I used to dream of riding in the Tour de France; some decades later, I downgraded that to just watching it, start to finish, en route, in France. A couple of weeks ago, I’d been sent out to rent a campervan to serve as transport and accommodation for the great Glaistonbury 2012, a friend’s alternative to non-existent Glastonbury, on a farm in North Yorkshire. Fast forward a week, spent largely on eBay, and we were the proud owners of a bought sight-unseen £500 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee (Limited Edition) with all the trimmings. It didn’t fulfil the criteria of ‘camper’, but it did get up north and back, albeit with banging and crashing from the rear end. Looking at it from the kitchen window afterwards, I got to thinking that this would be the ideal vehicle for following the Tour de France. It was only 2,500 miles or so. Obviously I didn’t have press accreditation (I was sure once they got to know me that would be forthcoming), but I did have laptop, wi-fi, iPhone, map and a bag full of euros. It would be a breeze. I suggested it to my girlfriend. She said ‘No’.
And that’s why I find myself writing this alone in one of the shabbiest hotels I’ve ever stayed in, and that’s saying something as I’ve stayed in a few let me tell you - Le Grand Hotel, Place de la Gare, Mouscron (never heard of it), Belgium, if you’re ever in the neighbourhood, with the Jeep - which I was going to call The Hearse, but have now decided optimistically to call The Beast, parked outside the door.
Anyone with half an interest in this year’s race will know that for the first time ever an Englishman is the bookies favourite to actually win. Bradley Wiggins, ‘Bradders’, ‘Wiggo’. He actually has Wiggo printed on the side of his jersey with the mod ‘target’ symbol as the last letter because regrettably he’s a mod (or thinks he is), which is beyond bizarre in the ‘sport of professional bike racing’ (copyright: professional apologists, ITV4’s Liggett and Sherwen). Of course with England’s natural propensity to fuck things up (football), anything could happen, particularly in the TDF (crashes, punctures, broken collar bones). But I’d love to see him win even though there is something about him that doesn’t quite float my boat, unlike say Mark Cavendish. I think it must be Sky’s much quoted love of ‘marginal gains’ making it a bit too clinical for me. However, we shall see and his dry wit and slight resentment of, and bafflement at, media duties make the press conferences entertaining, so I’m warming to him.
Since this is all a bit last minute (the day before the start sort of thing), I’m late. Whence watching the prologue time trial on my laptop in an Ibis foyer in Calais, with pissed up English yelling in the street. Drinking games. How embarrassing.
A short flat individual race against the clock, this where the favourites first show themselves, and although over only 6.4 km’s it’s more important than it seems, particularly as recent tours have been won by the less than a minute after three weeks racing.
I tune in just as Wiggins Bradders Wiggo is warming up on his turbo trainer, or rollers as we used to call them back in the days of flat caps and whippets. What is it with those extra long shorts they all wear these days? And the bloody long socks? No class. Never mind, he has his kid’s names tattoo’ed o’er his heart. Nipple? Painful.
French hope and charmer, even by name, Sylvain Chavanel, has done a sterling ride and is in the lead by some margin. The Belgian crowd roar home local boy Philippe Gilbert who finishes 2 seconds down. American Levi Leipheimer sets off in his ridiculous ‘preying mantis’ position and seven minutes later posts a time some way off the pace. Good.
Back to Wiggins still warming up. Talking of marginal gains, I’d trim those bloody sideboards. US time trial champion Dave Zabriske starts. Great skinsuit! Looks like Captain America. Just as I think that David Harmon on Eurosport says it. Remarkable.
Slovak wunderkind Peter Sagan starts. Super strong and young, he looks like there is nothing that he can’t do. Mind you, one thing he can’t do is get round the only roundabout on the course without nearly coming off.
Dan Martin finishes. His time is nothing to write home about but I only mention him because I used to race against his dad (and lose). Sky’s Chris Froome finishes at 9 seconds on Chavanel. Not bad at all, particularly as if anything happens to Wiggins later he’s good enough to take over the team leadership.
