Thursday 7th July 2011
There was a choice; whether to go into Dinan to wave off the riders at the start of the Tour or watch from the roadside as so many thousands of people do. I was determined that Cardiff boy Geraint Thomas should get another good look at the Welsh flag so we stopped about 15 minutes ride out of Dinan at the side of the road towards the top of an incline. Can’t call it a hill as the riders wouldn’t really have been inconvenienced by it at all.
The Welsh flag was displayed across the windscreen – the only cheery thing on a grey, windy and chilly morning. We needed breakfast, so got the bikes and rode a couple of miles or so to a supermarche in a nearby village. It was evident that the village was emptying out, as half of the road was filled with people going for a stroll down to the main road to cheer the Tour as it passed through.
I guessed the spectators wanted to get there in time to catch the caravan – them and the rest of the world. When we turned back on to the Tour route and headed up the hill – sorry, incline – there were a whole lot more people lining both sides of the road – and they were already in party spirit.
Cries of “Allez, allez!” went up and there was applause and very probably the kind of amiable abuse French people would hurl at Brits. Capt Sensible, with a baguette sticking out of his pannier bag, smiled and waved as though he was used to showboating. I blushed, tried to pretend my heart wasn’t trying to pound right out of my chest and prayed that my chain wouldn’t suddenly drop off.
So, having found our spot, we settled at the roadside in chairs like Daily Telegraph readers and swigged orange juice out of a carton and devoured bits of baguette plus a two foot long sandwich featuring jambon and fromage and something else I couldn’t identify.
Of all the people waiting at the roadside, four kids aged 8 – 11 – bikes flung carelessly into the verge – were the most entertaining, being grossly over-excited. They cheered every Tour car that passed, they did Mexican waves, they leapt up and down and finally the eldest one decided to moon at the passing Tour vehicles tugging down his trousers to reveal bright blue underpants. Lest anyone miss it, the other three pointed in exaggerated fashion to his exposed underwear. That’s what I love about boys, bless em. So much spirit.
Capt Sensible however, paused his perusal of Aujourdhui newspaper to predict dryly and correctly that they would have completely out of steam by the time the Tour arrived. Sure enough, the boys were all lying on the grass having a breather when a car passed with a placard announcing it was the first vehicle of the caravan.
Quite frankly, we’d done the caravan twice so there was no particular interest other than finding out how much free stuff the long-suffering ladies and gents on the floats lobbed at the crowds early on in the stage.
The answer was quite a lot. But because the weather was cold and inclement, the fit guys who had cavorted suggestively in their speedos only two days before were now wearing long trousers and T shirts, which rather ruined the effect.
We caught Haribo sweets and packs of surprisingly good snacks, then unbelievably, smiling, waving policemen lobbed stuff at our car! I swear they were trying to break a window. Something went underneath the car into the grass.I managed to retrieve it . It was a police fridge magnet advertising, er, the police! But they all looked a lot happier than police in the UK so I suppose everyone associated with Le Tour gets the chance for a little adulation.
The riders, when they came were in a group of three, none of which I recognised and then the peloton stormed after them. Capt Sensible had his best camera out. I was flying the Welsh flag and yelling for Geraint Thomas.
I saw George Hincapie again – there’s something about that mans’ jaw that always catches my attention – but missed everyone else I wanted to see, especially the Schlecks – again. If I hadn’t seen them on TV later I’d have sworn they must have been wearing Shorts of Invisibility.
In contrast, Cadel Evans is always visible. An ex-mountainbiker, he’d got a couple of World Cup mountainbiking championships under his belt before getting into road racing. I must admit, I’d never really taken to him, but his performance in the Tour changed all that this year. He is a phenomenon; one of the toughest cyclists who has been racing at the top of the sport for years and relentlessly trying, shrugging off misfortunes, injuries, injustices to push onwards and upwards. At this Tour he finally asserted his superior talents and got the recognition he deserves. (I’m writing this before the finish so please note that I’m not tempting fate…)
Anyway, Stage Six was a great stage. We found out later that Cavendish had worked the magic again and won the sprint but for me, that news was overshadowed by the disastrous news that Team Sky star Bradley Wiggins had crashed and broken his collar bone and was out of the Tour.
After the race had passed, we got on our own bikes and cycled through rain, tumult and freezing winds back up to Cap Frehel. No stands, no finishing line, no flags flying – just the iconic names still painted on the road – Gilbert, Evans, Sanchez.
We weren’t racing, I got stung on the finger by a bee and the black clouds were still overhead so we did the only sensible thing; locked up the bikes and went to the nearest restaurant for a two hour lunch.
Postscript: The Tour is over. Cadel Evans, the tough-cookie Australian ex- world mountainbike champion turned road racer is the winner, sandwiched on the podium in the Champs Elysees by the Schleck brothers Andy (2nd and my tip to win this year) and Frank. Wonderboy Mark Cavendish confirmed he IS the fastest man on a bike in the world, winning the green jersey and nailing the final Paris sprint for the third year running. Olympic gold medallist Samuel Sanchez got the King of the Mountains. Pierre Rolland got the Young Rider’s jersey.
Thomas Voekler was the “nearly” man, coming 4th so missing the podium but a rider of great heart who gives 150% effort and earned much respect and admiration this time. The home crowd’s favourite, definitely.
Geraint Thomas was 31st, highest-placed Brit in the General Classification, which is a great result in anyone’s book and held on to the Young Rider’s jersey for several stages.
Johnny Hoogerland, who was hit by a passing TV France car and catapulted into a barbed wire fence, managed to finish 74th ahead of Britain’s David Millar who was 76th. And the son-in-law of my Cap Frehel pals, Sebastien Turgot was 120th.
It was very memorable being there to watch three stages this year and following the rest avidly on TV. So much incident, a near-tragedy, the injuries, the bravery and the fearless unstoppable determination of riders tackling ridiculously harsh climbs. I will miss it hugely. Reckon I’ll have to ease the withdrawal symptoms with some cycling…..