It was completely surreal. It was the 26th of July last year, and we were in Lourdes, sitting in a neon-lit, scruffy, greasy-spoon café at 1:00 in the morning. Our pizzas were cooking in the oven, but we weren't really that hungry anymore. We had travelled to the summit and back down again today, both literally and metaphorically; we'd had a wonderful day working on Stage 16 of the Tour de France which took the race to the ski station, 5,600 feet high, at Gourette - Col d'Aubisque in the Pyrenees, and it had been turned completely on its head.
It was gone 2.00 am when we got to bed, but the alarm blasted at 5.45 am - we had to meet the mechanic from Vélo Sport Vacations at 06.00 am. He was right on time and it was only a couple of minutes after six when we pedalled-off on our borrowed Felts to ride the finishing circuit around the Champs Elysees. It's the first time I've ridden an all carbon bike and it felt very lively, James McCallum rode a Felt last year. The city was buzzing, taxis dropped-off and picked-up those who had decided against sleeping on Saturday night.
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.
It took a wee while to find the hotel last night in Cahors, but it was worth it. It's an old farm which has been converted to a hotel, complete with swimming pool; it's quite the idylic spot. We are sharing hotels with an American cycle tour party, we've has done a deal with them - ads on the site in exchange for hotel rooms for us on the Tour. Three of the party were sitting near us at breakfast, this morning, oldest guy to other two; "D'you think Armstrong was a doper?" ...Silence!
Pau, Thursday morning, the sun is out, so that's a good start. How do we feel? A tad flat, it has to be said, but the show must go on. Over to our left, the publicity caravan is rolling-out, headed for Castelsarrasin. It's a day for the "baroudeurs" today - the breakaway specialists. There are five fourth and one third category climbs today, so it's a hard day's work - maybe a French win? That would be nice, this Tour could do with a 'lift'. The Pez guy is out of the office today, checking-out the 2008 Look frames and bikes launch in San Jose - a dirty job, but...
The alarm went at 06.00 this morning, we're driving the full stage today, all the way from Orthez to the top of the Col d'Aubisque, that's 218.5 kilometres with a 3rd, two 1st and two hors categorie climbs. It's 07.45, and we're trying to exit the autoroute at Orthez, but Tour traffic is clogging the toll plaza, in the midst of all this are Marge, Homer, Bart and Lisa Simpson, on their four-up bike. They are advertising their movie, on the Tour publicity caravan, I wonder where the wee one is? - transpires that Marge is carrying her, none of them have a helmet on, either.
Rest day, it's a bit of a misnomer if you are journo on the Tour. My first task was to get the washing done, I try to travel light and do a washing every couple of days, it's a "fine drying day, today" as my mum used to say, so by the time I get back tonight, my wardrobe should be replenished. I left Martin to get a little extra beauty sleep after all that driving and wandered-off to find a caff. It didn't take long and I soon had my cafe au lait and armagnac in front of me.
The sun is hot even at 07.15, the autoroute is quiet, straight and fast; we're headed for le Tour and Loudenvielle Le Louron; Millie Jackson is telling us that her man is a "fine man" - what more could you want from life? It's 10.00 am now and we're on the descent off the first climb of the day, the second cat, Col de Port or Portet, depending on which sign you look at. Martin got his first look at le Tour village this morning, as always, the scrambled eggs were great and the coffee strong.
The sun is high in the sky as we head south to the Pyrennes and Plateau-de-Beille from Toulouse. The French are making a real fist of out-doing the Italians as the worst drivers on the planet; we stopped at a cross-road in Toulouse last night and the guy behind us had a fit, horn, wild arm movements and a challenge to a square-go. We got his registration and will be back down after the Tour to visit him with a young-team from Ballingry. The game-plan today is to spend a full day on a mountain, just watching it all happen.
Albi Time Trial. It was midnight last night when we found the hotel. The centre of Toulouse is just one enormous road work and it transpired we had been about 50 yards from the place on half a dozen occasions but the "rue barre" signs had foiled us. Sleep came easily, and I had a great dream about 70's soul singer, Betty Wright. The only thing was that she kept morphing from Afro-haired black soul goddess to a white woman with lank blond hair - I'll have to ask my analyst about that one.
Bonjour! It's that time - there's only one game in town and it's called, 'Le Tour'. Ken Livingston's ego trip and the stages Viktor calls; "watchin' paint dry!" are behind us, so are the Alps. Tomorrow it's the first time trial then it's the Pyrennes; sprinter and transition stages; the final tt and Paris. God-willing, we'll be there all the way. We arrived at Perpignan around 6.00, local time, it's nearly 9.00 now and we've still got our accreditation to collect at Castres. Wheels for the trip, is a Renault Clio, the air-con and stereo and iPod work, that's all you need really.
Team Barloworld's Colombian climber Mauricio Soler won stage nine of the Tour de France today, taking his fourth and most important victory of his short professional career. "It was an incredible win, something I never expected to achieve. But with some great team work it all worked out fine," Soler, 24, told reporters. The Barloworld rider was awarded by the new President of French Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy, who followed the race on the Tour de France director's vehicle.
Defending champions and race favourites, Ribble Weldtite with strong men Dan Bigham, James Shaw and Simon Wilson took the CTT Team Time Trial Championships title on a cool, damp but still morning at Irvine on the west coast of Scotland, with a time of 54:01, averaging 55.9 kph to best their own ‘B’ team by 2:32, the line up there being Zeb Kyffin, Joe Wilson and Matt Gibson.
One of VeloVeritas’ functions it seems is unlocking the memories of those stalwarts – like our own mentor and soothsayer, Viktor and indeed, our editor Martin - who beat a path in the 70’s and 80’s to the legendary Mrs. Deene’s boarding house in Gent (and later in Zomergem) to show those Belgies how it should be done. The latest epistle which came our way was from Norman Gower.
When Scottish Cycling Endurance Coach and seven times Scottish Road Race Champion, Evan Oliphant gets in touch to tell us there’s a junior rider named Callum Thornley that we should be speaking to, we snap to attention.
When Jos Ryan of the David Rayner Fund gets in touch then we know it’s not just to ask how we are. ‘Have you been keeping up with our rider, Toby Perry’s performances in Spain, he’s just had his second win?’ Fortunately for us, we could reply in the affirmative.
If you watched Stage One of the Giro on Eurosport or GCN then you’ll have heard that someone had the great idea to recruit British professional rider, Dan Bigham to join the commentary team as a ‘chrono specialist.’ Here at VeloVeritas we thought it would be good to put to Dan all those sad questions that trouble bike obsessives like us.
John Watson started racing at 18 years-of-age in 1966, his first race was a ‘25’ which he won with a 1:00. By the following year he was National ‘100’ Champion; in 1968 he went to the Mexico Olympics; in 1969 he set a 12 hour record which stood for a decade; 1970 saw him set a ‘50’ record which sliced nearly four minutes of the previous fastest time for the distance and lasted for 13 years, win the BBAR, get fourth place in the prestigious GP de France time trial and get offered a place with ACBB.
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