What's Cool In Road Cycling

Tour de Pez: Champagne Cycling!

Roadside Stage 4: Today we left behind the beer and frites of Belgium and swapped them for pain au chocolat and champagne. It’s a tough assignment covering the Roadside reports under the sun at the Tour de France, but as the saying goes, someone has to do it.

After the rough and tumble of two tough days on the Classics roads of Belgium and northern France, today’s stage from Cambrai to Rheims would hopefully be a rest day for the GC men and a straight forward day for the sprinters. Well, as straight forward as trying to beat seven or eight of the fastest men in the world on a bike can be.

As they did when the Tour visited in 2004, Cambrai decorated the windows of the Town hall with the coats of arms of the other cities and towns that the Tour would be starting or stopping in for the 2010 edition.

The weather forecast was for a great day of sunshine and while at this time of the morning it was definitely only coffee and orange juice, we were looking forward to finishing the day’s stage off in the heart of Champagne country.

Originally conceived to help sell newspapers, the Tour de France is still a huge promotional tool that sponsors are more than willing to contribute large numbers of euros to be part of.

The give-aways on the Tour from these sponsors are pretty amazing. Maybe not always the quality, but the quantity is immense. There’s coffee, caps from the jersey sponsors (white – Skoda, yellow – LCL Banque , polka dot – Carrefour), foam hands from green jersey sponsor PMU and dozens of other different promotional give-aways that are dispensed by the thousands.

Working the line with the white hats from Skoda.

Famous Faces
In the start village there is a wall of pictures showing various celebrities and sportsmen and women who have visited Le Tour over many years. To get into the village, you have to pass by a section of flags featuring images of past winners of the race, and it is these people whom many fans consider to be the true ‘celebrities’ of the event.

Along with race speaker Daniel Mangeas, Raymond Poulidor was in the village signing autographs for fans and joking at the fact that there were still so many people who wanted to take his picture.

Also in and around the start village this morning was five time Tour winner Bernard Hinault. The Frenchman can normally be found introducing local dignitaries on the presentation podium to stage winners and riders receiving their prize jerseys.

When we asked him to pose for this picture for us, but the wind kept blowing the banner behind in the wrong direction. He told us he needed to go. We weren’t about to argue!

A close up look at the team inside this race caravan vehicle revealed a considerable amount of experience behind the wheel.

On the left is double Tour winner Bernard Thйvenet, on the right is five times winner Hinault and in the middle giving direction is current Tour de France Director, Christian Prudhomme.

With the current and all of the former yellow jersey wearers available to be seen around the start line, it’s no wonder some potential future wearers seem to be inspired.

This young guy was up on the stationary bikes, giving it 100% while watching a video simulation of the roads of France.

When team PEZ dropped in on one of the tables to rest the legs and grab a coffee, Photographer Tex struck up a conversation with someone who wasn’t trying to speak to him in French.

The man who he shared a brew with was Darren Taylor from the UK, who performs a very important function for one of the race’s GC contenders.

“Basically, I’m just a mate who he can talk to about anything other than cycling,” Darren said of his role in supporting Bradley Wiggins at the Tour.

“I’m travelling around in my motor home with my scooter inside and whenever we can Bradley and I sit down and chat about music, things we got up to over the off season, scooters, whatever. Anything really to help him relax and not think about bike racing.”

Darren gave us the inside scoop on a project in the works and also told us to keep an eye out for the saddle that Wiggins was now riding on his race bike.

He was right too. We did love the design.

Action Stations
As the team buses and cars were starting to arrive, it was time for a quick lap, a few chats and then out the road to try and beat the sprinters to Rheims.

In the lead up to yesterday’s stage, in fact even from the moment the route was announced, a lot of commentators (and even some other riders) were predicting that the path over the cobbles of stage three would possibly be the finish of Alberto Contador’s Tour de France.

In the end, the Spaniard lost time to Andy Schleck but gained time over Lance Armstrong, which Astana sports director Yvon Sanquer said they were more than happy with.

“We made a good reconnaissance of the cobblestones of that part of the race and Alberto went fast and well over them with Van Petegem. He knew where the important parts were and how to ride them. He also made a good choice with material in terms of his wheels and tyres for the stage and with that, Alberto was very satisfied with the day.”

“This cobbled stage with the stones in the north of France is not the same as Paris Roubaix or the Tour of Flanders, so not having raced these events was not a problem. Of course it is very difficult, it is very dangerous and it was very nervous, but it’s not the same [as the Classics races]. Some riders, they are climbers and they go behind but for the riders in the front it is difficult because they can still crash as you saw with Frank Schleck.”

As for the much discussed final two kilometres of the day stage, where Contador lost contact with his group as Vinokourov kept driving all the way to the finish, PEZ asked if it was a problem of communication between the two in a crucial moment?

“Yeah, a little. The problem with the cobblestones was that Alberto had a problem with his wheel and it was broken from a long way before that. At the finish too he was tired and really at the finish it was only 20 seconds to Vino. It was no problem. You see other riders and they lost minutes. When we see Armstrong he lost 1 minute, so no, no problem. It was a good result for the whole team. It was only this little problem with the wheel, but anything like that can happen in race.”

