There's a great old 70's film called, 'The Omega Man'. To cut a long story short, Charlton Heston is the last man left alive (by day anyway) in a post-viral world. He roams this completely deserted US city with not another living thing in sight. I felt like him last night as I drove towards Calais but the virus which had brought my world to an end was called, 'The World Cup Final.' French auto routes are really safe when there are no French people on them.
How could I ignore my hero Serhiy? If I'd had a proper thinking-head on when I did the revue of the course yesterday I would have mentioned him; 'a strong man's course' I said and who's stronger than the man who rides 56 x 11? Isn't it a joy to see him forcing that 'death gear' along the road, none of that embarrassing high-revving nonsense; face a mask of pain, giving his all-awesome. It's great to see him in yellow too, for a team that was down and out when Jan and Oscar exited stage right a week ago. T-Mobile are doing OK-two stage wins and the jersey already.
Much of the cynicism I have built-up about the commercialism and rampant 'janitor-mentality' of many of the officials on Le Tour evaporated on Friday as we drove the full race route from Lisieux to Vitré. There's still innocence and magic about the race-in these parts anyway-four and five hours before the race was due through there were thousands of people roadside. Every age group was represented, although it seems to be the old and the young who embrace the race most warmly.
I said this morning that I would talk to you from Caen; well it's actually Lisieux, around 50 kilometres east of Caen. It took the usual hour to get to the start this morning. Beauvais was 'en fete' for le Tour - not the grotty part of Beauvais you encounter en route to Ryanair's tent at the airport but the nice, old part complete with Gothic cathedral. A thing I noticed today was that the dreaded, large plastic PMU hands, which were 'banned' after one nearly cut Thor Hushovd's arm off, were being distributed with gay abandon at Beauvais. Safety is all very well, but you can't piss the sponsors off.
We were spoiled at Strasbourg those first two days with the hotel just a couple of minutes from the press room and the action all within easy reach until the start on Monday. The driving is a killer now, not just because it's boring and tiring but because of the time you waste. If I do a Grand Tour again, I'll definitely organise a driver so as I can write as I travel. Today we were on the road at 9.30 and it was wearing-on for 11.00 when we got to the stage start at Huy. Leaving Huy immediately after the riders rolled-out it was nearly three hours to get to the finish at Saint Quentin.
You know you're in Luxembourg when the sanitary ware in the public toilets is by up-market ceramics company Villeroy & Boch. After I closed the diary last night it was another drive - to Kirschberg, a suburb of Luxembourg with Portuguese flags flying everywhere. The cycling TV guys were letting me share a room - I pay the bills remember, not L'Equipe. It was a Novotel-big, impersonal, clean and expensive-just like Le Tour. Johan Bruyneel was schmoozing in reception when we arrived.
I was involved with TV today-no, no, not like that, cycling dot TV - the Internet TV guys. I met their guy, Steve Masters in the press room yesterday and he scrounged a lift off me to the start at Obernai with his camera man, James. My wee Suzuki Swift was bursting at the seams, but they are good lads. I decided to latch-on to them for the day and first-up was the Tour start village. The grub for breakfast there really is superb-scrambled eggs, sausage, ham, cheese, beautiful bread, juice, coffee-ideal.
Sunday, stage one-a day for the sprinters. It was quite late when I got to sleep, I had a coffee in the hotel after I came in from my pizza place, it was too strong for a wimp like me late at night and my efforts to nod-off were also seriously hampered by demented French men driving around Strasbourg blowing their car horns all night. Apparently there's some football tournament or other on the go? I did my washing before bed last night and it was practically dry by morning. It's no big deal washing stuff in the bath and it means you can carry a lot less clothing.
Another good sleep, alarm at 06:00 and straight into the shower, shave, jump into shorts and a T-shirt then down to the car and haul the bike out, stick the wheels in, blow the tyres up, run over it with a baby wipe [they work great] and we're off. The mission is to ride, photograph and review the prologue course. My Ibis hotel isn't far from the race HQ, once I got down there it took a bit of time to orient myself.
I walked in to the press room this morning and one of the guys from French radio told me that Ulrich and Sevilla were gone - sent home by T-Mobile due to their involvement in Operacion Puerto, the Spanish drugs bust. Le Tour de France 2006.
The Operation Puerto bombshell has gone off - we just received a communiqué -Tour organisers defy Court of Arbitration in Sport and Astana Wurth DO NOT start 2006 Tour de France! If you are ever asked at a pub quiz how far it is from Kirkcaldy to Strasbourg, the answer is 915 miles -- if you go via Calais, Reims and Metz that is.I left Kirkcaldy at 7.30 pm last night and was waiting to board my ferry out of Dover exactly eight hours and 527 miles later.