The Wrong Tack
If there was a logbook for the team hotel on the evening of the 15th July, one entry may have stood out slightly from the others:
A very tired and angry looking engineer in Team Sky livery shuffled into the reception of the Toulouse Novotel on Sunday night, wheeling in front of him a couple of tyres from a Jaguar. Sweating slightly with the effort, he wheeled straight past the astonished looking receptionist and into the lift without so much as looking up from his precious tyres. If you listened very carefully, there was a slow, steady stream of mild expletives being uttered in English under his breath, and regular mentions of tacks (whatever they might be).
No guesses for whom that might have been, and no guesses for what tacks are. The past 24 hours for everyone on the Tour has been dominated by these 20mm long pieces of pure evil. I shall never look at the beastly things in the same way again. We realized something was up as we followed the stage live from the team's hotel. Scott (embedded photographer), Soren (chef), Dan (physio and relentless subject of Alan Partridge impersonations), and I noticed a couple of punctures early on - these things happen and we thought nothing of it. Three minutes later and with the puncture number risen up to 25, it was blatantly obvious that there had been foul play. Of course where the bikes go, so do the cars. Amazingly, there was only one tyre change needed for the entire fleet. The Jaguar's tyres are just a touch thicker than the deadly 20mm length, so only one flat. It still took me 4 hours of precision tack-pulling to coax twelve of the damn things out of seven different tyres, as well as changing the one flat we had. Kudos also to my roommate Scott for not batting an eye at the fact that he had to sleep next the two spare tyres laid on the floor, which I took with me to the room instead stowing them in the team bus, which had been locked up for the evening.
Apparently, foul play of this kind is nothing new, and previous incidents have involved bike sabotage and even a kidnapping in 1904! There is no way that all 3,500 km of the route can have barriers, so it is up to the crowd to be self-regulating. Yesterday was a stark reminder that cycling is one of the most exposed sports in the world, and will always be so. The furious reaction to the incident has been heartening, and the peloton really rallied in response. Bradley was the man of the moment and communicated with the other riders to slow down and allow the victims of puncturing an opportunity to get back to the main group. A real act of sportsmanship, and it was humbling to see the way the riders looked out for each other even when there was an opportunity to gain a significant advantage. You don't see that in many sports. It has really endeared Bradley to the (often highly partisan) French press too, who have taken to calling him 'Le Gentleman'.
Tacks aside, the Tour is well and truly in the heartland of Southern France now, and I'm writing this as we head through the stunning scenery on the road to Toulouse. Almost in response to the Tour, the natural world has come out in a blaze of rich yellow. The ubiquitous sunflowers that line the roads in endless orderly fields never get boring, and it is no wonder that it is one of the unofficial symbols of the Tour itself. The daily rhythm of unforgettable experiences continues too. On Sunday (pre-tack pulling) we were forced off of the motorway by heavy traffic and had the pleasure of following the publicity caravan on the race route for a few miles. 'The Caravan' is often missed by broadcasters, but is one of the real gems of the Tour, spraying marketing goodies into the crowds and generally working them up into a frenzy of excitement, really creating a carnival atmosphere for when the cyclists come through. Moments like that really lift the spirits and give the energy levels a much needed boost. Of course, I can't complain - I haven't just ridden 200km! It's something I always keep at the back of my mind to remind me I'm not the only one who's exhausted. I'll sign off there for the moment, I'm writing this the evening before the rest day, which is guaranteed to not to be restful.
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