Thursday, 17 July 2008

An Ideal Tour Day ... NOT

An Ideal Tour Day – 17 July

Today I rode the route of the Tour ! In my car actually. I got up a bit later than I might have, and had to do an errand, and then “it was too late”; Also I have had a cold, and it’s a hardish ride. I wanted to scout out where Naurika and I could watch the Tour. And to remind myself about he exact route, the roads; the climbs the villages. Since we are going to see the Tour in real time, we can’t get home to watch it. Sad side effect of real time being only in one place.

I found the spot. You can find it too, on the Avenue Henri Mas going out of Roujan. The best way is to use the Google Maps (of France( special “street view” map of the complete route of the Tour, street by street. You have to find out about the detailed operation of the site yourself,, although the basic link is on the blog. But it is a fantastic little project/feature, especially of you know the area the Tour goes through this year. Every street. I remember the rough area from my rides with the club. We often go down into the “pays bas”, the low country, during the winter. The moyennes montagnes, really big hills, around us are a bit less than hospitable during the winter. Who wants to climb above 400 metres on a winter day? Not around here. The route through Roujan is quite twisty. The peloton should be well stretched out by the time they leave the town centre. The town streets are very narrow and twisty for the Tour, believe me. So as they leave town, there is fairly long straight bit with rows of plane trees on both sides of the road, classic. They provide a nice bit of shade. We might be able to pick out individual riders as they stretch past. The riders might be chatting and throwing out water bottles, but probably not. Anyway, we will pack the lunch and arrive under the trees in time to catch the caravan. They say it comes through at 12h45. So a bit earlier really, noon. Pick our spot, pull out the picnic. One of the small blessings of living in France, where I live, is that once in a while, more often for some, you can live “an ideal day”. But I don’t know why I make a fuss, you can live “ideal days” anywhere. The more the better. The only difference is that this is a “Ideal Tour Day”. One kind anyway.

So I kept going through the town. There was absolutely no sign whatsoever of the Tour along the whole of my route. Except the fluorescent arrows telling you which way to go. I knew the roads, so I didn’t need arrows. But it made me think that it still is my greatest clearly-defined dream to ride in a motor vehicle, containing my bike and at least one friend, along the entire route of the Tour. It is easy to define, not like “feel free” or “be happy” or “do the right thing” or even “get rich”. Imagine for a moment, as a normal person, what it would be like to have the entire route of thousands of kilometres, just laid out for you. Arrows and everything. And for most of the time you are driving on it, the road is closed. Maybe two hours or three every day of closed roads through the finest countryside in France. So you get up in the morning, have breakfast, maybe go for a ride or hang out in the village. Then you get in the car, with the bike or bikes, leaving in the late morning, and ride the Route of the Tour. That includes all the people too. To me, that would be heaven. I would do a podcast, sign a book contract, negotiate with a magazine or take gifts to manage to get to do that. This story is the really local one. Just the bit between Roujan and Clermont l’Hérault.

Anyway it’s a lovely, superb, excellent ride through some quite intriguing geography. Its not the bigger hills near us, which should show up in helicopter shots, nor is it the flat bit by the sea, which you can see from that road. You can also see the Pyrénées on a clear day at the top of that climb. The climb, the fourth category climb, starts just after Neffiès, the next village. One guy in our club told me yesterday he goes up the climb in his big ring. I guess that means it is not going to be a real obstacle for the lads. But I kept thinking if someone like Voigt got going, relayed by Cancellara, they could motor up the hill and maybe get rid of someone. Naw, just dreaming. I certainly lose minutes on this hill when riding in the club. A lovely sinuous descent, where a demon descender could easily put time into lazy riders that lost a minute or two on the hill. Most likely, nothing will happen, but it is a really good climb. I am willing to bet they go up that hill at perhaps three times my speed, certainly well over twice as fast as I do. There was one tight turn on the climb where some bits of bitumen were scattered on the road, but no doubt they will sweep that up. I came across a few bits of road surface so new they don’t have markings. If you watch the Tour carefully, there are many more stretches of road than you might expect that have been done, so recently there are no white lines.

