Day 10 ? Monday, July 10
Rest day? You?ve got to be having a laugh, haven?t you? There?s not a lot of rest involved in a 400-kilometre transfer from Brittany to Bordeaux.
While the riders were enjoying an afternoon off, we were slowly counting down the kilometres to our destination, while being overtaken by most of the publicity caravan on the way.
It is pretty humiliating being passed by a flatbed truck with a huge fibre-glass Laughing Cow on the back, particularly when your foot is flat on the floor.
Ed and I had left our hotel in Vannes a little later than planned, and no sooner were we on the road than the call came from Simon to say he was already at Nantes airport, waiting for a lift.
We drove on to Bordeaux, stopping only for poor-quality sustenance at a motorway service station where the etiquette of queuing had clearly been forgotten.
Once in Bordeaux we headed to the Sofitel hotel with our big Cycle Sport charity sign-on board. The idea, for those who don?t know, was to collect the signatures of all the riders in the race on a big yellow board, then auction it for the Sport Relief charity once complete.
After a great start at the pre-race presentation evening things had gone a bit quiet once the race started and we still needed 39 autographs.
Hanging around in reception would, surely, be the place to get a few more to sign on. Unfortunately, the riders remained holed up in their rooms. Spotting the room list pinned to a notice board near the lift, Ed decided to ring the riders direct. The first to pick up the phone was Frank Schleck of CSC, who said it was awfully poor form to ring a rider?s room and that if we wanted to see him we?d have to wait in reception until he came down for dinner ? in three hours? time.
Ed tried to explain it wouldn?t burn too many calories to sign our board and that it was all for charity, but Schleck didn?t seem to be listening.
Salvatore Commesso was much more amiable and signed happily, asking where the money would go. Over at the Credit Agricole hotel we spotted Julian Dean, who was amused by the amount of space Thor Hushovd?s scribble had taken up. Thor can?t have been very good at colouring-in as a youngster because his signature went well over the lines. ?Typical of a big guy, all over the place,? quipped Dean.
Nicolas Jalabert?s wife and children seemed very interested in the board too. Mrs Jalabert asked why Nicolas? name was at the bottom of Phonak?s list.
Waiting around in reception for cyclists is just one of the more humiliating facets of professional writing and after a while I was hungry too, so Ed, Simon and I headed back to the bar of the Sofitel to meet Andy Jones, our photographer, and Tom Simpson.
No, not that one, obviously. Tom laughed weakly at my joke that he?d been my dad?s favourite rider but if you are called Tom Simpson and work for a cycling magazine, what do you suspect? Our canteen lady Bernardette Hinault gets it all the time!
We found a restaurant in town specialising in dishes from the Alsace region ? Strasbourg seemed a lifetime away but somehow its cuisine had hitched a lift with us. Ed and Simon ordered a sauerkraut-based dish with big pieces of meat on top – three types of sausage, pork and a piece of chicken. It seemed the perfect dish for a roasting hot summer evening when you know you are going to spend the night sleeping in a camper van.
I took a bit of criticism for choosing the veal but my defence was that it was the lightest thing on the menu.
That and the fact it?s the cuddliest.
Day 10 ? Monday, July 10