WOULDN?T it be a good idea to go to the Tour and collect the signatures of all 189 riders for charity? Once complete we could auction it.
So an idea was born and we set off for Strasbourg with a big yellow laminated board, very like the sign-on sheets the riders scribble on every morning at the Tour. Our charity? Sport Relief. Our mission ? to get every rider?s autograph. A tall order given the chaos that surrounds the Tour de France.
On Wednesday we got the ball rolling. Spying Erik Zabel we decided he was a big enough name to kick-off our challenge so we approached tentatively, explained the project and he duly signed. A bit later on we saw Paolo Savoldelli and he was number 2. Just 187 to go.
Hanging round in hotels you realise that even as someone who prides himself on recognising the riders, it is very difficult when they?re milling around in tracksuits. You don?t want to make a fool of yourself by approaching someone twice or getting someone?s names wrong.
So, last night we went to the presentation and decided to corner the riders as they came off the stage. It was like shooting fish in a barrel as team after team queued to sign for us. The highlights were having the whole Quick Step squad waiting patiently to sign, Tom Boonen lurking at the rear.
As T-Mobile came down from the podium and dispersed rapidly to the waiting vehicles, we trailed Ullrich, shepherded by his bodyguard Eike Figuth. Almost pushing small children out of the way we drew alongside him. ?Jan, Jan, can you sign our board for charity please??
He hesitated for a second, pen hovering over the board, then signed, right across the middle of the space reserved for the T-Mobile team, completely busting the neat lines drawn to contain each signature. With Jan, would you expect anything else?
We had a suspicion things were going to blow up overnight. Was signing our board Jan Ullrich?s final act of the 2006 Tour de France? As it turned out, it was.
139 down, 50 to go. Let?s hope we get them before any of them have to, ahem, go home.
See an issue of Cycle Sport later this year to see how you can be the proud owner of our Great Charity Sign-On 2006 board.
For more information about our chosen charity visit sportrelief.com