Oh yes, on the descent, on a 360 turn, there is a fountain that I have stopped at. Last time I rode it, we were going up and Joseph, ten years older than me but whom I sometimes cannot keep up with, thought we would stop. Why not, it makes the climb easier and you get to chat. But they kept going and we more or less had to follow. Lots of cyclist stop there, as well as people in cars filling up water jugs. Nice spot. Maybe it has a name in the book that Jean-Paul Olivier has.

Partway down the descent is a house or two called La Roquette. One of those blue signs for nowhere in particular or “lieu-dit”. I asked a guy in the club to remind me which climb it was, as I had not been over there for months. Anyway he called it La Roquette, and so does everyone else. It is NOT, at least by really local cyclists, and called Cote de Resclauzes, like the Tour says. There is no sign at the top either. Although it is called Côte de Resclauzes on some maps like that. Fourth category, they say.

Partway through the ride, just after they leave Cabrières, you could make a slight left and be forced to climb a pretty fierce hill before you rejoin the main road to Clermont l’Hérault. I would like to see those guys take that hill in the big ring! Although no doubt they can. Anyway they keep going through some utterly lovely kind of gentle, but rocky countryside until they descend into Clermont where they do “revetaillement”, feeding. We thought of doing the Tour in Clermont, but it will be totally mad there. Loads of people lining the streets. Too much competition for goodies. Altogether not relaxing. I think Roujan, just outside of town will do.

The way home was a known road and quite quick. In fact, from Clermont to my town was the exact route of the Tour last year. So all but the bit before Roujan was “a Tour route”. I remember exactly where I watched it last year with Naurika. Always will. That is what the Tour does for you in France, it gives you an extra layer or two for the countryside, whether in your neighbourhood or elsewhere. I remember almost every place I watched the Tour. Although I am losing the details in my old age, I think I remember them in great detail. I reckon nearly everyone does that. It’s a “shared national experience”, but like a good shared experience, has a million variations, even if it is shared. So look for the two of us in your videos. Unless plans change, we will be dressed in something bright and will be amongst the plane trees at the exit to Roujan. The thing is, as we all know, the cameras can only point in one direction. If they are pointing to the right and we are on the left, then no chance for immortality. We got on the TV last year, so we shall see this year. Actually the sad thing is that unless the Tour is ever so slightly slower than the schedule, the TV will begin to broadcast about ten minutes after they pass through Roujan. Probably no TV appearances this year.

In case you missed it, one of the striking things was that there was utterly no sign whatever of the Tour, throughout the route, except the arrows. I guess that route it is not a great place to watch from campervans. If I really were obsessed, I would re-drive the route tonight, and see if anyone is parked up anywhere. Nice road to park up on, that is certain. And not far from the motorway if you know the roads. Not a sign of the Tour. Other than the ones that say don’t take this road. Road closed. Just the fluorescent arrows. I found that rally strange. It’s a huge event, but for local people, it is totally ephemeral and does not change anything about their lives ever. Some large percentage of tourists and residents check it out if it goes through their town. Or in my case, near enough. But it really is quite ephemeral. Everyone is off the route within half an hour of the passage.

Back to serious business of the race results, although I hope that nothing happens today so there will be little to write about. It is supposed to be pretty much two nothing stages for the next two days. This will allow everyone to rest a bit before tackling the serious business of the Alps. From what I know of the route, there should be a repeat of yesterday. It is possible that the both stages could end in sprints. But most likely an escape will get away and certain teams will respond behind to make sure it is not a problem. Then the escape will duke it out or the sprinters will duke it out. There are all the sprinters teams, and all the GC leaders’ teams want to make sure “nothing happens” until the end of the stage. Anyway if there is something interesting today or tomorrow, I would love it. Countryside is pretty good all day. Not that mostly flat and boring landscape with big fields and no hills. In fact, they basically traverse the whole of Languedoc Roussillon. They don’t really do the beach bit; they sort of do “the back country” bit, and avoid the serious hills and any of the bigger cities or towns.

