It was a very warm evening yesterday, and we wandered back round to the hotel last night after our dinner in the middle of a typical Pyrenean thunderstorm – huge bolts of lightning searing across the sky and claps of thunder which lingered and reverberated for what seemed like 20 seconds. In the space of 5 minutes, the roads were flooded.
We went to sleep in our “pod” room to the sound of pouring rain, and woke up to the same – only worse. : It wasn’t a nice day to be outside, let alone reporting on, or riding, a bike race.
Still, once we got the car packed and got onto the road to Blaye-les-Mines, the low cloud lifted a little, and the day didn’t seem so bad.
That lasted until we got to the Depart. A more convoluted arrangement for the vehicles we’ve never encountered, not helped by the unhelpfulness of the ASO roadies: “La bas” was the phrase we heard in answer to our various questions such as “where’s the ‘Avant’ traffic to go”, “can we get to the Village Depart this way”. As Ed said, we’d be pee’d off too, if we had to stand in the rain and direct idiots to the right street all morning”.
Finally navigating our way down the right backstreet, threading our car through hundreds of very badly parked Tour cars, we watched the Caravan pass by, then got ourselves parked on the course, then walked back to the Village with only one thing on our minds: breakfast.
As we anticipated, the Village was a little short on atmosphere this morning, but nevertheless, the sponsors stands were hard at work dishing out coffee, tarts, biscuits, waffles and crepes, to greedy guests, journo’s, cops and hingers-on.
We got back to the car and pottered en course, around 20 minutes in front of the race, stopping to take the odd picture of spectators determined to enjoy themselves no matter what the weather was like.
It’s brilliant fun driving on the race route! special, unique: everyone waves at you and is excited that the race is close to arriving. The cops on bikes swish past you with a subtle nod on the ‘wrong’ side of the road (the roads are closed mind, and no-one but no-one is allowed to drive against race route, not even the police). Imagine driving for hours along a huge street party and you get the idea.
When we arrived at the stage’s sprint point, we parked up and had no bother picking our spots on the barriers, to watch what unfolded.
The break that Vik had mentioned in the call to Ed 20 minutes ago came through the sprint, barely changing their workmanlike progress. But it was different when the bunch came into view a couple of minutes later – Greipel, easily recognisable as a bear of a man, and next to him, so small in comparison as too resemble a wee boy, was Cavendish.
But Cav was flying, easily coming past the others whilst looking like he was only trying at 60%.
Someone said “do they really need all those cars?”, as the race convoy took a good three minutes to pass us.
Then it was cafe time – and we found an interesting one, a ‘burger van’ type van, but setup: permanently: inside a building. Still, it had a TV, and served frites and coffee, as we settled in for the duration (70km to go).
The nippy sweetie of an owner was less than subtle when she started to put the chairs onto the tables all around us, so we said out loud, “we’ll go and spend our one euros on tins of coke somewhere else then”. “Good”, she probably thought.
A short drive later and we struck gold – a bar, with a huge TV and no competition for the booth seat: perfect.
The last 50km flew in, as we watched Boom trying to keep the bunch at bay, but failing, inevitably.
An hours sprint down to Toulouse, another 40 minutes shaking our heads at the driving on the peripherique (reading a book whilst driving along wasn’t the worst example!) and we got to our hotel without too much fuss.
It has a kitchen in the room, but we’ve pictures to edit. Job done, a Viet meal in the restaurant next door, and it’s an early night for us – only 23:45pm!