I haven’t taken any pictures of the Paris Folies girls yet - I got into an awful bother last year with those topless shots – and decided to wait and see what the outfits were like before I reached for the Nikon. The first routine was a ‘no, no’ – there was silicone jutting everywhere! They’re fully clothed for their second number – you could see the disappointment in the riders’ faces as they looked at the big screen. Yes, we’re at the Grenoble ‘Six’ – only it’s no longer a ‘six;’ in line with Zurich, they’ve cut back to four days.
The ‘best world championships ever’ the organisers are saying – but I guess they would say that? It was certainly a good race; and if last year’s race in Copenhagen was a model of GB team work for Cav, then this year was all about Belgium and ‘Phil.’ Having walked the parcours and seen all of the road races up to and including the U23 end in a bunch sprint, I thought that it would be a bunch sprint. The parcours weren’t as tough as we all thought – the surfaces were good and two bergs apart, it was very fast. But when I saw Marianne Vos win on Saturday afternoon, I got to thinking; ‘Gilbert could do the same thing, maybe?’ And so it proved.
It's a nice afternoon in Limburg for bike racing, the sun is out, there's not a lot of wind and The Netherlands' Olympic road race champion Marianne Vos has just bridged up to the break; so the crowd is happy. Yes, yes, I'm watching another women's race. No report though, I'm just out of the press room. I had the report to write up and pictures to process for the U23 race from this morning. It started at 09:00 am so I had to leave the camper at 07:30 to work the start area.
There are time trials – and then there are time trials. Dual carriageways with high traffic counts on balmy Essex afternoons are one thing; Limburg in the autumn rain with a parcours which includes the Cauberg is another. The VV camper is parked on the road race parcours on the opposite side of the circuit from the finish/press centre tented village. The elite TT parcours merges into the road race circuit just 200 yard from the campsite, making it easy for us to pick up the route and walk perhaps the last seven kilometres.
Did I say that having the camper van here meant that I didn’t have to walk to the press room? Cancel that - I’d forgotten that the protocol is once you hook the van up to the electrics, you’re here for the duration. Kris has his electric bike – I have my shoes. A three kilometre walk through the back roads of Limburg to the press room and back is good for the soul – I suppose.
I resisted the bars of Valkenburg and was in bed not long after 10:00 on Saturday night. The body clock woke me for 06:15 and I was on the Cauberg before 07:00. I decided to do my Cauberg piece early on Sunday because the junior time trial starts early on Monday and the police won't let you walk on the parcours, so best to get a bit of peace and quiet whilst I could.
The beer's not cheap on Grotestraat in Valkenburg, at two Euros a pop, but with Dario G's 'Sunchyme' banging out, you can't complain. It takes me to Copenhagen and the 'balustrade sprints' at the Six Days. But that's not 'til next year - and we still have this year to put to bed. Most importantly, who's going to be wearing the rainbow jersey, a week tomorrow? There’s a full Worlds programme to get through first, however.
Monday July 23rd, 21.55 in a Ryanair Boeing, somewhere over Northern England. They sell papers on the plane, these days - at inflated prices of course. The whole outside 'wrap' of The Times is a Bradley Wiggins picture, yellow clad and taking the turn at the top of the Champs Elysees, l'Arc de Triomphe providing the background. And the 'The Thunderer' isn't too proud to pinch L'Équipe's headline from two days ago; 'Promenade des Anglais.'
It’s Sunday morning and I’ve just about come out of the mild shock I was suffering from last evening, after watching Bradley Wiggins’ stunning time trial into Chartres.When he crossed the line, it finally sank in that an English rider was going to win le Tour. Up until that moment, it had all seemed like a dream, but as Bradley punched the air, I looked around the wee bar we were in and realised; ‘he’s done it, he’s actually done it!’
It’s a new hotel chain today, Premiere Classe – we had a bit of a battle to get in. To keep the costs down, they only man these places in the morning and early evening – during the day you have to punch codes in to gain access. We started with credit card information, then the reservation number – no dice. Eventually we stuck Martin’s name in – et voila!
I wasn't sure about the 'blip' at La Toussuire when Froome distanced Wiggins in the finale - I thought it was 'mountain out of molehill' stuff. Although we did hear that Wiggins was 'raging', that night in his room. But today, there seemed little doubt that a message was being sent; 'I can drop you any time I want.' The body language and facial expressions around the team aren't relaxed, happy or positive. But there's little doubt now that Brad will win - barring Acts of God.
