With Dave and Martin on family holidays it was down to Callum MacGregor to step in and put up with me for the annual mad whirl around France.
As an experienced racer and long-time cycling fan – but a first timer working on the race – I thought it would be good to get his impressions of Le Grande Boucle.
And there’s time to spare on the long haul from L’Alpe d’Huez, north to Paris too…
“The huge commercial aspect to the race – and the logistics. Taking down and putting up barriers, grand stands, the Tour Village, collecting the rubbish …
“And the caravan; all those vehicles which have to be dismantled at night, put on a low loader, taken to the next start town then put together again. Then there’s the hotels; not just riders and officials but all those folks on the caravan … it’s huge.
“I’m surprised by how skinny the riders are in the flesh too – Froome and Bardet in particular look like they wouldn’t have the strength to lift a pint of beer.
“It’s an assault on the senses; mad driving, mad fans, fast racing … the riders are like gladiators at the centre of it all, those guys knocking ten bells out of each other day after day!
“There’s no ‘Patron‘ now – just the radio from the team car telling you to get to the front in the neutralised zone!”
“L’Alpe d’Huez; the ability of the riders to ride up there so fast through all that madness – it’s hard to take in how quick Quintana and Hesjedal were going up through that crowd.”
“Nothing really; but getting off L’Alpe d’Huez behind Leon Van Bon and then the police motorbikes at high speed was nerve-shredding – I could never imagine the police in the UK sanctioning such a thing.”
Is L’Alpe appropriate?
“As long as it stays friendly – Tommy Voeckler was getting heckled yesterday but it wasn’t vindictive, more tongue in cheek than anything else.
“But if it got any more mental then riders would get stopped and ASO would have to do something.”
Which teams presentation impressed most?
“Movistar and Sky but I was surprised by how professional the MTN set up was, not so far behind the World Tour teams.”
Which riders impressed?
“Valverde – he’s there from the spring to the autumn and isn’t intimidated by anyone.
“Sagan too. For all his superstardom he’s still just a young guy enjoying his racing and having fun.
“Steve Cummings – no one was going to stop him getting that win at Mende last weekend.
“Froome’s revving style seems to get more unpleasant to look at each year but the man wants to race …
“It’s sad to see Chava and Tommy V on the way out – but they’ve had their time…”
What about the big mountains?
“Even driving a stage I don’t think you get a true impression of how hard they are – and it’s not just the climbs, the descents are so technical and some stretches are just so fast, like the drop off the Croix de Fer.”
What about bikes?
“The Colnagos of the Europcar team are nice – and the MTN Cervélos.
“I’m not daft on the Katusha paint jobs, I have to say – but the Movistar Canyons are lovely.”
Did you enjoy our moules day?
“Yeah, it was a good day; very friendly and nice to see Patrick Lefevre cutting about there in his panama hat looking cool – but definitely still in charge.”
“I’m impressed by the fact that they always pull back over to the inside lane after they’ve overtaken.
“But everyone seems to want to drive flat out, bumper to bumper, all the time.”
What are you going to do with all the hats and bottles you’ve collected?