What's Cool In Road Cycling

Tour de PEZ: It’s A Picnic!

Roadside St.15: One of the charges laid against us on the Tour by cycling sage and contender for world’s most cantankerous man, Viktor is that we don’t really know what the Tour’s about. He’s the guy who spends five hours every day on the sofa watching the Tour on TV (plus hi-lites programmes) every day and can now practically read Marc Madiot’s mind. We, on the other hand; ‘mess about with our coffees in the Tour Village, then watch the race whizz past while we sit having a picnic!’

That actually sounded like a plan to us – so on Monday morning we let the man on the gate run his reader over the chip in our credentials and we were in le Village, for the first time this year.

The village is set up in the town square or a suitable flat area in the start town, every morning. A two metre high portable security fence surrounds it and within its perimeter are sponsors’ stands, food stalls and the inevitable Tour boutique.

We were lucky with our visit to the village at the start of stage 15 at Samatan, the sun was splitting the sky. If the weather is bad, you still get the free coffee, nice nibbles, stars of the past, clowns, pretty girls and jazz band – but no riders.

On the other hand, if the weather is fine, the coureurs will pop by for a coffee or just to sit in the sun with visiting friends, relatives and loved ones.

Each of the sponsor’s areas is named after a famous climb in le Tour and the chairs bear the names of riders who excelled on that climb.

Some of the sponsors have big names from the past on hand to schmooze – Tour de France ‘Eternal Second,’ Raymond Poulidor is here, as is former Paris-Roubaix winner, Gilbert Duclos Lasalle and double Tour de France winner, Bernard Thevenet.

And there are ex-stars doing a job; Dag-Otto Lauritzen for example is doing a piece to camera for Norwegian TV.

There’s a jazz band to lay down a mellow vibe as you enjoy your breakfast, Joe Jackson’s ‘Is She Really Going Out With Him?’ fitted the mood just fine.

And to drink, monsieur? – Ricore coffee, dispensed by the nicest and cutest of French girls.

Or maybe a glass of local vin or fruit ‘slush?’

And to eat?

Freshly cooked crepes, ‘crepes on a stick,’ chilled fresh fruit salad, gorgeous pate on local bread.

The motor bike cops are in to chill with a coffee – but maybe the blonde lady over at PMU has some influence on their being there?

If you’re feeling energetic then you can race the Tour riders on the simulator – or try the ‘wheel’ cycle.

And now the riders freewheel in, they all look a million dollars, especially the FDJ guys in their washing powder ad white kit,

Steve Cummings looks as big and strong as ever, he chills with BMC team mates Phil Gilbert and Tejay.

The vintage postman lets a BMC rider try his early model Motorola.

Jelle Vanendert has an intimate moment with his lady – spoiled by some idiot with a camera.

Morale with the FDJ boys is no problem, stage winner Pinot pokes fun at all and sundry – he’s young.

Old hand Sandy Casar looks on with a tolerant smile then checks out the newspaper.

There’s the more than a touch of ‘what might have been’ about yesterday’s stage on his face.

No such worries for Matthieu Ladagnous’s wee boy – he’s just happy to have dad back for a little while.

Time to go, we fight through the crowd, fire up the Renault and head west . . .

. . . ‘Pop Music’ by ‘M’ pumps as we flow through the rolling wheat fields of the Gers region. There are tree lined avenues, old towers – beautiful.

The windows are down, the air is sweet; poor Vik, he’ll be on that sofa right now . . .

. . . a rise, somewhere on the D943, en route Pau. Picnic time for PEZ!

We know there’s a break of six with Tommy V, a Sorensen and Sam Dumoulin in there. Sky and Lotto are chasing – it’s Big Greipel’s 30th birthday and he wants his fourth stage win.

We were talking to a Sky ‘insider’ this morning and word is that Cav isn’t enjoying being in the shadows. He likes the limelight – that’s a surprise!

But enough of that race stuff – we have local bread, cheese, sausage, pears, peaches and the favourite beer of the French Foreign Legion, Kronenbourg 1664.

There’s not one cloud to spoil the perfect blue above us; we have our ‘100 Best Reggae Hits’ CD’s in full effect – Desmond Dekker, Toots and the Maytals, Dandy Livingstone . . .

It’ll be hard to convince the folks back home that we’re working once they read this.

The parcours have rolled all day; big, soft, green countryside – like we say, ‘the Tour is a state of mind’ and today’s Gers, Hautes Pyrenees and Pyrenees Atlantique Regions have been easy on the eye, and the soul.

We can hear the choppers – Fedrigo, Voeckler, Dumoulin, Vande Velde and Nicki Sorensen – all specialist rouleurs. The gap is 9:45 – the sprinters would be best to enjoy the scenery, now. We see them at the bottom of the ‘roller’ – there’s a QuickStep too, it’s 194, Dries Devenyns.

Where would the PEZ euros go at the bookies? Fedrigo; he’s as fly as a sack of monkeys, that one – and FDJ morale couldn’t he higher. Well, maybe if Sandy had won, yesterday?

It’s a long time before Sky’s clockwork soldiers tick past – Knees, Eisel, Rogers.

Being a team mate of Bradley’s means you get the best views of the French countryside – there are no other riders in front to spoil the view.

Cav is right there, too – but why?

The pace is by no means frantic, there’s even a buzz of conversation in the peloton and cousins Nico Roche and Dan Martin chat and smile.

The voiture balait hasn’t passed – we can’t budge ’til it does.

‘Yauheni Hutarovich, the Belorussian sprinter from FDJ is still on the course, give him encouragement,’ says the announcer from his car as he screams past us.

We wait, and wait but ‘pas de Yauheni,’ there’s the voiture balait, the FDJ man must have climbed off – a shame, he looked relaxed and happy, this morning.

We tuck in on the breakdown wagon which marks the end of the Tour convoy and tune in to the radio; Vande Velde and Fedrigo go clear – there’s only going to be one winner in that duel.

Sure enough, ‘le quatrieme vainqueur Francais, Pierrick Fedrigo!’ says the man in the dashboard.

FDJ’s second stage win – Monsieur Madiot may well go to more than one glass of champagne for the boys, tonight.

After all, it’s rest day, tomorrow.

A demain.

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