Right that’s it for the pre-tour bit. Next bit is results. Or little stories.


First story on the news, Ricco caught. NOT an Ideal Tour Day. Damn, what a drag! Ruins so many good stories. Life time ban for that guy! Now I have learn about CERA (Continuous Erythropoietin Receptor Activator). I was looking forward to the countryside and a blog already done. Putain! As they, men and women alike, say all the time around here. Waves of sadness. Smaller, thank goodness, waves of anger. I say that by now, anyone who dopes should be banned, after due process, for at least two years, maybe four from riding any UCI race. Ooops, the Tour is not UCI anymore. So each race makes new rules? Their own rules? Getting all a bit dicey now there is not an agreed body running the racing. A bit like the market! I am not even going to discuss drugs, although … Ricco is using the newest epo that you only have to inject every two weeks or once a month, rather than three times a weekly as in recent kidney dialysis. Apparently this new epo is very expensive and not available for all kidney patients yet, just cyclists and other athletic cheats. My solution, let them all use drugs!

So some of the jerseys changed, although nothing terribly significant, other than the departure of the entire Saunier Duval team happened. Mark Cavendish won AGAIN. Actually it would be good if he let one or two other sprinters win a stage, its not nice to win everything. But he had a perfect lead-out, he was perfectly placed, he veered into the clear air just a fraction a second before Sebastian Chavanel, and then rode faster than anyone else to the line. I saw an interview with Chavanel, and although he mentioned that he had to slow just slightly when Cavendish drifted into his path, he did not make any accusations about Cavendish “cutting him off”. Seeing the slo-mo, it seemed to me it was a close call. Maybe there is only a whisker of a difference between a good sprint and an illegal one, fractions of a second, one centimetre. The young lad does need a little bit of media coaching over the winter months though, if he is going to keep being interviewed. I should think the Columbia people can find someone to do the job.

The green jersey competition is still hot, with all the sprinters trying to get points at the end, and some of them trying hard in the intermediate sprints. Freire still has a fairly good sized lead, and got 24 points today. Zabel also got 24 points with Hushovd 19 and Kirchen 10. Unless they all get slung out of the Tour, one of them should be in green in Paris. I quite like that we have no idea at all which one. Or will my earlier hunch that a non-sprinter (Kirchen) might win it turn out to be accurate.

The mountains jersey is now a total and utter mystery. The present leader, Sebastian Lang is neither a climber nor high on the GC. He is just a guy who rode over some hills in a break. He certainly won’t win it, as his Gerolsteiner teammate young Kohl, is actually a serious climber, and might decide to go for it. We won’t know for a couple of days, until the real mountains. Anyone who makes a break could win enough points the first day to take the jersey. Well, nearly anyone. An absolute mystery. After two mountain stages, we have no idea at all.

The young jersey is much the same, although now Andy Schleck, Kreuziger, Nibali and Monfort are going to duke it out for the next few days. I still go for Andy. It is a nice jersey to wear, but it is so directly related to the GC, it just means we watch and note the young guys on the GC. Nibali is now tenth, with the removal of the previous drug cheats in eighth and ninth. I admit we don’t know that Cobo cheated. The other three young guys I mentioned are in 18th 19th and 20th. Come the mountains, we will know.

As for the yellow jersey, we know nothing more. No one lost or gained time today. Shame we won’t have those attacks of Saunier Duval or Ricco. Maybe someone else will try it. The only changes in GC were for two more riders to move up into the top ten. Astarloza and Nibali. I did say I thought the top ten would look a bit different before Paris, but I never thought it would change for those reasons. I guess I still don’t rally want to know about the drug cheats. Like drunk drivers or speeders, if they get caught, bust ‘em. They all know the rules.

That’s all for today. I had more to day, but am upset about the Ricco thing.