Some cheeky little winkle has tried to peel the official blue ‘Press’ sticker off the windscreen of our car.
Without it, we will effectively be outside the ropes, unable to drive on the route or get into the car park or move anywhere at the Tour de France. The equivalent of having our hands tied behind our backs while the gendarmes throw rotten fruit at us and laugh. We’ve already had one policeman eye it suspiciously. It’s only a matter of time before we get turned back.
The would-be thief’s little fingers has picked and pulled at one corner of the sticker, making a right mess. However, the glue on the sticky side must have come from a particularly stubborn horse because it would not budge entirely.
Now Saturday’s rain has got under it and loosened it so it flaps against the windscreen. Any more rain and wind and it’ll fly off, landing with a splat to obscure the vision of the poor unfortunate driving behind us.
I don’t want to get into a rant about how many people these days seem to think they can just help themselves to whatever they fancy but this really is an irritating development.
Asking ASO’s chef de presse for a replacement is going to be a real pain because he will tut, and huff and puff, and make out that it really is a massive inconvenience to issue another sticker. He will look at me with a mixture of loathing and pity and finally suggest that if I could just pop back after lunch he ‘might’ be able to sort me out, but that this entire episode is really a very bad reflection on me and my place in the entire human race. French people in positions of power like to make people feel like this, it seems.
Anyway, on Friday we arrived in Aurillac, which is not as quaint or as pretty as its location on the map would suggest. Instead it’s a bit of a work-a-day town and slightly grubby.
Ed raised the alarm bells when he rang our hotel to confirm they had our reservation – this is always a sensible thing to do because it ensures the owners can’t give your room away if you don’t get there before quarter past six in the evening – and the man said that we’d have to pay cash because they didn’t accept cards. Great, our hotel was located somewhere in the 1960s.
Alasdair laughed when he told us that his golden rule after covering 15 or so Tours is that you never stay anywhere called ‘Hotel de la Gare’ for a wide range of reasons I didn’t want to hear.
The place was actually surprisingly acceptable once you got past the smell of cigarettes and pastis coming from the bar downstairs. Okay, so the wood panelling and the ancient carpet weren’t attractive, but it was clean and tidy, if a little bizarre. Once again I drew the short straw in the keyring lottery, choosing room number nine, which had no toilet.
But it did have a quite remarkable shower – a plastic cabin rather like the portaloos building sites and music festivals have.
In town we saw Gerolsteiner team manager Hans-Michael Holzcer with his mobile phone pressed to his ear, looking concerned. Not that this is particularly exciting news. Hans-Michael Holzcer always looks concerned and often has his phone pressed to his ear.
The cause of Holzcer’s wrinkled forehead was, no doubt, news of the first positive drug test of the Tour, which descended like a gloomy fog. Perhaps he was ringing prospective sponsors for his team to reassure them that cycling is still a good investment, despite the fact the entire German nation seems to have switched off this year.
Sometimes your hotel can be a little too close to the Tour de France. Our base in Toulouse was on the route, inaccessible behind some barriers, about 450 metres from the finish line.
We knew we wouldn’t be getting in there until well into the evening, so headed to the Novotel near the airport, where Mark Cavendish and his Columbia team were staying.
Once done there it was gone 9.30pm. Ed had called the hotel to check our rooms hadn’t been given away.
When we arrived, at about 10, what do you know? Our rooms had been given away. Apparently there had been a mix-up with the credit card and so they gave our rooms away. Would it be terribly inconvenient to walk half a mile to the other Best Western a few streets away?
Yes, actually, it would be terribly bloody inconvenient. I didn’t say this, because once a French hotel receptionist has given your rooms away once they can very easily make it happen a second time and then you’re sleeping in the car.
So we walked across to the other Best Western, simmering with anti-French hotelier sentiment, and cursing the fact that we’d joked earlier in the day that there was absolutely no chance of a missed dinner debacle in a town the size of Toulouse. Suddenly – like foolishly suggesting that a first dope-free week boded well for the rest of the Tour – it felt like tempting fate.
