Tour de Pez: Chasing The Brit Champ!
Roadside St.19 The French radio car tries to muscle Dave off the wheel, but Dave’s ridden too many road races to let that happen and we tuck back in alongside the Sky team car. Stage 19, Tour de France 2010, a 52 kilometre time trial from Bordeaux to Pauillac and PEZ is on the wheel of one of the fastest men in the world – Sky’s British elite road race champion, Geraint Thomas.
He’s won World and Olympic titles as a team pursuiter and has held the world record for the four kilometre individual pursuit – the man is quick! This is his breakthrough year as a roadman; he’s ridden the Giro and Tour before, for Barloworld, but just on a ‘get round’ basis.
This year he’s ridden a solid Dauphine, an excellent Tour prologue and held the white jersey as best young rider for almost a week. The PEZmobile duly stickered-up we entered the holding area – some riders aren’t too serious about the last test; Tommy Voeckler is one of them, he’s won his stage and this is just another day at the office.
A young Milram though looks very thoughtful about 50 K ‘en seulle’ – at his press conference yesterday, Cav said; ‘I’m not looking forward to 50 kilometres on my own – I usually only do 200 metres like that!’
Just like everywhere else at the Tour, there are ‘crazies’ – Danes today, I have to take their pic to avoid an axe attack.
Geraint’s board is waiting for his car, and here it is – the Sky Jaguar, complete with ‘personalised’ number plate and Geraint’s road Pinarello with red, white and blue, British champion’s colour scheme on the roof.
Geraint arrives and goes straight to the bike check, it has to fit the UCI jig or you don’t start, if they’re being really finicky, they’ll weigh it, too.
The mechanic wipes the tyres, Geraint takes a last drink of water and eases his back brake off the rim – and then it’s start house time.
The speaker ‘bigs him up’ – ‘champion, Olympique et recordman de la pursuite individuelle.
And we’re away, through the beautiful streets of old Bordeaux, never below 50 kph but nudging 60 on the straights, past the street cafes.
Into the suburbs and there’s a Welsh dragon – a clever beast, it’s carrying a Welsh flag.
Didi, the Devil is a big fan of Sky and Geraint gets ‘maximum trident.’
The course isn’t just one long straight like it says in the race previews, there are bends, roundabouts, little drags – but a man that can average 63 kph in a team pursuit isn’t troubled by any of that.
And there’s Moinard from Cofidis; Geraint has caught him for two minutes well before half way as ‘Tequila!’ blasts from radio Nostalgi, this is cool!
‘Ciao, Amael,’ we say as we accelerate past the French man; Geraint is smooth, stroking easily.
The vineyards go on forever here, as far as the eye can see – but what’s that police bike doing coming up our inside?
Moinard! – he’s back, this isn’t in the script. The fans love it, though – although it’s too much for some, who snooze on their camp chairs oblivious to the high drama being fought out on narrow rubber, just yards away.
Geraint floats as Moinard rocks and rolls, but despite the lack of chrono purity, the Sky man can’t drop him. The Sky car has dropped back and re-passes us, so does the Cofidis car, and now there are radio cars, official cars, VIP cars and even Laurent Fignon in the mix – hey! What about our pictures, guys?
There’s a cycling wine bottle at Pauillac as we head into the last few kilometres, the finishing straight is long and flat, straight into the teeth of a rising headwind – the late starters will struggle to beat Cancellara, who rode in much better conditions.
The board is whipped off the car, the TT bike goes on the roof, Geraint boards the camper and ten minutes later comes out for his warm down.
He has a smile for PEZ, though and time to chat; ‘I started fast and then eased a bit in the last ten kilometres, I was conscious that I wanted to save a little for tomorrow and the final sprint, we’ll be leading out Eddy Boasson Hagen and want to finish with a flourish.
Yesterday was the first time we’ve really got a train together, we need more practice and that finish was into a head wind (Boasson Hagen finished sixth).
Cav was unbelievable – he’s certainly got his swagger back!’
We left Geraint to get back to his hotel – but how did his shift go?
He was 10th at 3:38 with team mate Wiggins 9th at 3:33 – good rides for late in the day and that rising headwind; bear in mind that Contador dropped 5:43 for 35th and Schleck 6:14 for 44th on the stage.
As we headed for home, we passed the Schleck fans – they were stunned.
But for Rabobank, it was a case of ‘job done!’ as Denis snaffled third spot on the podium.
Paris tomorrow, that’s just a 640 kilometre drive, not far if you say it quickly.