Tour de Pez: Around And Around In Rotterdam!
Roadside Prologue: It might be the home of the Feyenoord football team but Rotterdam on Saturday was all about the cycling as the Tour de France hit the road for a super-fast 8.9km loop around the beautiful port city.
After three fantastic days of sunshine and temperatures of around 30degrees Celsius, the forecast for Sunday was rain and a chance of thunderstorms. When The PEZ Crew headed into the start village it was definitely cooler weather, but as yet, there was no rain falling. One of the talking points (we’ll get to the other one in due course) among many journalists was how difficult it had been over the past two days to get to and from the team hotels in enough time to make the various press conference appointments. Today, we decided to heed the local organiser’s advice and rely on public transport or walking to move around.
It might be The Netherlands, but the climb of the Erasmusbrug meant that the course was no pancake flat run around the waterfront.
Despite the forecast of showers today, when we took our detour into the centre of the city at around 10.30am, there were already people staking out their positions on the course, ready for the first rider who would race past them in a little under 6 hours time.
Checking Out The Village People
After checking in at the press centre, and with the coffee and croissants of the start village still out of reach for another hour or two, it was time to go in amongst the team buses and do what is loosely described as “work” when you find yourself on a Pez Roadside assignment.
As well as the fact that you get to see each and every rider, the other great thing about being on a prologue is that the teams have all of their equipment out and on display in the same place.
As the only “home” team in the race this year, the Rabobank squad was already drawing sizeable crowds to the fence near their enclosure. Throughout the day, the cheers of the crowd along the course were the biggest for both the Dutch riders on the various squads as well as anyone sporting the Rabobank orange.
Further along the row of buses, the Cervйlo Test Team had their bus and truck set up as well as their own hospitality area providing refreshments as part of their Fan Access program. Next door, Team HTC Columbia were organising their day.
As riders were few and far between at this time of the day, it was a surprise to see green jersey favourite Mark Cavendish emerge from the bus and wander over to the fence to greet some well wishers and sign a few autographs.
There has been some discussion of late of the screens that Team Sky have been using to further enclose their riders in the start area of races, particularly when there is a time trial and they spend extended periods outside the bus warming up. At the start today, things had moved to the next level, with the protective screens set up and a flat screen TV sitting on the ground facing the thin crowd that was gathering.
The TV was showing live pictures of Bradley Wiggins warming up on the stationary trainer inside. A more careful look around the Sky enclosure and we were able to see Wiggins behind the closed glass doors of the team truck, doing his warm up in what we assumed was a temperature controlled environment. The Team had made the decision to put their best prospect on the track early in the day. It was a tactic that took into account several factors including the forecast weather and if the British champ posted the fastest time, he was going to have a long wait to see if he could outlast the favourites in the final 30minutes of the day.
Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford chatting to Tour director Christian Prudhomme, in the start village.
One of our assignments for Friday was to catch up with Look’s Arthur Espos to see the latest offering from the French manufacturer and in the course of the conversations we heard about a prototype version of the new Look Keo Blade that Alberto Contador was going to be using in the race. Team Pez driver/photographer Paul “Tex” Turner headed off to see if he could grab a picture of the as yet, unseen apparatus.
Arthur had told us that in last year’s Tour de France, Contador and his mechanic had devised a system of carbon plates that they rigged up to attach to the base of the then prototype Keo Blade pedals, to increase their aerodynamics. For this year, Look had worked with the four time Grand Tour winner to produce a factory version of the covered base pedal, that is an estimated 2% more aerodynamic than the Look model in use by the other teams and riders at the race.
Following on from the ”Mechanised Doping” scandal/fairytale (depending on which camp you are in) the UCI was x-raying a selection of bikes prior to the start of the prologue. All bikes, however, that were to be used, needed to pass by the UCI jury to check that both equipment and position were legal under the new regulations. What might seem like a straight forward check was proving to be a little difficult for some and as one of the first teams with a rider away, Footon-Servetto were having all sorts of problems with their positions, handlebars and saddles.
The first of several problems was with the Oval time trial bars and their open double blade cross sections.
Eventually when the bikes were returned to the jury for re-checking they had been wrapped with electrical tape to close the gap and effectively make it into a single piece that conformed with the UCI’s correct ratio of thickness to length.
The next big problem was the SMP saddles the team were using and specifically the way they were positioned on the bike.
The discussions and the fact the bikes were now on their second attempt at passing inspection was drawing quite a crowd, including a representative from the manufacturer who was demanding in Italian that the jury show him “where it is written”. After numerous requests, arm waving, tri-lingual discussions and shaking of heads all around, the book came back out.
The book in question contains pictures of a variety of different bike parts from various manufacturers and on several of the shots (including the one of these particular Oval bars) there is a big red cross drawn across the product, or – like in the case of the saddle now in dispute – the position.
Once all had been settled to the satisfaction of the UCI, the sports director and the equipment suppliers, we asked the jury members whether the problem with the seat had been one of product or positioning?
They told us that the seat itself was fine, but when the middle section was positioned level, it meant that the back part of the seat kicked up in the air giving something for the riders to push back on when pedalling and thus helping to create more power.
