Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Back to normal?

El Tour is over for another year, and I for one am glad. It's four weeks of very intense work, because it's like the world championships of journalism too. You can't afford to drop the ball, miss out on a story, or be slow with publishing results/reportage/pics. You'll be left behind otherwise.

The results were fairly predictable after stage 1. Not taking anything away from LA, who certainly knows how to win this bike race, but the others just didn't match up. Full credit to Vinokourov though. He rocks. His two late attacks + his long range attack in the Alps netted him two wins and a second place, and he made some potentially boring stages quite interesting. Hope he can do good at Liberty next year.

I reached a point of physical and mental exhaustion by the end of it that I don't think I've managed in the past. The physical exhaustion was partly self-inflicted, as Shane (the Irish guy who was helping me for the last two weeks) and I went to Gentsefeesten on Friday and Saturday night before going down to Paris on Sunday morning. Given that we didn't finish work until midnight on those nights, it wasn't a surprise that we didn't get home until 5:30am on Saturday morning, with a few hours of sleep before tackling the final TT. We went out again on Saturday night, didn't get back until 3am, but had to be up at 6 to catch our train to Paris. No wonder my voice was totally shot by then. Gentsefeest was amazing though.

On Sunday, I was a walking zombie, Philippe Gaumont-style, which was funny given what happened later on. We made it to Paris, tried to get a bit of sleep on the train, then found our hotel - the beauteous Ibis in La Defense, which was even more beauteous in the drizzling rain (Note the sarcasm). It is actually hideous. We got out at the final stop (under the arch), but it was the wrong one, so we walked back about a km and admired the collective hideousness that is La Defense.

We got to l'Hotel at about 10am, but they didn't have our rooms ready until 1, which sucked. There was no food available that we could see so we just plonked ourselves in the sumptuous lobby (note the sarcasm again) and started work using the not-free wireless network. There was a chain-smoking homeless guy with his trousers open sitting next to us. He was apparently a regular at the hotel, as they brought him food and stuff. Unfortunately we weren't afforded the same service. Must be something to do with being a client.

Finally we got our rooms and grabbed a bit more sleep, before the call came from Tim to meet him at his rather more upmarket hotel - the Meridien. We hoofed it over there on the metro and were five minutes late, but it didn't matter as we had to wait in the lobby for another 40 minutes before Tim arrived and gave me my accreditation. At least the lobby of the Meridien was a hell of a lot nicer than the Ibis. The press room was downstairs so we found Hedwig (Anthony and Tim went to the finish) and were desirous of some food. Every brassiere (and most of the places to eat) in the vicinity was closed after lunch so after half an hour of walking, we ended up at the place that Shane and I had thought about going to when we got there - right next to the Meridien.

I had the equivalent of fried whitebait, heads, eyes, tail, everything. Didn't taste any different than calamari and I was bloody hungry so I didn't care. I think I ended up eating half of Hedwig's salad too.

Then it was back to the press room to see the end of the stage and actually do some work. Great finish, with Vino going away with 3 km to go. I love it when the sprinters teams get upset at the end. Then more work, finally finishing in the lobby of the beauteous Ibis at sometime after 11pm. We were meant to be at dinner at 10pm, but got there at midnight, just as they were taking last orders. Luckily we got some nosh. It ended up being me, Hedi, Shane, Tim, Suzanne (from the Austin American Statesman), Scott and Mike/Mark from Trek, and one other guy who I didn't know. Tanman, Jon Devich and Casey didn't make it, as they were piss-farting around in the hotel when we left.

At about 2am, three of us (Hedi + Shane) headed off to the Duplex nitespot to the post-Tour party, where many of the riders go. I'd forgotten my accreditation so I had to fork out the princely sum of 15 euros to get in, but I got a free drink so it wasn't all bad. It was certainly heaving when we got there, but given my zombie-like state, lack of voice, and lack of French, there wasn't a hell of a lot to do except suffocate. Bumped into Jeff Quenet, who introduced me to Bernard Sainz, aka Dr Mabuse. Go to search.cyclingnews.com/ and type in "Dr Mabuse" to find out a bit about him. He seemed to know who I was and was quite civil, although I wouldn't know because I don't speak the lingo. I can assure you that I didn't ask him for a pick-me-up to relieve me of my zombie-like state.

That was the only thing of remote interest that happened at the Duplex, and I started to feel poorly at about 3am and indicated to the Others that I would make my way back to the beauteous Ibis for some shuteye. They had reached the same conclusion and joined me, so we hoofed it part of the way and got a taxi for the rest of it, as the distance between the Arc de Triomphe and La Defense is further than it looks. Then a glorious 5 hours sleep before I got up again and tried to start work in the lobby. Luckily, John had posted two editions of news so it wasn't actually necessary for me to do anything other than drool like the homeless dude, who had spent a relaxing night in his chair, surrounded by a spray of peanuts and other items of food.

Then it was time to get out of there, and I returned to Sunny Gent at 2:04pm, local time. Couldn't sleep so I went for a short ride, felt crap because my throat was so dry and I didn't even realise the front brake was rubbing. That's a Lance excuse, sorry. Today was marginally better after a full 8 hours sleep and I managed to disengage the front brake and ride a bit quicker. Throat improving.

My mind is still a black hole, as evidenced by the above.

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