As a colleague from another life used to say; ‘you should never drink on an empty head.’ A sentiment I can endorse as we sit in our hotel in Vielha, Spain. Having left Pau, there were no digs to be had in France near the stage finish – the Tour is a black hole which sucks up every hotel room within an hour’s drive and we had to cross the border after the finish at Bagnères-de-Luchon to get to our digs. QuickStep, Saxo, Movistar and Euskaltel all did the same thing and are here in Vielha, too.
I hate to start with our Formule 1, again - but to emphasis the true glamour of being on le Tour, we're sharing lodgings with the race's cherry picker truck. I had to get up early to do a phone interview with Cameron Wurf, this morning. He's from Tassie; like the Sulzbergers and Richie Porte - did I ever tell you I had a Tasmanian Devil for a fiancée? No, some other time, then? Le Tour de France 2012 - Second Rest Day.
There’s a touch of the Twilight Zone to Formule 1 hotels – you check out of one, drive for hours, check into the next one and the room is identical – to the last detail. Scary! We’ve taken to putting a pencil mark under the one plastic stacking chair in the room and checking to make sure it’s not there when we get to the next town. Samatan.
I was speaking to Vik, the other day.I shan’t use the word which he did to describe Brad’s opponents, but it wasn’t complimentary. Limoux - After yesterday’s display, it’s hard to disagree; whilst there was drama at the end with Kišerlovski crash – more of which later – when we drove the course it seemed to us a perfect opportunity for Nibali and his descending skills.
Le Cap d’Agde and we're puzzled. We've steadfastly avoided getting involved in speculation over the ‘d-word’ – if you regard yourself as a serious journo, you have to be able to distinguish between factual information from a good source and wild speculation on twitter from individuals who may well have never seen the race, let alone spoken to anyone on it. Maybe it's because we've been on le Tour during the Ulrich, Basso, Mancebo, Bottero, Landis, Morreni, Rasmussen, Contador - and if we forgotten any, sorry - 'affairs.'
What a day; when we heard Millar was in the break, we knew he was definitely capable of beating three of his companions - Gautier was the only one we didn't know about. But when we saw him, we knew he'd win - it was there in his eyes, if you knew what you were looking at.
We're late! Despite us writing our schedule out for the morning, we're heading to the Albertville depart later than we should. I just smile when people tell me about the high old time we'll have in France. By the time we get from the parcours to the hotel, edit the pictures, insert picture holders in the text and get all that sent off, it's well after 9:00 pm when we grab a pizza and one beer.
Bonjour! Today was our first outing on the Tour parcours, in the mountains it’s sometimes difficult to get on to race route, because just as in the Highlands of Scotland, there aren’t that many roads. We set the satnav for Ambronay, which was 73 kilometres into the stage but within easy reach of the autoroute and guided by Brian Blessed’s foghorn voice slipped along a network of tiny roads into the village, after we’d paid our last toll charge.
Bonjour! VeloVeritas joins le Tour. The hotel is the Formule 1, Viry, with a wonderful view of a pile of tyres – it’s a glamorous life. But we’re not complaining. Easyjet, Edinburgh to Geneva wasn’t too bad, finding the car hire was a bit of a magical mystery tour but we were soon headed for Mâcon, our credentials and the Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank hotel.
'Mission accomplished' with Ryder: Dave rattled us through dire weather up to the Garmin Hotel, just over 100 miles away. The Liquigas guys were on their turbos when we arrived - lean, cut looking men. Before the start, I wasn't sure Basso could win, but his policy of loss limiting has taken him to third on GC @ 1:22 on Rodriguez and 52 seconds behind Hesjedal.
It's the Scottish road race championship, today - damn this Giro and it's climbs in beautiful Lombardy! But Martin was telling me that the sun was out in Balfron and the jackets were off, so Scotland certainly had the last laugh - the weather here in Italy was grim.
We thought it was the end for Cav, yesterday. The gruppetto was way down on the first of the two big climbs of the day - but Cav was even further back. And behind him, in a dreadful state, was Graeme Brown.
Cav, like him or loathe him, what a sprinter. His train is by no means HTC - the GreenEdge boys were much better organised, yesterday - but all that does is to underline his quality. He was isolated and boxed - he was free-wheeling at one stage - the gap opened and he was through it in a blink. His spatial awareness, reactions and acceleration make him a remarkable athlete. The Gazzetta compares him to Cipo - in terms of total wins and at the same age.
