Day 21 – Friday, July 21

OUR camp site at Taninges was on the route of today’s 18th stage from Morzine to Mâcon so the logical thing would have been to have a nice relaxed morning, get out the camping chairs, set up by the side of the road and enjoy the show.

But we’re not on holiday and we needed to get to the start village.

Even with the race due to roll out of Morzine at 12.45pm we needed to get up to Morzine by nine before the gendarmes shut the roads, forcing us to take a long, twisty detour.

So, still bleary eyed, we drove up to Morzine with Andy the photographer, who had had an even earlier start because he’d come all the way from Geneva. He really needs to kick this Ibis obsession and risk staying in a different hotel once or twice.

It was quite relaxing watching Morzine gear up for Tour fever. The chatter of a dozen or more languages filled the air as we breakfasted in the shade.

Watching the publicity caravan roll past made me realise there are many, many worse ways of working on the Tour de France.

Three weeks driving a glorified go-kart, dancing to awful pop music on the back of a truck or throwing out rubbish freebies to sad members of the public is a humiliating way for a young person to spend their summer.

Although as Ed said the other day when I was struck by a flying bag of Haribo sweets there is something inherently funny about a bald man being hit on the head by stuff so perhaps the Haribo girl was having the last laugh.

You can imagine these kids telling their friends: “Hey, I’m going to work on the Tour de France this summer. It’s going to be great.”

But they surely can’t have thought it through enough. The job description must be full of lies because there’s no way the recruitment advert reads: “Pretty, uncomplaining young person needed. Must be prepared to listen to deafening cheesy pop music all day, every day for three weeks. Must sit on the back of a truck or through the roof of a car in all weathers, smiling and waving.”

The smiles are painted on. The eyes say it all. “Kill me. Kill me now.”

Whatever they get paid it’s not enough. Either that, or the legendary publicity caravan parties really are as good as they say they are. One of our challenges for the Tour was to score an invite but the sad truth was we’re all getting a bit old to be considered great guests at a party for French university students.

The rest of the day was downhill from Morzine, frankly. We hung around at the start too long after the race had started to have any chance of making the finish, almost missed lunch in Cluses before finding one fairly basic café prepared to sell us lunch that consisted of a tomato filled with tuna fish and Hollandaise sauce followed by some kind of microwaved fish pasty that wouldn’t be out of place on the shelves of a UK petrol station.

The drive to our campsite was long and straight into the slowly setting sun but the day ended on a high note when we stumbled upon a superb restaurant at Cluny, not far from where the time trial is to be held. We had an excellent but reasonably-priced meal that put the sort of fare you’d get in an equivalent-sized town in the UK to shame.

Later in the evening I was interviewed about the Tour by Tom Watt on BBC London 94.9 radio. Tom Watt, a fine writer and a decent broadcaster, although his Cockney matey delivery style grates after a while, used to play Lofty in EastEnders.

Despite being dared to by Simon and Dan, I resisted the temptation to ask him how Michelle Fowler’s doing these days.