INTO THIN AIR
There are many hackneyed phrases about the satisfaction of seeing a plan come together, and it would be no great shock if they are being used in relation to our Team Principal Dave Brailsford at the moment. Not that he would agree one iota, for the plan has not yet come together. Until the fat lady - or in this case a very thin man from Kilburn - is singing on a podium in Paris, there is no talk of a plan coming together anywhere in the team camp and woe betide the person who dare bring it up. Chatting to Dave yesterday I mentioned that I felt like I had enough excitement for the whole team inside me, let alone what he must be feeling. Dave gave a warm smile and explained that the key was to keep the excitement inside, and remain focused. It's certainly an important skill and explains how the team can keep functioning with such efficiency for three weeks at a time without getting lost in the excitement of the tour, a crucial part of the campaign to win the Yellow Jersey.
Of course we all crack sometimes. The rest day is key for preparation as life over the next week will be mostly spent either driving towards the clouds or down from them, and I was keen to ensure the cars were in good shape for the road ahead. It was washing the cars that did it. I saw our wonderfully Italian bus driver Claudio reach menacingly towards the hose. Within seconds I had a very cold, very wet back. The smile on his face quickly dropped as I retaliated with an electrically powered jet washer and war was waged between Claudio, our mechanic Davide, and I. What ensued was 2 minutes of slippery carnage as water flew in 30 foot jets across the car park, followed by much laughter as we realized that some of the riders arriving back from a brief spin had been cheering on from the sidelines. Froomey even managed to get a picture of Claudio mid-assault.
The more time you spend on the road, the more important those small moments of fun to stop us all going deranged from the daily pressure of being on Tour. The riders are just the same, and Bradley's favourite trick is a pitch perfect recreation of the scene from 'Alan Partridge' that involves shouting 'Dan!, Dan!, DAN!" across the hotel car park. Of course our poor physio Dan runs over to see what the problem is every time, accompanied by loud sniggers from the team bus as he realises that everything is absolutely fine. Froomey is also forever living down forgetting to take out his nose plugs during the prologue time trial. Apparently Bernie Eisel appeared the other day with a huge pair of napkins hanging out of his nostrils, accompanied by hoots of laughter from all involved! A small touch of humour is always the key to dealing with stress or challenging situations, and it's very true here at the tour. We were in stitches two nights ago when Scott (our embedded photographer), Rod Ellingworth (Mark's performance race coach) and I had to share a room. Scott and myself were in bunk beds after Rod managed to pull rank and seize the double bed. It was like kids trying to argue about who got top bunk. I managed to pester Scott into going on bottom, luckily. This was soon mirrored with an utter sense of humour failure the next day when Scott went to our room to find someone was already asleep in one of the beds. Of course, everyone else found it hilarious.
Over the past few weeks I've certainly come to realise why the French are so proud of their 'Grande Boucle' - which literally translated means 'Big Loop'.
It really is an amazing advertisement for France. Since arriving in the country there has not been one day where we have not come across a staggering beautiful scene, and life takes place against a backdrop of huge vistas, stunning coastal roads, vertiginous mountains and turquoise rivers. To the French, 'Le Tour' is more than just a bike race; it's a celebration of the French summertime in a rather more epic, sun drenched manner than Wimbledon tends to be at home in the UK. I mentioned the fans earlier on in the race, but the crowd we encountered yesterday in the mountains is a different breed. A wall of lycra-clad noise, they seem to part only when the riders are within touching distance, willing them up the mountain.
My favourite is Didi, the elderly German devil. The most die-hard of all fans, he travels around Europe and appears in the mountains to chase the riders as they cycle though their own personal hell of suffering. He must be very fit for his age, as he runs in a lycra devil suit at a serious pace uphill. He's even sponsored now! You won't see one rider complain though, everyone loves Didi and he's one of the many cherished additions to bike racing that make up our travelling circus.
I'm writing this sitting in our motor home Black Betty after another successful effort for the team yesterday - our first in the high mountains, which the riders coped with admirably and saw Bradley retain the Yellow Jersey. It's the calm before the storm this morning and the riders are champing at the bit to get moving to the stage start. Those flashes of yellow I mentioned previously are increasing by the day now, as Bradley's handlebars, saddle and bike detailing are turning yellow. I imagine that will only grow if Bradley manages to retain the Yellow Jersey in the days to come. The attitude is that now the team have the jersey, they'll keep hold of it unless the effort required to do so is detrimental to the overall aim of wearing it in Paris. It's going to be a hugely exciting day here in the Alps and I can see Claudio revving up the bus to set off, so I need to get going and follow up the mountain in Black Betty. Lastly thanks also to my twitter followers, who offer so much advice to a novice like me about cycling. 2,600 followers and counting!
Follow Martin on Twitter: @Teamsky_jaguar
Visit the homepage: http://www.jaguar.com/gl/en/xf_sportbrake/