'Sad news, Donna Summer has passed away' said the text from Martyn Frank. That news cast a shadow over a day of bright sunshine and hills. The start was down on the coast - it's not quite beach season, so it's not heaving yet. In a month's time you won't be able to move on those beaches. We had a chat with Jack Bauer before the stage - he looks in great condition.
A man who's been working hard in defence of Garmin's pink jerseys - first on the shoulders of Lithuanian Ramunas Navardauskas and then Canada's Ryder Hesjedal - is Danish fast man, Alex Rasmussen. Alex took time to chat to his six day runner before the roll out at Assisi on Wednesday. If he'd had been one of the counting riders in the team time trial, it would have been him pulling on the pink jersey, not his Lithuanian team mate.
Giorgio Moroder's 'The Chase' from Midnight Express pumps out across the Civitavecchia sea front. A huge fibre glass sculpture of a nurse succumbing to the charms of a sailor - 'Unconditional Surrender' it's titled - towers over us. The whole scene is surreal, topped off by Pippo ambling past in shorts and T-shirt. He broke his hand yesterday and is out - but he still looks cool.
It looked to us like Cav and Goss were out of it anyway. There were a lot of riders round that wild bend before we saw Matt on the deck and Pippo looking a tad sheepish as he stood in the road checking to see how that nice MCipollini had stood up to being dropped.
Canada’s Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) retained the overall race lead. Spain’s Joaquin Rodriguez is second at just nine seconds.' So said the official Giro press release - you'll read that again, on various websites. Press releases are where much of the daily content on web sites come from. The difference with us, is that we tell you we're quoting them.
Het Volk used to be a cult race, the teams would line up in the street just up from the Kuipke velodrome. The first team to set up would be the late Frans Assez's Flanders squad-no flash bus or trucks, just a 'Luton' style van. But his red Flanders bikes always looked the part, neatly arranged on their stands-and as first team there they caught a lot of public attention.
We left the Vivaldi at 02:15 on Thursday morning - we must be getting old. Gent is changing, they've pulled down most of the station and there are cranes everywhere as the old girl's face gets lifted. Our first stop after breakfast was the Holiday Inn - up until a year or two QuickStep and Rabobank used to bunk here for the weekend. But now it's the French teams - FDJ-BigMat, Cofidis and AG2R. We didn't pester too many mechanics.
The camper, 10:23 Wednesday morning, and it's all over. The cabins are bare; Dirk is in his camper headed for Drongen; Jackie and his dad have been safely deposited at the airport and we're heading into Copenhagen for a little bit of R & R before we get the plane home.
It's another big madison tonight; 75 kilometres/300 laps, but with a 'twist'-it's a handicap. Bartko/Lampater, Stam/Stroetinga and Alex/Michael give away six laps to Jackie/Schröder-with the rest of the field somewhere in between. The final laps count for the overall so there's no messing; if a big team doesn't pull the laps back then they're lost. Really, all that goes before the handicap is just to whet the appetite-there are a lot of nervous cyclists in the cabins.
Sprints to start and Hazel Dean thumps out, quality high energy from the 80's 'Searchin'-quality. Followed by 'Livin in America' from the late, great James Brown-we're in luck, tonight. And then 'Cara Mia' to start the 75 lap chase-I never get tired of that tune. The two chases weren't bad at all-for a Sunday, that is.
Danny Clark; in a world where the word 'legend' is used too often, it's wholly appropriate in the case of the Australian. He holds the record for the number of six day starts at 236 and he's second in the all time winner ranks with 74-unsurprisingly he's 'double Recordman' here at Copenhagen with eight wins off 21 starts. He's here driving the Derny (and singing!) but clocks up an hour plus on the track every day-he looks better now than he did 20 years ago.
'Rivers of Babylon' by the Melodians, now there's a tune to fold jerseys by-until the guy in the cabin next door hops on his rollers, that is. And there was me looking for some peace on a Saturday morning-a split day today with afternoon and evening sessions. We don't like double sessions, neither do the riders, but like the song says; 'That's just the way it is.' Last night wasn't a bad one . . .
The gun fires, the bongos rattle, 'Cara Mia' blasts, the rattle of chains and rumble of rubber on wood builds and the chase which kicks off the 50th Six Days of Copenhagen is up and running. But it's not any old chase, since I first walked up the steps from the tunnel when we arrived here on Wednesday afternoon the lap board has been displaying a short but grim message-400. That's 400 laps at 250 metres for each lap; I'll help with the arithmetic-100 kilometres.