The receptionist at the second Best Western took an eternity to check us in but finally did so. Dinner was not missed and everyone ended the day happy.
Ed has now flown home, taking his iPod with him, and subjecting me to the horrors of French radio. Between that and a three-night stay in the worst town anywhere ever, Lourdes for those who don’t know, it’s going to be a testing few days.
CW’S DOMESTIQUE’S GUIDE
The Tour de France for the discerning traveller
Hotel de la Gare, Aurillac
Tarif: 26 euros per room per night
Facilities: State of the art just after the war, no doubt. The plastic porta-shower was amazing. No toilet, but a bidet instead, which went unused. No TV either, which is probably a good thing. Wifi? You have to be joking
Room: Gave me a feeling of how officers in the French Foreign Legion live.
Bed: Comfortable but the first appearance of the dreaded French cylindrical pillow.
Staff: The lady who served breakfast and joked that I needed fattening up with a second croissant earns the hotel a second Inner Tube
Surroundings: Great if you’re catching a train the following morning
Best Western Toulouse Centre, Grand Hotel les Capitouls
Tarif: 165 euros per room per night
Facilities: Trouser press, mini bar, flat-screen telly, shockingly expensive Wifi internet
Room: What the French consider to be American-style
Bed: Two singles of differing heights pushed together
Staff: Pedestrian and sarcastic
Surroundings: Great. Smack in the centre of a bustling city. Shame we arrived too late to experience it
Hotel Renaissance Aurillac
We wandered into town and dined in the restaurant of this hotel on the main square. A very adequate mushroom omelette for starter followed by a perfectly acceptable steak. Good solid French fare but a little light on the vegetables, which after a week is becoming a concern.
La Table Toulouse
An excellent debut cassoulet of the Tour. As soon as we saw the word on the awning outside we were in. Arriving late in most French towns can often mean going hungry, but fortunately Toulouse is a busy town with a large student population.
For the uninitiated, cassoulet is a rich white bean stew with hunks of duck, goose, pork and Toulouse sausage. Light it isn’t. Delicious it is. The portion size was definitely hors-categorie. As cassoulet’s go it was excellent, but then, cassoulet is rarely anything other than excellent.
Other diners included upside-down-faced British legend Chris Boardman and the rest of the ITV team. From the way they were sitting, it’s possible one or two of them had the cassoulet too.
NEXT TIME Three nights in Lourdes. Shudder.
|TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: STAGE REPORTS|
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Stage eight: Cavendish wins again in Toulouse
Stage seven: Sanchez takes action-packed stage
Stage six: Ricco storms to win
Stage five: Cavendish takes first Tour win
Stage four: Schumacher wins TT and takes race lead
Stage three: Dumoulin wins stage from break
Stage two: Hushovd wins chaotic sprint
Stage one: Valverde wins
|TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: NEWS|
Cavendish talks about his second stage win [stage eight]
Beltran heads home but doubts remain about other Tour riders
David Millar: the dope controls are working
Manuel Neltran tests positive for EPO at the Tour
Comment: How the Tour rediscovered its spirit
Doping back in Tour de France headlines
Millar: close but no cigar in Super-Besse [stage six]
Super-Besse shows form of main contenders [stage six]
Millar to go for yellow [stage six]
Team Columbia’s reaction to Cavendish’s win [stage five]
Cavendish talks about his Tour stage win
Tour comment: Why Evans should be happy [stage four]
Millar: Still aiming for Tour yellow jersey [stage 4]
Who is Romain Feillu?
Cavendish disappointed with stage two result
Millar too close to Tour yellow jersey
Stage 2 preview: A sprint finish for Cavendish?
Millar happy after gains precious seconds in Plumelec
Valverde delighted with opening Tour stage win
Comment: Is Valverde’s win a good thing for the Tour?
|TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: PHOTOS|
|TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: GUIDE|