Yes, there are days when we’ve criticised the racing – those endless ‘sprinter stages’ where only the last five minutes saves the day.
But we were puzzled by the comments we saw about yesterday’s stage to Rodez on social media; the “Bore de France” and the break “allowed for purely commercial reasons”?
But even then the stage did dish up a great finale with Matthews’ win and the maillot jaune changing hands.
And remember that this isn’t some pan flat trundle across the plains; these are tough roads; rolling, surfaced with chippings and there was a stiff wind under a hot sun.
We were at around an hour to go and the ‘finiseurs’ teams had the wick turned up, with BMC for Greg Van Avermaet and Sunweb for Matthews particularly active aided and abetted by Sky for Froome who can finish well on the ‘ramps.’
And when you see the state some of the riders are in then you can have nothing but respect for them – and it’s all got to be done again tomorrow.
We missed out the start and parked up on the parcours early, we wanted to see the caravan for the first time this year.
It’s obviously a purely commercial venture but a highly entertaining one too and some of the tat that’s catapulted out in to the crowd is actually useful, like the McCain’s shopping bags or edible, like the Haribo sweets and Cochonou sausages.
The vehicles that are on the race do a great job of catching the eye and product association, here are some of our favourites;
BiC pens and lighters have supported the Tour for years; it was in the colours of the professional team sponsored by Bic that Luis Ocana scored his Tour de France win in 1973.
Skoda cars pump huge amounts of money into the race with an armada of vehicles; ex-British professional champion Tim Harris drives one of their VIP cars – his job is to give individuals invited by Skoda a memorable day on the race and if they’re really lucky they get up in the helicopter.
Skoda invite successful dealership owners, competition winners and folks they’d like to influence on to the race for the day.
Haribo sweets have been on the race ever since I’ve been watching, dispensing literally tons of sweets – and bringing Crocodiles to the Alps.
Bostik adhesives are a new addition and also have their logo on the race direction arrows.
Ibis hotels used to have guys ‘sleeping’ in beds on the back of a flat bed hurtling around France for three weeks.
Xtra washing powder have nubile young ladies on their vehicles dancing to pumping tunes and firing out packs of washing powder.
Cochonou’s tiny pork sausages have saved Dave, Martin and I from hunger many a time – and their gingham 2CV’s still look cool.
And my personal favourite – the Kleber tyres big boxer dog.
All of the vehicles are immaculate, washed every night with the staff working long hours to keep the vehicles clean and stocked up with tat from the ‘mother’ trucks.
Vittel mineral water really ‘goes for it’ with vehicles dispensing T-shirts, water and newsletters prior to the caravan; and a big presence on the caravan with their famous ‘skoosher girl’ who sprays you with water as she passes – wonderful on a hot day like yesterday.
The snapshot we saw was a good one, at the top of the last short but nasty col and a spot where the soigneurs lined up to pass a final drink up.
We got chatting to Marcus, the Bora physio/chiro – a nice guy with time to chat; race staff can be a bit ‘off’ due to the fact that they get requests for bidons from the fans about once every 10 seconds.
Tommy Voeckler in his last Tour and ever aggressive Thomas de Gendt were first past, the Frenchman putting a show on for his legion of fans – even though he’s not that popular in the peloton – and the Belgian chasing ‘most aggressive’ rider and the overall ‘baroudeur’ award for kilometres off the front.
Most aggressive rider of the day nets 2,000 euros with a bigger pay day for the overall kilometres award from L’Équipe.
The Belgian Pro Continental team have enlivened the race and their Frederik Backaert is leading ‘baroudeur’ on 566 K to De Gendt’s 421.
Big German, Nils Pollitt who’s finding his feet as a ‘man of the Spring Classics’ was fourth up but struggling and headed back to the bunch having been with the two Tommies.
The chase was being lead by BMC, Sunweb and Sky; this was always going to be a day for the former’s GVA and the latter’s Matthews – but surprisingly, no QuickStep for Gilbert, the other favourite for a finish like today’s.
Sky were in the mix too for Froome but Astana were noticeable by their absence; it’s not right for the maillot jaune to be left to his own devices – if he was being properly looked after, he’d never have lost the jersey.
The pace was well ‘on’ with some big names like Belgian Champion, Jan Bakelants by no means cruising.
And strong men like Lotto’s Marcel Sieberg and big Norwegian Laengen (UAE) were well ‘punted.’
Perhaps in the worst shape of all Bora’s German rider Rudiger Selig, head hung low and crawling up the hill.
Dan McLay was in his usual ‘tail gunner’ position but would beat the cut, as did…
Last man on the road Tim Wellens who made the cut too but had a lonely ride home; we could see him ahead of us as we joined the convoy to get to the finish and … the long run to the digs.
VeloVeritas’s last day on the road, Sunday – best make the most of it, ciao, ciao.