Berlin Six Day 2012. The line of taxi lights stretches back into the darkness like a string of pearls, it's beautiful in an a big city kind of a way - it could be a scene from a Woody Allen film; but it's not Manhattan, it's Berlin at 01:40 am. The beige Merc cabs get to drive down to the underground Velodrom entrance to pick up ViPs, meanwhile the support staff - that's us - have to hi-jack a supermarket trolley and use the lift to take our stuff up to the camper.
It’s gone 1:00AM here and I thought we could have a look at the Berlin Six Day Bikes; the Dernys buzz their 'Ipcress' noise, Brad eases down off the fence, he takes the sling off Jackie, tucks in behind the little monster and Mr. Simes is done for the night.
Berlin Six Day 2012 and Jackie summed it up best when I asked if he'd slept well; 'yeah, but just not long enough!' But Dirk had a take on it too; 'why can't we just go straight from Saturday to Monday?' There's always a down beat Johnny Cash kind of vibe to Sunday afternoons sessions; 'the beer I had for breakfast wasn't bad, so I had one more for dessert.' But once the shower blasts and the coffee blends, it's not so bad.
The 101st Berliner Sechstage Rennen started on Thursday and according to reports the crowds have been down a little on last night. On the track big gaps have already appeared as the top five teams have started the fight that will conclude in the final hour long Madison on Tuesday night.
'Just Another Tequila Sunrise,' it's ironic that the covers band who kick off as soon as the racing finishes at gone 01:00AM aren't half bad - but it's time for me to disappear down the tunnel to hang up the washing etc. etc. The track centre party goes on 'til 02:30 am but I hope to be in a coma by then.
I'd forgotten the raw horror of a Frank Zander gig; 'If I Had a Hammer' was blasting out at around 11:00 pm and it occurred to me that if you're a bad musician then Germany is the place to be. Frank sounds like a guy with a really bad throat infection singing the 'Worst Europop Album in the World, Ever' on a karaoke night at the Lochore Miners Welfare-but the crowd love the man, so who am I to criticise?
I'm standing on the chair so as I can see over the cabin, Leif Lampater and Roger Kluge are the only pair left to ride in the 1,000 metres time trial. Roger is smooth, fast, the sling to Leif isn't perfect but it's not too bad. Leif drives but he's not at his best - it seems like no one is on this first night in Berlin - the digits whirl on the lap board, he sprints up the home straight, 58 seconds.
I'm tidying this piece up on Thursday, we got back at the crack of dawn on Wednesday and I launched straight back into the 'real world.' I didn't have much time to think about anything other than getting round my calls. But tonight I've been taking stock of the Sixes - or in the case of Zurich and Grenoble make that 'fours.'
We had Frank Sinatra for the sprint series last night, never a bad thing. Bed was just before midnight and I didn't get up until 09:00 - just braw. I just about got all of the words and pictures up to date. It was the usual 20:00-ish kick off; rolling presentation, minor race then into the first chase - it wasn't a 'mega.'
Sunday afternoon at the Bremen Six Day, but no Sunday Post or relaxed breakfast on this watch. The Dernys drone, the speaker bellows himself hoarse, there's a wiff of vomit in the air - one of those wasted guys I saw last night must have been creative with where they threw up so the cleaners couldn't get to it - but there's a Kool And The Gang medley flowing from the PA - 'Let's go Dancin' and 'Celebration' - good sounds, so mustn't grumble.
It's 23:11 and the 500 metre time trial has just finished here at the Bremen Six Day. We're awaiting the start of the 300 lap chase, and the singer has kicked off. He's currently butchering 'Sailing' - a cool song, not Rod's version, the original Sutherland Brothers version. But worse, we just had, 'Chirpy, Chirpy, Cheep, Cheep' in Deutsch - it doesn't come much worse.
To misquote Shakespeare; 'that which I greatly feared is upon us.' Brad hasn't been taking bottles in the chases thus far and we'd no reason to think he'd start tonight, but he did. Right at the moment his mitted hand clutched that bottle, my heart sank - I've lived this nightmare before.
Bremen, the car park outside the race hall, it's 02:29 Friday - we'd targeted bed for 03:00 so mustn't grumble. First impressions: a nice hall, a proper Six Day venue and despite the fact that an anorak like me thinks that the field is unbalanced, it's good racing.