After 3 weeks of sun, rain, crosswinds, storms, flat stages, sprint finishes, brutal climbs and mountain-top finishes the peloton moves out of Etampes on a hot Sunday morning with much fanfare and very little energy.
There’s joy, exuberance and champagne coming from the CSC cars, they have a man in yellow, and nervousness and fear from the Gerolsteiner cars, they’ve had a great Tour but have no sponsor for next year. Along the roadside I see Cadel Evans, the great Aussie hope, taking a pee alone, stone-faced as always. He’s on the podium for sure but once again has come away with nothing – the Nearly Man of Antipodean cycling.
Jens Voigt, locomotive of CSC and my personal hero, comes by to chat with Whitey.
“Jensie! Are you retiring?”
“My kids want a swimming pool and my wife wants a new car so I guess I’m signing up for 2 more years of this crazy shit!”
Everyone laughs and Voigt pushes himself away from the car and pedals up the road.
Why doesn’t everyone race on the final day on the way into Paris? That’s what people want to know. Partly it’s tradition, partly its respect for the race and partly, as David Millar told me the other night, its pure pragmatism: anyone who attacks the yellow jersey will get shut down awful fast.
After the soft breezes of the past days Paris is hot and humid. The domestiques shuttle back to their Team cars for the last time and stuff their shirts with bidons for their fellow riders. There are no longer empty hedgerows where the riders can pee – instead they’re lined up along walls letting it all hang out as they get ready for the final explosive kilometres of the Tour.
The Champs Elysees is crowded and cheering and very bumpy. In a car those bumps are part of the romance of Paris, after 3 weeks on a bike it must be hell . After one circuit they kick me out of the Team car – there are a line of sponsors wanting rides and bottom feeders like me need to make space for the heavy-hitters.
The lead-out trains form up and the sprinters make a final effort – a victory in Paris on these cobbled Elysian Fields could be a career-defining moment.
After 85 hours of pedalling the Tour is over – the wives are kissed and the babies hugged – and the riders form up with their Directeur Sportifs who are riding spare bikes and looking out of place in their civvy clothes and 40-something bodies. Each team sets out on a lap of honor pedalling slowly towards l’Arc de Triomphe.
Garmin DS Jonathan Vaughters is trying to stand on his pedals and keep stationary, the way cyclists do at the lights. He’s having some trouble with the cobbles. He was a previous lieutenant of Lance Armstrong, held the TT record up Ventoux and rode 4 or 5 Tours but famously never made it to Paris. He’s visibly excited – it’s the first time he’s ridden a victory lap on The Champ.
Garmin’s number 5 GC man, Christian Vandevelde, has snagged a stars and stripes from a bystander and wears it proudly over his shoulders. Ryder Hesjedal snags a Canadian one and does the same. Tiny Trent Lowe borrows an Aussie flag on a little stick and Julian Dean finds some Kiwis in the crowd to have his picture taken with.
Christian Prudhomme, CEO of all things TdF shakes everyone’s hands and smiles.
I shout across to one of the ladies from the Slipstream office in another team car: she’s a single Mom of a certain age, has never been to France, and here she is riding a Team Car down the Champs Elysees as the crowds cheer her on.
“Will anyone ever believe you if you tell them this was your first drive into Paris?” She’s visibly moved as we all are.
As I hang out of the side of the Team Car I see Mr. Pony Tail one last time. He’s clearly not happy I’ve slipped past his personal cordon and gained access to a team car for the victory lap – I hope he has a short memory and doesn’t hold grudges: I want to come back next year.
Twenty minutes later the big blue whale of a team bus has gone and the riders have ridden off on their bikes to their hotel. After all these tough weeks on the bike they can’t get seem to get off. Half the team were rookies and they’ve all made it to Paris – their bodies have changed while I’ve watched the ride and they’ve all suffered horribly.
For me there is a quick meal and 2 hours packing in a smelly RV parked on the edge of the Place de la Concorde. It’s been an extraordinary journey – we’ve driven nearly 4,000 miles and shot over 85 hours of film – but right now all I want to do is go home and hug my girl who I love so much …and ride my bike.
My comment from Stage 3 about Carlos Sastre (“Tiny, doesn’t look like much of a threat.”) has proven to be wildly inaccurate – he wins the 95th Tour de France. Months later Christian VandeVelde is promoted from 5th to 4th after another rider is sacked for taking drugs. When I get home to LA the folk at Garmin kindly send me one of their GPS units. It is vastly superior to the device that we had in France though I do miss Geraldine’s voice and her constant advice to make a 180 degree turn: “Prenez un demi-tour avec prudence.”
Want to go behind the scenes with Har-V & Co? Check out this short video filmed in glorious Handicam: Adventures with Har-V & Geraldine
With thanks to:
Magnus Backstedt, Jon Cassat, Sloane Cooper, Nick Davis, Julian Dean, Doug Ellis, Tom Ennis, Graeme Fife, Bonnie Ford, Eric Fostvedt, Will Frischkorn, Lucas Gilman, Inaki Goiburu, Ryder Hesjedal, Paul Kimmage, Allen Lim, Trent Lowe, Lionel Marie, Martijn Maaskant,David Millar, Lindsey Miller, Alyssa Morahan, Danny Pate, Marya Pongrace, Neal Rogers, Beth Seliga, Joachin Schoonaker, David Smadja, Prentice Steffen, Brandi Thomas, Christian VandeVelde, Jonathan Vaughters, Matt White Kris Withington & everyone at Team Slipstream Garmin Chipotle.
A note about the pictures:
Except where otherwise noted all pictures in this diary are copyright Nigel Dick 2008. The pictures were taken with a Blackberry. I apologise there are not more pictures of the Tour itself but I was paid to shoot the Tour – not take snaps of it!