Moules

Naturellement’ says the headline in L’Équipe.

It’s ambiguous, to say the least.

Does it mean that the Ventoux was always to be the place where Froome was going to place his stamp on things? – after all I wasn’t the only one who tipped him or Voeckler for the stage win.

Or does it mean they think he’s ‘clean’ – natural?

Or are they being sarcastic, meaning that his performances are anything but natural?

It’s hard to tell; but the paper is owned by ASO who run the Tour.

Part of me says that it’s grim that Froome should have to defend himself the way he’s had to over the last few days.

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Chris Froome explains that he’s doing everything correctly, whilst Dave Brailsford’s body language shows he’s fed up. Photo©CyclingPro

Just today we were talking to his former team mate, Juan Antonio Flecha who told us that Froome has always had a big ‘motor’ – everyone in the team knew it.

But another part of me says that it’s inevitable, the sport was so chronically sick for so long that it’s hard to easily digest a rider being at Froome’s level – even though he’s been the dominant figure in just about all the major stage races of the season, thus far.

It would be good to sit back and enjoy Froome’s rides and heap praise – but the trouble is that in recent years the old Bugatti and Musker disco hit song; ‘Ain’t no Smoke Without Fire’ has been so appropriate in the context of our sport.

I’ve heard figures bandied around of average watts at 480 for Froome’s time trial – Marco Pinotti was below 400 to win the last stage of the 2012 Giro.

Where does it end?

Maybe after every stage WADA and/or UCi experts do have to check all of the top performers values?

It would be hideously complex and expensive but short of that, I don’t know the answer.

If Chris Froome isn’t too good to be true and he is actually the wonderful athlete he seems to be – he’s paying a high price for the sins of his fathers.

After the Festina debacle I thought things would be different – but they weren’t.

However, it looks as if things after the Lance melt down certainly are going to be different.

The Media took it badly that Lance had fooled them so big and for so long – they won’t let it happen again.

And whilst it’s not bonnie to watch and does mean a field day for the Forum Trolls and ‘scientific experts’ (many of whom didn’t know a red cell from a rat’s backside until recently) who love the scandal more than the sport, if in the long term it means no more Festina/Armstrong/Landis/Hamilton, then it’s worth it.

Exasperated rant over, let’s move on.

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We do make the time for a read of l’Equipe and a little kir before getting going.

‘Rest Day’ is a bit of a misnomer if you’re serious about your work.

We decided that our Pez piece would be a wee bit ‘day in the life’ and a wee bit ‘travelogue’ but we’d also set up interviews along the way.

We’d arranged to fit in two interviews along the way – subject to the interviewees confirming – but also decided that as a failsafe we’d grab interviews at the Vacansoleil ‘Mussel Party,’ the focal point of our day.

Neither of our boys did confirm in time – we’re seeing one of them tomorrow morning though – so it was as well grabbed our Vacansoleil interviews.

On the way over to ‘OD’ on the Vacansoleil ‘bivalvia mollusc’ we visited Orange – it’s not the most picturesque of the ‘Roman France’ towns but has a huge 2,000 year-old Roman amphitheatre which in my sadness, I wanted to photograph.

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The remains of the ancient Roman amphitheatre in Orange is stunning.

It’s a striking structure and was worth the trip – and the beer in the street cafes opposite is lovely.

Over at the Vacansoleil hotel in Avignon – a mega golf resort – we duly nose-bagged North Holland’s finest moules, sitting next to the team sponsors.

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This way to the Vacansoleil Presser.
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The guests dine on mussels, frites and drinks, have a chance to pour over the team bikes, and chat to the riders.
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Berteld Van de Velde of the Zeeland’s Roem company slaved over the boiling basins in +30 degrees heat.

Whilst for fans it’s a big, emotional deal that the sponsorship is over, Vacansoleil are matter of fact about it – the relationship did a job but now it’s time to move on and do something else to spread their brand.

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Lovely to meet up with the only female commentator in the gantry, José Been.

We decided to interview Danny Van Poppel as the youngest man in the race at just 19 years-of-age and in fact, the youngest man in the race since the Second World War.

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Danny Van Poppel has had a great Tour; 3rd on the first stage, white jersey wearer, but the team reckon that’s enough for now.

And that hardest of hard men who defies the logic that all Cobble Kings have to come from the North or be classy Italians.

He’s Spanish via Argentina – Juan Antonio Flecha.

The colour of teak, he looks you straight in the eye whilst he speaks in perfect English and answers in a clear concise manner.

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13 seasons a pro, Juan Antonio Flecha seems a really nice fellow, but ‘tough as teak’ too.

He has that aura that the stars exude and is a real pro – he’d been sleeping in the afternoon before the press arrived; ‘you have to take every opportunity to rest that presents itself.

And when he sleeps, it’s with ear plugs and a mask so he won’t get disturbed.

He’s cool.

And so is Johnny Hoogerland, laid back, not always getting it right on the bike but spectacular on his day – and that Netherlands Elite Road Race Champion’s jersey really suits him.

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Nice touches on the team’s bikes, like the custom colour-coded chains.
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Most of the equipment is pretty standard, but put together really tidily.

Job done at Vacansoleil we headed into Avignon to photograph the big historic sites inside the city walls.

Getting parked is horrific but you do merge from the underground car park lift right in the middle of things.

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The Cathedral in Avignon.

The Papal Palace and cathedral are striking, if not to all tastes and the town centre buzzes with life.

The Avignon Festival – think Edinburgh Festival but with sunshine and hundreds more pavement cafes – is in full effect with all sorts going on.

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They look like they’re from the CIA, or somethin’.

The Blues Brothers were stalking the streets, albeit there’s now a posse of them, not just Jake and Elmwood – and mime artists, including an interesting headless chap.

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Being from Edinburgh, we thought Avignon reminiscent of our famous August Arts Festival.
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The merry-go-round in front of Avignon Theatre.

Another bit of the job done and time to head back to the hotel through horrible traffic and 30 degree plus heat – but we’re not complaining, we’re on Le Tour, after all.

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