What's Cool In Road Cycling

Tour De PEZ: Journйe De Repos Du Tour!

PEZ Roadside Rest Day 1: So the Tour finally takes a break after 10 hard stages and nearly two weeks of non-stop hoopla. Of course, ‘a break’ depends on your interpretation of the word. I headed back into Pau for a coffee, a catch up with the news in L’Equipe and a visit to Team Columbia’s rest day press conference.

Pau is a pretty pleasant place to spend the day, although the baking heat bouncing off the pale paving stones in the central square made it difficult to linger too long. I picked a little cafй and settled down to pretend at being a continental. But I’m not willing enough to take up smoking that I can really pull it off.

Team Columbia were making themselves available in the Hotel Parc Beaumont, but the press scrum was much reduced in size from the launch in Brest. Although Kirchen and Cavendish were in major demand as usual, Bob Stapleton and Rolf Aldag were keen to play up the team’s overall strength and performance, plus celebrate the nice array of jerseys picked up by Kirchen and Lovkvist. Apparently, Cavendish joked about attacking early for some mountain points to get the ‘maillot a pois’, too!

I got to sit down for a 20 minutes with one of the more unsung heroes of the success story so far, Austria’s Bernhard Eisel. It’s not that he goes unnoticed, it’s just that guys like Cavendish and Kirchen pull in so many column inches between them. So here’s the scoop from Bernhard …….

PEZ: How do things work when you’ve got so much sprint talent in one team?

Bernhard: Well, we’ve shown so many times that we’re strong enough to have different sprinters winning. We won here with Cav, and at the Giro with him and Griepel. We’ve got Ciolek who likes a longer lead-out and could easily win a stage here. Cav is a guy who can come out of nowhere, like a cannonball.

There’s no problems between the sprinters, and when you find guys like Hincapie pulling on the front for a kilometre to help, or even Kim in the yellow jersey working with you …. well, it makes you want to put even more into it.

PEZ: Are you almost taking it back to the old days of something like Cipo’s lead-out train?

Bernhard: No, Cipo wasn’t a GC contender. His team never had one. We’ve got sprinters, breakaway guys, riders for the overall. Weeks two and three will be hard for us. We’ve used a lot of energy already ….

PEZ: Does the success so far – stage wins, all the jerseys – take the pressure off?

Bernhard: Not really. You have to take the wins and the prizes when you can. You don’t know when the opportunities are coming.

PEZ: How are you? You look sore.

Bernhard: I’m suffering like a f***in’ dog here! I had a crash … I don’t know what’s wrong yet. I’m walking like Frankenstein!

I’ll go to the osteopath, maybe get an X-ray this afternoon. And that’s part of the whole success we’re talking about …. I can trust and rely on everyone here from the riders to the physios to the drivers. Everyone is part of it.

PEZ: What’s been the toughest thing to deal with so far?

Bernhard: The day before Cav and Cio’ (Gerald Ciolek) got one and two was the hardest day in the Tour. The side winds were really bad, it was a stressful day. We said in the bus that morning (Friday) that we wanted to bring the yellow jersey back safe and we did, so we walked off the team bus with big smiles on our faces.

PEZ: kim’s now out of yellow, so how does that affect things? Rolf (Aldag, Team Columbia DS) reckons he’ll come back into the frame next week.

Bernhard: CSC is looking very strong right now. They’ve been waiting to do something. Menchov is quiet but very close to the top. Valverde lost time yesterday but there is still a long time until Paris. He’s not out of it. But we think Kim can really do something overall.

PEZ: It’s a really open Tour …

Bernhard: Yeah, Cadel is the strongest opponent for sure. But if Saunier Dval keep riding like this, they’ll finish 1-2-3!! Maybe we’ll have to try and drop them somewhere.

PEZ: How much pressure are you under at the moment?

Bernhard: There’s always pressure, always. like yesterday, Cav killed himself to finish (Eisel led him home just under 35′ down). He was nearly crying on my wheel but he made it and that’s going to make him much stronger in the next years. He knows the pressure of trying to survive in big races now.

PEZ: And for you …..

Bernhard: In the first week, the pressure was “Oh my God, I’ve got the yellow jersey on my wheel! Please don’t crash into Kim, please don’t fall!” And of course, I fell ………

[Mass bleeping of BlackBerrys in the room. “What’s going on? Must be a team message or something,” says Bernhard jamming the device back into his pocket.]

… I was scared for a whole week! When Cadel crashed, I was right behind him. I crashed into Cadel and went down …. Kim’s right behind me and I’m going: “Please, please let the yellow jersey through OK, and not be sliding along the road!” Thankfully, he was alright.

I was flying then landed on my back on top of the radio. I could here BEEP, BEEP, BEEEP …BEEP, BEEP as all the buttons go jammed on, but then I knew I was OK.

PEZ: Does Kim know you were that worried?

Bernhard: Ha, ha … he’s normally a pretty cool guy. He gave everything to get the yellow and then keep it. This is three weeks of pressure for him because he wants to do well. He’s handling it well …. last year, he was moving up all the time, trying to win stages, get in breaks. This time, there was no way anyone was going to let him escape.

PEZ: Did you get to celebrate much with Kim?

Bernhard: A little …. sometimes we’d be sitting on the bus and there were only four of us! We’d be like: “Where IS everyone?” They were on the podium getting jerseys and winning stages ….. we really only got to be together at dinner and breakfast.

We’ve had a lot of talks in the team the last few days about tactics and so on, but it’s been a lot of fun.

PEZ: It must be heartening to be part of an ethical set-up like this?

Bernhard:For sure. It’s an interesting project and people want to know more about it. it’s all controlled by an independent company and it costs …. a LOT of money to do it. But we have to show now that cycling is clean and that sponsors can trust the sport.

I must say that all the teams are working hard to make things ‘trustable’, not just us.

PEZ: What’s it been like since Columbia came on board?

Bernhard: It’s been nice. They’re really interested and they are enthusiastic. A pleasure to work with …. and the jerseys are pretty cool. A great colour!

I think the company fits well with the sport. It’s all over the world, in more than 70 countries but I think that our success here has made it more noticeable.

PEZ: Maybe you could go and try to win the Tour of Austria one day – that would be good for the sponsor in your home country!

Bernhard: Just a stage! That race is too hard for me!

PEZ: What have the fans been like for you guys?

Bernhard: Fantastic. You can see from the crowds that they love the tour, love cycling. And I think they’re getting to know us now, too. Cav had a lot of support yesterday on the mountain. It was big fun riding with him.

PEZ: I want to know about your reputation as a ladies’ man, because they said this at the launch ….

Bernhard: I don’t know where that comes from! (Much laughter) We only see the women’s team at training camp … I guess it’s something I’ll just have to live with!!

But …. “Chapeau” to the women. They … are …FLYING! Ina (Ina-Yoko Teutenberg) won four stages at the Giro Donne the other week. They’re going so well.

Bernhard did admit that he’s seen PEZ and the Daily distractions so ……

Eventually we had to cut our chat short as Bernhard had to haul himself upstairs to get ready for training. He looked in good spirits even if he was walking like Frankenstein, so hopefully we’ll see him near the front again when the Tour resumes in Lannemezan.

Once I’d snapped some pics it was a trek back to the press centre, in the rather more glamorous surroundings of the Palais Beaumont. Tonight, there’s a gathering in the Galway Bar here, as the Tour of Ireland organisers take advantage of the rest day to publicise their race. Somehow, Pez thinks I’m the man for the job …. can’t think why.

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