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.
Heading to Lorient today... 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.
How could I ignore my hero Serhiy here in Saint-Grégoire? 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.
Much of the cynicism I have built-up about the commercialism and rampant ‘janitor-mentality’ of many of the officials on Le Tour de France 2006 evaporated on Friday as we drove the full race route from Lisieux to Vitré.
I said this morning that I would talk to you from Caen; well it’s actually Lisieux, around 50 kilometres east of Caen, here on Le Tour de France 2006. 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.
We were spoiled at Strasbourg those first two days of Le Tour de France 2006 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 en route Saint-Quentin, 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.
At Le Tour de France 2006 I was involved with TV - 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.
Sunday in Strasbourg, 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.
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 to the Strasbourg Prologue.
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.
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.