The City Of Lights
To steal a phrase from Vinnie Jones, in Lock, Stock… it's been emotional. A little over three weeks ago I met with some of the management back at Jaguar HQ, who waxed lyrical about the wonders of the great Tour de France. I was a little cynical, thinking it couldn't be that good, could it? How wrong I was.
I mentioned in an earlier blog post (which seems like years ago) that life seemed to have become one constant pit-stop. I worried that every day would become a blur, a kaleidoscope of villages, cafes, cheering fans and blurs of yellow in generically pretty French villages with psychedelic costumes by the roadside. Not a chance. The sights, smells and sounds of the Tour have been so larger than life that even the weathered veterans who have seen it all before are continually amazed by this great travelling circus, and each sensation leaves a lasting impression printed on my mind. The most memorable moments have been the most unexpected. Arriving in the dark at the team hotel one night, it was all I could do to make it bed after an exhausting day. Pulling the curtains back the next morning to see the epic beauty of the Pyrenees literally took my breath away. Words don't describe it, but I thought if I could experience the same feeling perhaps once again in my life, I would be a very lucky man. What I didn't know was that I was to repeat the experience every day that followed.
The highs and lows that we've experienced as a team have been as contrasting as the scenery we've travelled through. The now infamous 'Tack Attack' will go down as one of my ultimate lows. I might have been able to make light of it the next day, but if I ever find the cretin that did it … Thanks to my colleagues, the riders and Team Sky's herculean efforts, it's been mostly Sky highs. Dave Brailsford is known for his attention to detail, and I'm in the privileged position to confirm the sentiment. I can only imagine the pressure on his shoulders yet almost every day he has found time to have a quick chat with all of us, ensuring we were in good spirits and everything was running smoothly. Forget coffee, a quick chat with Dave B will liven you up. I'm actually not sure he sleeps, just plugs himself cleverly into the mains to re-charge the energy battery he runs on.
Sitting typing outside a café near Gare Du Nord with a much anticipated Grande Biere, I can tell I'm starting to gush a little bit. It's hard not to; the past 24 hours have been sensational. We travelled into central Paris this morning to the cheers of the crowd, knowing the end was in sight. As if the whole Tour has not been mind blowing enough, Paris has managed to raise the bar yet again. Sitting just off the Place Concorde in the centre of the city, I could see the Eiffel Tower peeking over the tops of the buildings as we arrived. With the mechanics we watched the nerve racking finish as a breakaway managed to steadily gain 20 seconds on the main group as the peloton rattled rings around Paris on the Champs Elysee. I should never have doubted the riders but with one lap of the course to go, I was wondering how they could bring everything back to set up Mark for the win. Of course, they did so with a seamless performance and as Mark shot across the line there were some serious man-hugs going around the team bus. A few well repressed tears betrayed the emotions going around, and the realisation that we really have been part of sporting history. As the crowds gathered around the team bus, the atmosphere was euphoric. The riders and support staff collapsed in happy heaps wherever there was a seat available and waited for our conquering hero to return, resplendent in yellow. When Bradley finally arrived the crowd roared their approval loud enough for all of Paris to hear it. Only a minute later did I realize the chatter was a mixture of French with a lot of excited English voices in between. It really touched me to think that so many people had come from the UK to see Bradley's big moment.
Bradley was doing pretty well keeping up a mod's nonchalance to the whole thing, until he finally cracked and bounded up onto the roof of the race support cars to salute the crowd. The resultant din from the assembled crowds of media, sponsors, and fans could have been heard in London. It was then time for the lap of honour and there was great hustle and bustle as we all piled into cars and onto bikes - even a couple of special mini-Pinarellos decked out in yellow for the smaller Wigginses. And off we all went around the Champs Elysee in the afternoon sunshine in front of the worlds media. All efforts to stay cool had entirely escaped everyone now, and there were loud cheers of celebration coming from all of us, as the riders beamed at the photographers (about several thousand of them, some amateur and some professional) along the route. I had Peta Todd's little son next to me as I drove, who was having great fun playing with all the speakers and CB radios in the Jaguar. (Note to team members now trying to re-programme the entire comms system- it wasn't me!). It was a very happy, very tired group of travellers that finally packed up the vehicles and headed off to the Ritz for a quick bite to eat and to see their families.
Finally, it's time to say thanks to the team whilst I've got the chance. There isn't enough room to fit everyone in but I'll do my best! Dave B, you always had a kind word to say and enough time for everyone. Fran and the ops team, you kept your heads when I was losing mine, I don't know what I would have done without you. To the mechanics team, Gary et. al, you've been the best travelling companions I could have and always in good humour. Thanks for all the help with directions! A special mention to Scott Mitchell our photographer and our physio Dan. Your endless patience and enthusiasm for cycling has been a real pleasure to experience for the past three weeks. Thank you to Scott for being so generous and allowing me to use his images in this blog, and to Dan for being the butt of so many Alan Partridge impressions and not once getting annoyed by it. Finally to the riders. There's enough to be said by others about your sporting performance, but I want to thank you for the stories you've shared with me, and the jokes we've had along the route. Bravo Bradley, and bravo Team Sky.