Ah, now we have Franck Schleck, one of the two ‘Schlecklet’ brothers, and a contender for the overall. And also a sure fire winner of the unofficial moaning, whinging and complaining jersey. Renowned for not being able to time trial he loses a massive 35 seconds in the first seven minutes of the tour. Plenty to moan about there then. Must be missing his roommate and brother Andy Pandy (injured).
US time trial champion Dave Zabriske starts. Great skinsuit! Looks like Captain America. Just as I think that David Harmon on Eurosport says it. Remarkable.
Amazingly Captain America (Zabriske) loses 51 seconds. Maybe I was a bit hard on Franck. Next up is world time trial champion Tony Martin. There has been much talk and rumours all day about the size of his big ring. David Harmon says that he wasn’t allowed to look at it. To explain, that’s his front chainring, not anything else. Tony is a favourite for this and really wants the first yellow jersey.
Now we cut to defending champion, Australia’s Cadel Evans, warming up and sweating buckets. Can’t say I’m a fan particularly. Strange looking man with an odd resemblance to the current version John Travolta. Also never seems to tan, always rather pale. And I find his style of racing boring and negative. And, and… Nicknamed ‘Cuddles’ because of the way he always tightly grasps hold of the Credit Lyonnais lion on the podium.
Disaster! Tony Martin punctures. Very, very quick bike change but as well as losing about 15 seconds, he’s now lost all hope of the yellow jersey. Professes at the finish to being ‘very disappointed’.
Just noticed that Sky’s Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen is currently 3rd at 4 seconds. He’s such a dark horse.
Wiggins starts. Wearing number 101. Is there some mod significance or is it just a room? Or TV show for the more ignorant amongst you. Crikey, he’s really going for it. Watch out for the roundabout Brad! Phew, he’s through the roundabout but is 6 seconds down at halfway.
Tour of Italy winner, Canadian Ryder Hesjedal starts. Memorably described by someone on the internet as having all the personality of a house brick.
Wiggins finishes takes the lead! 0.42 seconds faster than Chavanel. He must have really torn up the second half of the course.
Evans arrives at the start ramp. Breaking tradition and possibly the rules he is not wearing the yellow jersey as last years winner but his trade team colours. There has been talk this year (well, from Wiggins) that the skinsuits supplied for the competition leaders aren’t as aerodynamic as the ones supplied by their teams. This must be why he isn’t wearing yellow. He also has a drink bottle very low down on the frame as well. This must be a result of wind tunnel tests as there is no way he’ll need a drink over this course. Or have time to have one. For all the fuss that the UCI make enforcing stupid petty rules based on aerodynamics I rather like the way he’s cocking a snook. Enforce that one, blazers.
The Swiss, Fabian Cancellara starts. Although recently recovered from a broken collarbone which ruined his early season he has never lost a Tour de France prologue he’s started. He’s an absolute powerhouse and is 1 second up on Wiggins at halfway.
Evans looks slow despite his skinsuit and bottle tricks.
Blimey! Cancellara thrashed round that. Wins by a massive 7 seconds from Wiggins and Chavanel and saves his and Radioshacks season. At least Wiggins and Sky don’t have to waste energy defending the jersey and importantly Wiggins has put 20 seconds or more into all his rivals. But only 9 to Travolta Evans.
Meanwhile over in America where the rich and powerful can get away with almost anything, sociopathic, borderline psychopath, bullying narcissist Lance Armstrong is busy outing USADA officials as sexual predators. Plus “USADA officials have reason to believe that Lance Armstrong and his team have hired private investigators to follow them”. He’s had these charges coming for a long time. He knew it, you knew and I knew it. He’s should forget moaning on about the waste of taxpayer dollars and confess. Then he’d stop the waste of taxpayer dollars wouldn’t he?
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