The test they use is to place a spirit level on the saddle and make sure it is parallel to the ground. With this type of seat, the kicked up rear means that to get the right reading on the level, the centre part of the seat where the rider actually sits is then pointed upwards. They also told us that on both aspects that were in question today, the teams had been advised earlier in the season that they were not compliant with the current regulations.
With so many manufacturers making so many different versions of equipment in both prototype and production versions a fancy paint job can sometimes make it hard to distinguish between legal and illegal products.
Once solution to avoid any unwanted hassles for the mechanics on the start line (not to mention the stress that it can cause a rider who is anxiously watching his final minutes before his departure tick away) is to have everything checked off beforehand.
Here Comes The Rain
Unfortunately for the riders the rain had arrived and by the time the first men headed out onto the course, what was a super-fast flowing circuit for yesterday’s trial, had been turned into a super-slick track with pitfalls on every corner.
No point standing in the rain before it was absolutely necessary.
Bradley Wiggins might have hoped to beat the rain by heading out early, but when the British TT champ and Team Sky GC contender rolled down the start ramp, the roads were wet and like those around him, he was going to have to exercise a lot of caution to avoid a crash that could end his Tour de France before the first road stage had even started.
As (bad) luck would have it, by the time the final section of riders hit the track, the course had dried significantly, meaning the corners Wiggins had to pick his way through, the others were attacking at almost the same speeds as the day before. The gamble had not paid off and Wiggins finished 56seconds off the pace in 77th place.
The weather was certainly not stopping the fans from turning out to see the riders and all along the route were umbrellas, yellow ponchos and all manner of other makeshift rain protection that people had improvised to help keep dry as they cheered on the riders.
Andrew Vogeler of Pittsburgh and Andrew Goering of Anchorage are both living in Germany at present and have made the trip to Le Tour to cheer on the Americans.
We mentioned two big talking points before and the second – and definitely the most discussed – was the article that appeared in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, detailing further revelations from Floyd Landis over what he alleges happened while he was racing for US Postal and Phonak. At various camps around the start village, there were a lot of journallists looking to various people named in the article for a comment, but most requests for interviews were being met with a firm no-comment.
Lance Armstrong made an appearance in the team car to follow a team mate around the course beside his sports director Johan Bruyneel. He was keeping the window firmly up (and yes, it was raining, so you could hardly blame him) despite the pleas from the fans at the side of the road who wanted to take a photo of his hero.
The well timed pass-by of Jim Ochowicz meant that the Radio Shack team leader did drop his window just enough for us to get a picture.
The arrival of HTC Columbia’s Mark Renshaw in the start area brought out an unusual piece of equipment from the back of a van. Renshaw removed his glove from his left hand and inserted it into the device and then one of the soigneurs tightened a collar around his wrist and switched it on.
The machine is a actually a cooling device and as the body’s blood flow passes through the hand, by cooling the hand alone, the team are able to help keep the rider’s core body temperature down in the important period prior to the start.
Here Come The Big Guns
With HTC Columbia’s Tony Martin still sitting on top of the leader’s board it was approaching the time for the final 10 men away to see if they could better the German’s time of 10mins 10sec.
Giro winner Ivan Basso has come to the Tour de France to see if he can add another Grand Tour to his palmares. The Liquigas leader will be more at home in the mountains than he was on the short time trial course, finishing in 72nd place, just ahead of Wiggins.
All week and all day (in fact, right from when it was announced that the 2010 Tour de France would start with a prologue time trial) Fabian Cancellara was most people’s favourite for the event. As the reigning World and Olympic road time trial champion, the Swiss rider started second last with only 2009 Tour winner Alberto Contador capable of bettering his effort if he arrived with the fastest time.
Up and over the Erasmusbrug, Cancellara looked like he was going faster than all of those that had gone before him and as he approached the finish line, Tony Martin knew that his best time of the day that had stood since around 4.30pm, was about to be bettered by 10seconds.
The final man on the course, Alberto Contador, has steadily improved his short time trialing ability in recent years but up against the Swiss machine, it was always going to be a big ask to take the yellow jersey in the 2010 Tour on the fist day.
By the time the final riders were heading out onto the course, the crowds along the route were several deep in most places and with the weather cleared, were cheering loudly and enthusiastically for each and every rider.
Cico, Helen, Ned and Ilka were cheering on the Schleck brothers, but were also hoping for an Australian win in Paris too.
The Tour de France is certainly a great family day out and with the action at the prologue stretched out over three hours, some younger fans did a great job to keep cheering the riders on from the first man away, Iban Mayoz, through to the defending champ, Alberto Contador.
Alberto Contador’s passage over the Erasmusbrug signalled the end of the day of those that had lined both sides of the “hill” to watch the race pass one by one. With the final few riders still out on the course, there was a mass migration down to the big screens to see exactly who would take the prize of the win on the day and the first yellow jersey of the race.
So the 2010 Tour de France is under-way. We have our first yellow jersey winner and as the race now heads to France via Belgium, we are leaving the Netherlands and saying goodbye to some very satisfied locals.
The only job left for us to complete was walk back to our accommodation, grab something to eat and get ready to hit the road tomorrow.