Paris on the mind

A pride of Lions has appeared in the camp. Not the savannah-dwelling-zebra-eating kind, but the fluffy, kid's toy kind. Every stage that Bradley keeps hold of the Yellow Jersey, he is awarded one of these Lion en Peluche (stuffed lion -as with many things, it sounds better in French). Not that I'm counting, but we have 11 of them now, and they are appearing everywhere. I'm pretty sure that I saw one of the mechanics threatening to use one as a grease rag if another appeared in their workshop again. I can't say they're the most tasteful of things, but it's just one of the inexplicable, quite wonderfully French aspects of the Tour. Some bright spark pointed out (to more loud sniggers from the team bus) that the mane of these fine animals bears more than a passing resemblance to our very own performance coach Rod Ellingworth. Naturally what followed were many photographs of team members with the small, fluffy Rod Ellingworth's. Rod took it in his stride of course - as he does with everything, although his visit to the barbers' shop on the rest day did not go unnoticed! 

We're nearly out of the mountains now and I'm going to be sad to leave them. Life in the thin air is staggeringly beautiful. Whilst I know that I'm seeing an idealised version without the harsh winters and isolation, the warmth and friendliness of the people will stay with me forever. They couldn't be happier to see the Tour come through their beautiful Pyrenean ranges, and are the most ardent of all supporters. Everywhere I look, I am hit in the face with epic scenery and lush greenery. Even the air here is cooler and almost sweet with the morning's mist, compared to the heat and dust down below. The Pyrenean region might be different from other parts of France, but the taste in fancy dress remains utterly bizarre. Current prize for most inappropriate goes to the Father Christmas, sedately cheering on the team in 35 degree heat.

It's fair to say that the mountains have taken a lot out of me, and the support team is beginning to get tired - god knows what the riders must feel like. Not so in the case of our Team Principal Dave Brailsford, or Dave B as everyone knows him. He is absolutely tireless. Scott Mitchell (embedded photographer and long suffering roommate of yours truly), explained that this is everything he has worked towards for five years, so I can see where his level of motivation is comes from. Dave B also knows that with us leaving the mountains, Paris is coming into our horizon. We had a team meeting yesterday and he reminded us that until we get Paris the job is not done, we have to treat every day the same as we treated the first day of the Tour. We know that Dave B will do, and we're absolutely dead-set on matching him.

I know I've mentioned the relentless efficiency of the team before, but the management have stepped things up over the past couple of days. At any given moment when racing is over for the day, you'll see a kind of 'Council of Elders' convene in the back of the bus. It's Dave B and his trusted lieutenants Sean Yates and Servais Knaven (Sports Directors), Rod Ellingworth and Tim Kerrison (Performance Coaches) and Fran Millar and Carsten Jeppesen, who look after everything from bikes and equipment to logistics and media, sponsors and a plethora of other duties to keep Team Sky running smoothly. Fran always has a solution to the most obscure problems! Claudio (bus driver and suspected extra from The Godfather) sidled up to me the other day and asked if I could have a look at the fridge on the bus, which had died. It's a vital piece of equipment for keeping extra water and rider's food and would have been a disaster to lose. With Fran's help we had installed a new fridge in the bus within about 6 hours.

As we set off for our stage transfer out of the mountains, it's time to wave goodbye to our new friends and pack up the Jaguars before heading out. The next time I post, we'll be in Paris and the team might have just made history. Not that it's on our minds or anything.

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