The Best Of Times, The Worst Of Times
There is a definitely a feeling amongst the team that with a sprinkling of luck, and an enormous amount of hard work from everyone involved, we could make history. No one mentions it; let alone discusses it for fear of jinxing the whole thing, but I can tell it is there. It governs everything anyone on the team does, every day. By that same token, emotions naturally run high, and indeed low. The past couple of days have run along those lines within the team camp.
On Monday, myself and a couple of others not following the peloton downed tools to watch the finale of the second stage, as we knew from that morning’s team briefing that there was a chance Mark (Cavendish) would go for the stage win. Mark delivered perfectly, shooting forward to take the stage by a nose (or indeed, half a wheel) from two of his biggest rivals, the powerful sprinters Andre Griepel and Matt Goss. We were out of our chairs with excitement and I felt that if I coughed my heart would pop out of my mouth, where it had stubbornly taken residence twenty minutes earlier. It was only then that I realised one of the omnipresent television cameras had been filming my reaction to the race for French TV. Somewhere in France, I’ll be spotted leaping up and down on the evening news, probably joined by a ticker that says “confirmed, Englishmen are crazy”. Just another day on the Tour! The feeling in the team camp that evening was a touch euphoric and we happily re-lived every moment of Mark’s of win. Mark himself was all smiles seeing what a boost it had given everyone. The support staff also got a glass of champagne to have with supper, which was a very welcome break from the no-drinking rule that we have imposed on ourselves.
By contrast, Tuesday was without doubt the lowest point of the Tour so far. It was a usuaI morning and I was checking the additional cars happily surrounded by delicious wafts of freshly cooked croissants coming from the hotel kitchen, the constant rhythm of important clinking noises could be heard from inside the mechanics truck. It was then that we heard it over the radio that Kosta (Kanstantsin Siutsou) had been involved in a crash. Hearts were in mouths again for all the wrong reasons, and all we could do was stare at the pictures on TV of Servais Knaven (one of our Sports Directors), looking worried when he is usually one of the coolest characters on the Tour.
A few minutes later it came over the radio that Kosta had pulled out. You could have heard a pin drop in our camp. It’s a mark of how selfless the riders are that when they got back from the stage, they cheered us all up, even though it was they who would feel Kosta’s loss the most. Scott Mitchell, the team’s embedded photographer, reminded me later that the riders are used to this, it is the nature of the beast that in cycling (and especially the Tour de France) there are crashes. They were more worried about Kosta’s frame of mind as this was his first Tour, and pulling out is crushingly disappointing for any rider. The next day, and it’s back to work. The riders are focused on the job in hand and making sure that Bradley is nowhere near any of the crashes. There’s no time for dwelling on it, and Kosta would be annoyed if we did.
And so the show goes on; as we head further into France the fans are now more fanatical than ever and the sights and sounds of the tour get more bizarre, colorful and even louder. On Tuesday when walking up to the stage finish with Scott, we were accosted by an enormous and highly animated baguette from the publicity caravan dancing in the middle of the road. Whipping the crowd into a frenzy of excitement as he chased us around the finish line, the cacophony coming from the attendant crowd (most of the town) was at deafening levels. This after all is their great race and they were there to have a good time. I can’t blame them; it ‘s the best excuse for a party I’ve ever seen. Not that I’ll be getting the baguette suit out any time soon.
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