Tour de France moto blog: back in France

Blog by Moto 514, Luke Evans, the driver of CW photographer Graham Watson’s motorbike at the 2014 Tour de France

Stage 4, Le Touquet to Lille, Tuesday July 8
Back in France with ears still ringing from that amazing opening weekend in Yorkshire. The crowds are more spaced out and not everyone is waving. It’s nice to be anonymous again. We can now hear the radio and wave to individuals.

Stage 5, Ypres to Arenberg, Wednesday July 9
More bike trouble. It wouldn’t start just before the roll out in Ypres and the Flemish fans got some extra entertainment watching us try to bump start it. Nothing. Wheeled it off the road and another driver with a similar bike and problem checked the fuses and found one that had blown. We vroomed off with a few minutes to spare.

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Much chatter before the stage regarding which bikes would be allowed into the pave. The big road bikes we’re excluded but trail style bikes were allowed to ride all the sections and pass the bunch in between on the road.
Maybe once in every 15 years you get a chance to ride on wet Paris-Roubaix cobbles. The last time for me was 20 years ago when Andrei Tchmil won the race in 1994. We only crashed once that epic day (it snowed at the start) and not one of the TV bikes made it to Roubaix.

I was a bit nervous as the front wheel bumped onto the glistening stones but I remembered to keep it in the centre and try to relax.

The rain had washed the mud away, that is what makes them slippery, and the bike felt stable. We only had one little moment when I went to stop on the outside of bend and nearly put us in the ditch. Graham had to push me back onto the cobbles.

Rider of the day: Geraint Thomas giving it full gas along the final section of cobbles with just another rider for company as they chased the leading groups. G is looking really good, and skinnier than ever.

Stage 6, Arras to Rheims, Thursday July 10
Roadside: a bloke with cardboard tied to his chest and three green squares roughly coloured in. Nothing else.
Rider of the day: Johan van Summeren, one of the tallest riders in the bunch, he seems to fall off a lot and today was involved in one of the crashes on a wet descent. His jersey muddy but otherwise ok, he was one of many riders chasing back through the team cars. A tough Belgian pro.

In the press room a French photographer grabbed a baguette sandwich in a bag. He pulled out the sandwich, spat in the bag, put the sandwich back in the bag and then ate it.

We thought there would be more military cemeteries today, there were two big ones early on which we missed, then I saw a memorial stone on a roundabout near Peronne with ‘Trintignant’ but no graves so we cruised on. Turns out Louis Trintingant was a car racer who, during practice in the GP de Picardie swerved to avoid a gendarme in his Bugatti, crashed and died on this spot.

Stage 7, Rheims to Nancy, Friday July 11
Two fighter planes from the First World War performed a fly past just after the start. They flew a few stately passes over the bunch. The Tour is paying its respects to the combatants of WWI and later in the stage we went just ahead of the bunch in time to stop at the massive tomb-shaped ossuary at Verdun.

Behind us were the white crosses of the thousands of French soldiers killed here in the early years of WW1. There was a crowd here but the applause for the bunch was muted and not doubt a few riders offered thanks for the sacrifices made by young men much the same as themselves a century ago.

Just when I thought we were going to have a fairly humdrum stage with a sprint finish, it suddenly kicked off in the finale. There was a crash in front of us and we took pictures from the bike picking our way though the usual chaos.

Tejay van Garderen had fallen and we then tried to get some shots of him being paced back by his teammates on the outskirts of Nancy. On the wide plunging roads into Nancy I was going as fast as I dared just to get alongside the BMC train. I am still shocked so sometimes how fast these blokes can go.

Stage 8, Saturday, Tomblaine to Gerardmer
Great to see Simon Yates in the break. He seems to be enjoying his late call-up to his first Tour. Even when the break split up he continued to chase strongly in third place and the team cannot have been disappointed with his showing today. Don’t take these daily breakaways for granted, I know they usually get caught but it takes hard riding to get into one and then stay away for most of the day.

Roadside: a man in one of those chicken suits that look as if you are riding it. In a kilt. Playing the bagpipes.
Belgian driver Gery has a novel way to stop the rain going down his neck. He hooks a short bungee cord around his neck.

Stage 9 Gerardmer to Mulhouse Sunday July 13
Roadside: a troupe of flamenco dancers in big red ball gowns. Arms folded. Bored.

Alessandro De Marchi was labouring on a big gear when we caught up with Tony Martin. The relentless German, his bottom lip extended like a menacing prize pike, sensed that his partner was spent and not long after, swam powerfully away.

There are quite a few ex-pros riding motos in the Tour. French sprinter Jimmy Casper is one of the more recent additions, he rides a white Kawasaki with big round slots in the panniers which hold bottles which the riders can grab on the move.