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08/14/08
Tour de Tour, Part II
Filed under: General, TdF 2008
Posted by: Todd @ 6:23 pm

An internet connection is something I’ve taken for granted in most of my travels, but in the smaller villages in the South of France, and I’m sure throughout most of Europe, one is a rarity [apparently, the Adirondacks aren’t much better]. Mid-way through my stint with the French SSC gang, I grew more and more comfortable with the schedule and arrangement of the program, and also got to know each of my French counterparts a bit better. I’ve learned that Neutral Service in Europe is quite a different animal than in North America; they really are only there to pick up the slack when the team cars aren’t present. Still, when that gap exists, they’re all-business.

 

Short-lived as it was, I enjoyed the experience, immensely; it’s something I’ll always carry with me. To be a part of an event as grand as the Tour de France is reserved for only the most elite, and as a mechanic, I’m proud to have been accepted into that group.

 

Stage 11, Lannemezan to Foix

 

This stage features a section of road a few kilometers long that is so narrow that Tour organizers have declared that teams will not be allowed to service their own riders on that stretch. As a remedy, they have asked MAVIC to provide more two-wheeled support. A group of corporate employees (all of whom also have extensive race service experience, of course) bring three dual-sport motorcycles, normally reserved for Paris-Roubaix, to bolster the efforts of Freddy and Denis on the scooter. So it’s with a caravan of four cars and four motos that we roll into Lannemezan. Our reserved tent in the Start Village is a bit more crowded and more lively than it was during the first two stages, making our time there pass quickly and, before I even knew it, we were walking to our vehicles to make our final preparations for the start.

 

Lionel and I were car 3 on this day and enjoyed the luxury of not carrying a VIP in the front seat. With our out-front position in mind, we made a fast break with the first Gendarmes and began our leisurely afternoon drive, patiently awaiting a fracture in the field.


The first break to stick was well-in-hand with car 2 and plenty of motor-support, so we continued on our merry way, stopping to greet a friend of Lionel’s who gifted us with a foil container of the most amazing home made sugar crepes I’ve ever tasted. I snapped photos of scenery while Lionel tortured me with a 70’s radio station, turning it way up any time a song in English would come on, which was more often than not. I remember some Foreigner, some ELO, Kansas… you get the picture. Like I said – torture.

 

Finally, after more than two hours of this, it was business time again. Moinard had created enough of a gap with his solo effort that we were called back to cover him. We followed closely behind Moinard until the Cofidis team car arrived, but his lead over the chase group was still tight enough that we needed to keep close. That lead continued to dwindle, and so, ultimately, we chose to drop back and cover an unsupported Oscar Pereiro who was riding a surprisingly successful solo bridge for the time-being. I say time-being, because not long after we fell in behind the Spaniard, we could see the peloton all-too-clearly through the rear window. Once Oscar took full notice of this too, we bee-lined it to the front again, leaving the race to its own devices, once more.

 

 

Stage 12, Lavelanet to Narbonne

 

We’re officially out of the Pyrenees, and racing down toward the Mediterranean coast. Incredible as it’s been traveling along with the event up to this point, it’s beginning to feel a lot like any other bike race. At first I wonder if the magic is fading, but then I realize that it’s comfort sinking in; I’m feeling less and less like “U.S.”, who’s been invited to tag along for a few days, and more and more and more like one of the team.

 

It was predicted that stage 12 would end in a bunch sprint because of the prevailing downward direction of the race, with only one categorized climb along the way (a Category 4 climb… hardly a sprinter-breaker). What hadn’t been predicted? The race would make its way to Narbonne, one team slimmer than it had arrived in Lavelanet. The Ricco/Saunier Duval scandal was all over the airwaves from the moment the caravan began to lead the race out.

 

Between newscasts and speculation over the two-way, Lionel and I took note of the fact that there was, in fact, a bicycle race happening. More to the point, two French riders, Arnaud Gerard and Samuel Dumoulin, had made their attack stick. So with four eyes on the Francaise de Jeux and Cofidis riders, and two-and-a-half ears on the radio reports (I’ve got to face it; my French isn’t that great) we plodded away in the bright yellow Skoda.

 

The gap to the peloton maxed out at about four minutes and was steadily falling when a fresh-looking Juan Jose Oroz bridged and nearly left the two Frenchmen dazed in his contrail. Dumoulin and Gerard woke up, though, and managed to match the Spaniard’s pace, breathing new life into what had been a dying breakaway. This infusion of energy that briefly stretched the split in a positive direction was still too little, too late. The day would, after all, end with the spectacle of a mass sprint for the line, and the 23-year-old Manx, Mark Cavendish would make it his third time atop the podium in his first ever Tour de France.

 

 

One more to go: Narbonne to Nimes.

One Response to “Tour de Tour, Part II”

  1. fletch Says:
    Yay!