What's Cool In Road Cycling

TDF’10: Mr. Hood’s Take On The Tour Presentation

“I’ll knock you out!” says the slim guy in the black shirt, he uses some other words too – but this is a family website. When he first started shoving and barging to get through the throng, I thought it was some over keen journo, trying for that special quote. But then the verbals started; broad scouse – you don’t get in Cav’s way when he’s trying to get to his seat beside his chum Lance!

Ah, yes ! Lance, he is a phenomenon; Elvis could have walked in and not a lens would have been pointed at him – except mine, of course. Lance is always in the eye of the storm – and he would not have it any other way.

But I’m ahead of myself; the Palais de Congres, Paris, venue for the presentation of the 2010 Tour de France – big, bland, concrete, unwelcoming – it’s not a good start.

But it’s a lot better start than last year, when I couldn’t get a hotel room for love nor money and had to sleep in the hire car. With the benefit of hindsight, maybe the fact that I had on yesterday’s clothes and a full chin of stubble was why I had such a job to get in? Anyway, today was different, I was washed, shaved and wearing a nice clean shirt.

First up was to work the crowd in the foyer, a couple of “Golden Oldies” first:

There’s Raymond Poulidor (PouPou) he never won le Tour but was still winning top pro events at 40 years-of-age; if it’s got to do with the Grand Boucle, then Raymond Poulidor ain’t far away.

Vincent Barteau is here; living proof that you can build a whole career on one day of racing – the yellow jersey can do that.

Today is about the Tour route, but it’s also about seeing and being seen:

Pippo looked formal – kind of expensive hotel concierge formal – but with a touch of Italian style, the gelled hair and the shoes: ‘winkle pickers’ we called them, in my day.

Heinrich Haussler had the ‘naughty school boy’ haircut and the grin to go with it.

Brice Feillu, slim, chiselled cheek bones and women falling all around him.

Sergei Ivanov: there’ll be no smart ass remarks from me, just in case he reads this, he had the ‘Cold War Russian Diplomat’ look, and positively no smile for the camera!

Christophe Moreau had the “Indiana Jones when he’s archaeology professor” look; leather jacket, man bag, stubble – I hate to say it, but he did look the biz.

Allan Peiper had the concierge look too, but no ‘twists’ – it all said “business!” to me.

Thor Hushovd was suave – maybe off duty CIA man?

Time to go in; the human tide surges up the stairs, this is where it all went wrong for me, last year; but I wave the invite and – I’m in !

Now there’s the auditorium to work:

Jean Rene Bernadeau has his “Med Playboy” shirt, with tan to match and doesn’t seem too upset about not having a Pro Tour licence, any more.

Jean Rene is sitting far enough away from JV for his shirt not to be too much of a clash with the Garmin boss’s three piece suit – waist coats aren’t common at anything to do with bike racing, these days.

Johan Bruyneel juggles a BlackBerry and a mobile phone – you’d expect nothing less!

Brian Holm is sporting a beard, he looks professorial – maybe he and Christophe should go up to Cafe de Flore, after the launch, for a philosophical debate.

And now it’s time for the stars of the show – I’ve already described Cav’s entrance but Lance’s was more low key. He slipped in quietly, I grabbed a few snaps, but then all Hell broke loose as the mob descended.

The scrum around the Man from Plano made the crazy Riis press conference – when he announced he was pulling Basso out of the Tour – look tame.

Meanwhile, Contador and Schleck were left in peaceful bemusement by the goings on to their right.

You could almost see ‘Bert’ thinking; ‘I thought I won the damn race!’

Alberto looked dapper; Lance has let his hair grow just a little and looked ‘youthful Andy Williams’ to me; Andy looked like a choir boy…

Cav? Straight out of a Guy Ritchie gangster movie; ‘who you lookin’ at ?!’

Non! Allez! Hollered the ASO minders – I took this to mean that the photo free for all was over.

The 22 stone Frenchman shoving me in the back confirmed this and I skulked off to find a seat.

The presentation is about loud martial music and videos – the ’09 Tour played first; then great footage of Tours gone by; Rotterdam’s video was the loudest yet.

We heard a few words from the last Dutchman to win the Tour, Joop Zoetemelk, his Tour record is 16 starts and 16 finishes – wow!

Then it was time to unveil the route; amazing graphics and Christian Prudhomme providing the words. There’ll be endless analysis over the weeks to come; but here come the main stats:

# 3,596 kilometres.
# one prologue.
# nine ‘flat’ stages.
# six mountain stages with three summit finishes; Alps first then the Pyrenees on the last week.
# four ‘medium’ mountain stages.
# one individual time trial.
# two rest days.
# three countries visited – Holland, Belgium and France.
# the north west of France is ignored – Brittany and Normandy.
# 11 new stage towns – including Arenberg; yes, as in ‘Forest of’ !

In summary, most of the sprinter’s stages in week one, then the Alps (hard), Pyrenees (brutal) followed by the race’s only time trial (prologue apart) with a huge TGV transfer to Paris to follow.

Patrick Lefevere would like the parcours a whole bunch more if he could get hold of Alberto Contador for 2010.

It’s good for Lance, maybe not so good for Alberto (lightweight Spanish climbers + mega cobbles = no fun !), difficult for Schleck to win and not a bad parcours for Cadel.

Marc Sergeant has to be optimistic about the chances of his World Champion.

With rousing music blasting, it was over – ‘sound bite’ time:

Jacky Durand, former stage winner: ‘I like the route, but I don’t think that Contador will! That Arenberg is a day where you can lose the Tour!”

Mark Cavendish, winner of six stages in 2009: It’s difficult, but the Tour is always difficult. All the sprint stages are crammed in the first week, there are five possibles for me, four definites. It’ll mean concentrating on that first week then a lot of suffering in the mountains. The cobbles? I enjoy them!

Heinrich Haussler, 2009 stage winner: I like it, not the end, but the early stages are good for my team. The Arenberg stage will favour the classics riders, I’ll be asking my DS’s for information about all the sectors of pavй. The first week is my type of racing, then it’s about survival. For me it’s good there’s only one time trial and no team time trial – yeah, good!

Thor Hushovd Green jersey 2009: The Pyrenees will be very hard but it’s the first week with all the sprint stages that will be important for me – but with Cav there, it’ll be hard. Maybe it’s better for me than last year; a nice first week; the Alps will be OK then just survive the Pyrenees.

Brad McGee, Saxo DS: There’s a whole battery of work there to be done – that pavй will generate a lot of stress and the course will wear guys down. It suits Andy Schleck – not the 51 K time trial, obviously – but there’s a lot of opportunity for him – it will have to be taken, though !

Philippe Brunel, cult French journo: It’s a Tour that penalises Armstrong and Contador – there’s no team time trial for Armstrong to establish an advantage; but the Arenberg stage will be difficult for Contador. We saw in the Camargue, this year, that Contador does not have the best tactics on the flat stages.

All in all; a good Tour for Contador – except for Arenberg!

And with that, let punditry commence !

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