“It’s cycling Jim, but not as we know it!”

The presentation of the Tour de France route is something we used to read about in the mags and not really think twice about. We’d see the route in the Comic and have a blether about it, but maybe not think too much about it until Tour time.

Now, there’s a fleet of satellite TV vehicles outside the Palais de Congres and the event is beamed ‘live and direct’ around the globe.

The Palais de Congress.
The Palais de Congress.

Whilst I remember; Viktor left a message on my voice mail to say that; “I saw your big bald head on the telly, : and that presentation was a farce!” cheers, Vik.

The format is that once you’re in, if you’re a journo, you can wander down to the front,where the riders sit, and get a sound bite, and/or a picture.

The ‘Lance Effect’ really is something else.

Lance Armstrong, looking more statesman-like than ever.
Lance Armstrong, looking more statesman-like than ever.

He looks, older and a little less chiselled than when I saw him on the Tour. Immaculate in dark suit with blue tie, the hair is a little longer, and he does have an aura – no doubt.

I thought I might get a few words, but the multitudes descended – I did get some decent pics, though.

Johan Bruyneel, juggling two phones, one for Astana, the other for Shack business, perhaps?
Johan Bruyneel, juggling two phones, one for Astana, the other for Shack business, perhaps?
Patrick Lefevre and Wilfried Peeters plot.
Patrick Lefevre and Wilfried Peeters plot.
Allan Pieper.
Allan Pieper.

If I had to venture a suggestion as to the real reason for Lance’s return; I’d say it was simply that he misses being at the centre of the cycling world. You can tell that he loves it; the ringmaster in his very own circus.

A very dapper Jonathan Vaughters.
A very dapper Jonathan Vaughters.

The faces on the photographers were a treat, as if life and death depended on getting the perfect snap of the great man.

It was as if someone had thrown bodies with cameras into a big pile on the front aisle.

Photographers go mad for Lance.
Photographers go mad for Lance.

Cav – by crivens, that laddie can swear!

Mark Cavendish makes sure his views are known. From not to be messed with...
Mark Cavendish makes sure his views are known. From not to be messed with…

“I’ll knock you out!” he informed the journo barring his way. But with his thick Scouse accent, the guy probably didn’t know what he was saying. The multiple ‘F’ words he dispensed were clear enough, though.

But an hour later he was sweetness and light, the street fighter face changed to boy band, cheeky chappie.

...to cheeky chappy and all round top bloke.
…to cheeky chappy and all round top bloke.

Andy Schleck – jeans? no tie? Hardly, Andy; you have to look the part, my boy, if you want to be the ‘Patron.’

Andy Schleck on casual dress day, and Bert Contador, very professional as usual.
Andy Schleck on casual dress day, and Bert Contador, very professional as usual.

Alberto reminds me of a 30’s matinee idol playing an off duty matador – handsome, cool, happy in his own skin – when Bert goes, there’ll be no Lance Sinatra come back.

The ASO minders lost the plot a little with us hacks; in fact they lost it a lot – pushing, shouting, bulging eyes, not really the way to do it. The fact is that the ‘media fest’ is set up, encouraged – but if you through blood in beside a tank of barracudas, you can’t expect them to calm down, just because someone claps their hands.

The ASO guys do get a wee bit ahead of themselves.
The ASO guys do get a wee bit ahead of themselves.

It was good to be there, though, rubbing shoulders with Cav, Lance, Pippo, Bert, Thor, Heinrich – and all the rest.

Pippo's winkle pickers!
Pippo’s winkle pickers!
Brice Fiellu, slim, cool.
Brice Fiellu, slim, cool.
The dude that is, Christophe Moreau.
The dude that is, Christophe Moreau.
Henrich Haussler. He's not a Tour de France stage winner, he's a very naughty boy.
Henrich Haussler. He’s not a Tour de France stage winner, he’s a very naughty boy.
Sergei Ivanov. You'd give him your last tenner.
Sergei Ivanov. You’d give him your last tenner if he wanted it.

As for the route – it’ll be tough; the first week will see the small teams desperate for exposure on TV, they know that the Alps and Pyrenees are all about survival.

But the sprinter’s teams will need to get results during week one, too – the deep foundations for the maillot vert will have to be dug in those early stages.

Meanwhile, the GC teams will be trying to avoid trouble for their main man; be that Andy, Bert, Lance — or: Brad ?

Arenberg suits Lance better than it suits Bert – but like Madiot says; “they have mountains every year, why not cobbles?”

But, wait a minute – nine months to go, and here I am talking about it already; Jeez ! it must be Tour Fever, and it’s a ten month incubation!

Are you looking forward to next July yet?
Are you looking forward to next July yet?