Sprinters? As my old work buddy, Sam Johnston used to reply, when asked what had become of his ‘hot tip’ for the 3:45 at Kempton Park; ‘they’re still out looking for it – with lanterns!’
Stage three was no day for the sprinters; what VeloVeritas had failed to appreciate was that ‘Arrate’ was as in ‘Subida a Arrate’ mountain race – as won by Luis Ocana, Marino Lejarreta, Francisco Galdos, Johan de Muunck and Raymond Poulidor. No big, bulging thighs among those names.
First mission in Périgueux was to have a good look at the chrono hardware on display. There's a dazzling amount of tech on display from Canyon, Pinarello and the rest - it's hard to keep up with the manufacturers' claims and to get your mind round what's the best solution. Concealed front brakes, for example are a confusing one - whilst Trek's Speed Concept conceals the mechanisms within the fork blades, which is perhaps the optimal solution, the likes of Giant and Ridley have the brakes behind the fork crown.
After his win in the British Time Trial Championship, here’s what Dimension Data’s Steve Cummings told us when we asked him about his chances in the British Road Race Championship: "I’m not at 100% so don’t believe I have the condition to win the road race – it’ll be perhaps another 10 days before I come into my best shape." Despite that, two days later he was topping his second Isle of Man podium as British Elite Time Trial and Road Race Champion.
The balcony from our digs has the most perfect views you can imagine. It was a hassle to find, but now that we're here it's simply magnificent, it's like looking out of a plane, we're so high and the view across the valley is so spectacular. The Plan de Corones stage made for great TV and if we'd had mountain bikes with us and no deadlines to worry about it would have been great to be up there on the dirt section.
I forgot to say last night, for the first time in this Tour, I got a prediction right. I chose Casar out of the four man break, you could see it in his eyes, he wanted it more than any of the others. There's a great picture of him on the front cover of L'Equipe today - it's all there in his face, determination and pride; "maybe the other French guys can't win a stage, but I sure as hell can!" Cafè au lait (have you noticed that Mertin has shown me how to get accents above the letters now?) and a Cognac, nine euros!?! "Eef you cannot steeff les touristes, then oo' can you steeff, hien?" Still, it was a good coffee, a grande measure of cognac and the toilets were free of Lasa Fever.
Stage two is the longest at nearly 230 K, from Zottegem to Sint-Idesbald, a quick breenge around the bergs then a charge back to the coast and two finishing laps. Viktor wanted to see his hero, Guy Smet at a kermesse near Bruges, so my race watching was courtesy of the plasma screen in a cafe.
In his classic song, ‘Pink Houses’ John Mellencamp says; ‘And there's winners, and there's losers - but they ain't no big deal.’ We’re not sure that Sunweb or QuickStep, the biggest winners and losers of the day would agree. Sunweb’s day was perfect; they isolated Kittel; took Matthews to the intermediate sprint win and then the stage win.