Mark Renshaw is one of those riders who could probably go to a different team and race his season as a protected, and very successful, sprinter in his own right. Renshaw, however, chooses to race as the lead-out man for Mark Cavendish and is the final member of the multi-stage winner’s train at HTC Columbia. We caught him at the very noisy HTC Columbia bus as they pulled into the stage start and he told us that as a sprinters’ day, today would be a very important stage for the team.

“Even though it was a tough day for me yesterday, I actually think that today will be more stressful. Yesterday on the stones I had to help out Mick Rogers with a wheel and really play the team role which was no problem, but today it is our job, and my job, to try and win this stage.”

Renshaw will be in the driving seat for Cavendish today as the peloton enters the final metres of the stage.

Renshaw came close to winning the opening road stage, finishing second to Alessandro Petacchi in Brussels after Cavendish crashed coming into the finish straight.

“I knew Cav had crashed straight away and then it was all on me to try and win the stage. I had to fight really hard to get going but finished second. It wasn’t too bad though. I was on a roll with two second places [Paris in 2009 and now stage 1 this year] in a row in road stages at the Tour.”

I mentioned Allan Peiper’s words from Monday and asked if a first win for the team would help take some pressure off. Renshaw smiled a bit as he answered.

“No, not really. Once you win one then all the focus goes on to winning another and then another. But we’ll be good today. That’s why we have the music pumping today in the bus for motivation.”

United Nations
When we went behind the scenes with ASO’s television broadcast crew on Sunday in Brussels, we had a look at how the pictures from the race are packaged for all four corners of the globe. As a means of promoting the sport, the race is a perfect vehicle for encouraging people to travel to France and spend their money in the region.

Over the course of the time we have been on the race, we had seen a group of national jersey wearing spectators from Norway at the different start villages and today we stopped for a chat.

Siri, Olaf, Siri and Morten had travelled down from Norway and been on the Tour since the first day. Today was to be their final stage on the race and they were ecstatic that they had been able to see yesterday’s stage finish and Thor Hushovd’s win.

“It should have been two stages,” Morten told us, but they were more than happy with what they had seen.

Norwegian TV is showing the Tour de France live every day so when they head home tonight they will still be able to follow the exploits of both Hushovd and Edvald Boasson Hagen.

Another Norwegian who knows a bit about cycling is former pro and national road champion Dag Otto Lauritzen. The ex 7-Eleven and Motorola rider is at the Tour de France working for his national TV broadcaster 2 Sporten and they were out the road today in a camera equipped car, following the action.

While flag waving can sometimes be an ambiguous way to tell the world which country you are from, national dress usually leaves no doubt in the matter. Masahiro and Satoko Sera were over from Japan to support Yukiya Arashiro of BBOX Bouygues Telecom.

Of course, there are more than a few French fans along the route too. This group had gone to a lot of effort with their flower arrangements on the wall behind, and were relaxing ready for the riders to pass when we called in for a photo.

After yesterday’s brilliant breakaway ride by Ryder Hesjedal (and the Boss Man PEZ’s homie) we chatted to this Canadian couple who had been at 25km to yesterday to see the Garmin-Transitions rider racing at the head of the race.

Joanne and Harry Schachtschneider, from Hamilton, Ontario will be on the race until late next week and already feel they have had their money’s worth with yesterday’s stage.

There were plenty of other places represented in the crowd at today’s stage too.

Take these two for instance. One is a terribly ugly creature from a cold frozen wasteland at the end of the earth. (Sorry Paul!)

While the other is a Yeti from the Himalayas (I assume).

On To The Finish
There was a marked change in both terrain and the way the road passed through villages and towns today. While in Belgium it seemed that every village was connected to it the next, here in France we found genuine farmland and large stretches of road with no houses in sight.

A few sections of the race route were very sparsely populated with spectators, but in the area around the feed zone, the chance of getting a good picture while the riders slow, or to pick up a discarded bottle or feedback as a souvenir is a very big attraction.

No sooner had Tex mentioned that either we weren’t on the right race or all of those sun flower shots you see every year must be faked, we passed a giant field of sunflowers. We weren’t able to hang around and get a shot of the riders passing through, but if you wait a bit, you are sure to see one (or 10) in the coming weeks.

Another Day Done
We found ourselves in a double file traffic jam of race vehicles from around 10km to go from the finish as both the on course and off course vehicles merged to use the same route as the riders, into the finish.

While we speculated about what might happen if it didn’t clear in time, those responsible for the logistics of finish line parking area had obviously done their homework and we slowly but surely moved through the line and off the course.

When the riders arrived in Rheims, it wasn’t the HTC Columbia train who worked their magic for the day, but Alessandro Petacchi and his Lampre boys who had got things 100% correct for the second time this Tour.

Renshaw, who had been on the front with Cavendish in his wheel at around 1km to go said on the line that they had been a man short in the finale due in part to Adam Hansen’s retirement, and that he had been too far from the line when he started his lead for Cav.

After the battering that his team took (and also dished out) yesterday, Andy was looking none too fussed on the finish line of what had been a reasonably straight forward day for the remaining member of the Schleck family.

It would be a quick shower on the bus for the Saxo Bank rider and then a trip back to the hotel to rest up for tomorrow.

We were there to see the arrival of the rider from Luxembourg and the rest of his team. I must confess that we don’t have a shower in The Pez Mobile, so we weren’t looking quite as relaxed as Schleck as he made his way inside to get dinner.

What was on the menu?

You’ll have to keep it tuned to Pez to find out!

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