We’re in the Drôme Department, and it may be a notional Tour de France Rest Day, but all that really means is that there’s no racing today – despite what Ned Boulting might tell you about spending time in launderettes, almost everyone still has lots to do.
For example, the riders – for whom the rest day is most important, still have to attend press conferences, talk to daft journalists and answer “f****ing stupid questions“(copyright Mark Cavendish), the team mechanics take advantage of the extra time to prep the time trial bikes for next Saturday’s chrono, and so on.
For most members of the press corps, even simply attending a press conference and writing the same story as everyone else is more than enough for one rest day.
But not for us the easy route, of course!
We decided that with careful planning and a bit of good luck with other people’s schedules, it would be possible to cram in several interviews and press conferences, write them all up, choose, edit and upload to the website all the photographs we took that will accompany the pieces, and still get our dinner before 10:00pm.
We had invitations to all the team press conferences, so which ones to go to?
Thinking it would be an interesting exercise in contrasting team styles, and also provide the opportunity to catch up with a couple of riders we know, we opted to miss the Garmin chipotle ‘do’ in favour of the Vacansoleil ‘mussels, frites and beer’ bash, and before that, the exquisitely located Saxo Bank Press Conference in the Château de Rochegude.
Saxo Bank Press Conference
Getting up to the Saxo Bank gig was pretty straightforward, a couple of hours North on the motorway followed by a bit of navigation through the beautiful and peaceful wine countryside near Orange.
We found the Chateau, and followed the signs past the security into the shaded courtyard, where Bert was already explaining himself to a large audience of TV, radio, and every other type of media you could imagine.
Contador can actually speak very good English, but in situations like this he always has an interpreter next to him. I guess it provides Bert with a little more time between the question being posed, and him having to provide an answer, as well as leaving no room for being misquoted because of the language differences.
Shortly after the official conference wound up, a few of the team’s other riders wandered into the courtyard.
We’d arranged with Danish powerhouse and Bert’s right-hand man in the crosswinds Brian Vandborg to catch up, and Brian was happy to sit in the shade and give us all the time we wanted.
Ed and I work very hard to not ask ‘FSQ’s, and to do as much research and preparation before the interview, and it’s clear that the riders appreciate that and soon realise that we’re not a couple of numpties who don’t understand the sport. At least, we hope they do.
Vacansoleil Mussel’s, frites and beer
A potter up the road for an hour to the golf resort where Vacansoleil were having their ‘do’ was next.
We figured we had plenty of time before the food was served, as the official ‘meet the riders’ part was first.
As we could have anticipated though, typically of informal Dutch team occasions, the food was already being dished up when we got there.
“Help yourselves to a big pot, and eat all the mussels you want! Frites? and a beer lads?”
We were tucking into the hospitality when Frank, the team press officer asked us if now was a good time to chat to Johnny… “I’ll bring him over”, he says.
A minute later, we’re sitting chatting to one of the race’s heroes – his terrible crash into a barbed-wire fence the previous week, caused by a car accredited to the France 2 TV network, was one of the enduring images so far.
We were struck by Johnny’s humility and lack of anger at the whole episode, although he did hint that the matter wasn’t over yet.
Chatting with Dimitri Konyshev
Frites and mayo, moules, beer and rider interviews all completed at the Golf club, we got back in the car and hunted down the Katusha team’s hotel.
Not particularly easy to find, it turned out to be in the middle of an industrial estate, a long way from the other team’s temporary locations.
We had made arrangements with Dima a couple of days ago to catch up with him today, and hoped he remembered!
The old custom of posting rider and management rooms up on the wall of the hotel lobby is still followed, but whilst we were asking the receptionist if Mr Konyshev in Room 129 could be alerted to our presence, Vitali the team’s press officer offered to call him on his mobile and get him to come down. He asked us where we are from, and what was the nature of the interview.
“Really, in Scotland you follow Russian cycling?!”
Dima ambled in, and soon his slightly distant, protective shield was down, and we were reminiscing about his long career, great palmares, and the old Soviet riders he knew from Peace Race days.
Interview with Liquigas powerhouse Daniel Oss
Having heard from Paolo, the Liquigas Press Liason, that Daniel wouldn’t be finished his massage until half past seven, we had a little time to kill once we got to the team hotel. We pottered around the team bus(es!) whilst the mechanics discussed the finer details of the ‘bar tape on a time trial bike, and Daniel’s shoes got a bit of a clean.
HTC were at the same hotel, and as we sat in the car until our appointed Oss time, it was strange to see Peter Velits wandering around the car park talking on his mobile, for a good 30 minutes. Compression socks or not, whatever happened to “don’t stand when you can sit…”?
Daniel was very nice, softly spoken, and apologising for his lack of English, and explained to us that he is quite happy at the moment to not have any pressure, to just surf the other team’s trains, and see where that takes him. He wouldn’t mind having a train of his own one day.
We left the hotel with a cheerio to HTC team doctor Aldus and the rest of the staff, who were firing up the BBQ behind the bus and getting set to enjoy some of his authentic German sausages; as Aldus said to us;
“We have to have a little social life too, three weeks is a long time to just work, work, work!”
162km tomorrow, Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Gap, but I have to leave the race and get back to work. Dave flies in as I fly out, and he’ll work with Ed for the final week.
It’s building up to one of the most unpredictable Tours in many years, should be great!