielle Le Louron
Empty roads – but not for long.

We met Cycling.TV’s Brian Smith today.

We were stopped, chatting to some folks from Wales, an estate car stopped, and there was our Brian. The CTV cameraman, James was there too, a good lad, we roomed together a few nights on the Tour last year. Rebecca, their little blonde Aussie cutie presenter has moved-on to better things; a shame, she and James and I had good fun last year.

Loudenvielle Le Louron
We met some great folks today – these guys were from Wales.

The press room was at the finish today, which is always a boon. Copy isn’t the problem, it’s getting the pictures away.

It’s a huge help having Martin with me, I’m a computer troglodyte, with him, it’s his job.

But the speed you can transmit is dependent on a lot of factors, not least the fact that there are so many people using wi-fi in the place that the system is operating near its limits.

However, we got our 55 pictures off. It’s 21.20 now and we’ve been on the go since 06.30, long days are just the way it is on the Tour.

We’re staying in Lourdes tonight and Martin has just driven us over the Col d’Aspin en route to the town of miracles.

Loudenvielle Le Louron
A great skyline tonight from the hotel window.

At least we know where we’re headed tonight, Pez has all of our hotels pre-booked; it might be late when you arrive, but at least you know there’s a bed waiting for you.

Last year, if I wasn’t sharing a room with the Cycling TV crew, then I had to go off in search of digs – a pain!

Lourdes, a cross between Blackpool, The Vatican, Disneyland and a bonnie old French village.

There are hundreds of souvenir shops selling all manner of religous tat, neon lights everywhere, “pilgrims” by the thousand and – according to Martin’s guide book – more hotels than any other city in France except gay Paris.

Anyway, it’s home for a couple of days and the pizzas are half the price they were in Toulouse.

Talk to you tomorrow.