Tuesday, July 06, 2004

End of le Tour pour moi

Tuesday was the final day of my rather brief excursion to le grand boucle this year, as I finished off in Wasquehal at 7:30pm and proceeded to miss the 9pm train from Lille Flandres to Gent. There was a wormhole in time in the press room while I waited for my esteemed colleague to file le race reportage. I later learned that Wasquehal was one of the stops en route. Quelle blow. But anyway, I wasn't in that much of a hurry to get home.

Today's third stage wasn't that bad, although we did get stopped 5 km from getting to the start by the Belgian equivalent of a gendarme who did not know her job. Green sticker on l'auto means we can get on le bloody parcours. Nous sommes le droite dammit! But although we tried, there's no point in arguing with a cop and we eventually turned back and went along via the totally stupid deviation and arrived at the start with only an hour to go, a tad ruffled. That meant there was no time to hobnob with VIPs in the village depart, which is mainly what we are paid to do of course.

We did get enough done in limited time and I had a good chat with Patrick Lefevere (Quick.Step) about today's stage which contained two Paris-Roubaix style cobbled sections (3.8 km at 65 km to go and 1.1 km with 25). Lefevere didn't think that they would have much effect by themselves, but the complete panic that they instilled in the Spanish teams caused a big crash just before the first secteur pavé with 70 km to go and guess what? Aupa Iban Mayo fell off and lost four bloody minutes(!), despite the best efforts of his team to drag him back. The yellow jersey dude Thor Hushovd also ended up with hold the Mayo, but that wasn't as important for the final overall results. Mayo's going to lose another 2'00 in the team time trial tomorrow so that'll put him at 6'00 behind Lance and co. and it will take some pretty spiffy riding in les Pyrenees and les Alpes to pull that back.

It was a really hard stage and a very interesting one as the US Posties, Phonak and T-Mobile (mainly) drove the rest of the bunch very fast right to the finish in Wasquehal, which Roger Hughes described as "a not very interesting suburb of Roubaix". Quite. A French dude won (JP Nazon), same guy who won the last stage in Paris last year. And Robbie took the yellow, which was good for the Gallant Aussie Lads, who have been suffering of late.

Press room was in Wasquehal tennis centre, which had the advantage of being big but the disadvantage of being stifling hot. Oh well, no more complaints as I'm on me way home now and have to do production for the next 2.5 weeks. Being actually on the race is a bit of hassle, but it's miles better as you actually get to write all the stories rather than just produce them. And also it's good to say g'day to people every day, make new contacts, and drink gallons of coffee and beer.

Le magnificently appointed press room in Wasquehal.

All in all it has been a productive few days, and we have already gotten plenty of kudos so far. Tim's royal faux pas made it onto Belgian radio today. Hehe :-) Even better, Lance's girlfriend Sheryl Crow (of singing fame) gave us a nice plug on USA's OLN Tour coverage this morning: "Lance and I have gotten into a habit of getting up in the morning, making coffee and getting online to read Cyclingnews.com and others like ProCycling and Velonews etc."

Thanks Sheryl! Quelle notoriety. It's all achieved through smoke and mirrors and a seriously overworked set of servers.

Here's my final GC prediction after today. I reserve the right to change it at any moment:

1 Lance
2 Jan
3 Hamilton
4 Heras

Damn, I'm going to lose all my fluency in French now.

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