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In search of the elusive quotable quote

Interviews. Getting them on the Tour de France is a crap-shoot, contrary to the impression that television coverage gives. Riders don't simply stop at the first sight of a reporter, wipe the sweat from their brow after another day in the saddle and give an unsolicited account of their day's highs and lows. Behind the mob scenes where a stage winner is encircled and forced to talk before being released - as was Erik Zabel after winning today's sixth stage to Alençon - another race has already begun off-screen between reporters and riders as they dash to a waiting team van. However, for

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By Rupert Guinness, Of The Australian

The 'exclusive' interview.

The ‘exclusive’ interview.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Interviews. Getting them on the Tour de France is a crap-shoot, contrary to the impression that television coverage gives.

Riders don’t simply stop at the first sight of a reporter, wipe the sweat from their brow after another day in the saddle and give an unsolicited account of their day’s highs and lows.

Behind the mob scenes where a stage winner is encircled and forced to talk before being released – as was Erik Zabel after winning today’s sixth stage to Alençon – another race has already begun off-screen between reporters and riders as they dash to a waiting team van. However, for the reporter on a deadline, between picking the rider he/she needs and the rider they get, there are many hurdles that undoubtedly always force a change of plan.

It is law, albeit Murphy’s, that the one rider a reporter really does need to talk to, is very rarely made available for an interview.

Similarly, those a reporter doesn’t really need to see are seemingly available without restriction – until, that is, the same rider becomes one the reporter MUST talk to.

Doors close as they open on the Tour – literally and metaphorically – as I have already been reminded of twice since the race began last Saturday in Luxembourg. First was stage 3 to Reims when the automatic door to the Crédit Agricole bus suddenly shut as I got eye contact with Stuart O’Grady (who was not the shutee) and a supposedly reassuring wink and nod from him for a quick chat on deadline.

Off it drove, the Crédit Agricole bus – and my much-needed quotes with it.

Second was Friday when, after chasing an upset Australian Robbie McEwen who had just placed third, Aussie Brad McGee came out of the FDJeux.com bus to call me in for a chat with him and Australian buddy Baden Cooke.

Twenty minutes later, out I came. Maybe not with quotes I needed tonight, but with an insight for the days to come and an inside story on the corner couch in the back of the bus that McGee and Cooke have dubbed `Little Australia’ where hangs an Aussie national flag.

The buses
Riders and team management may like them. But most media on the Tour hate this fleet of the giant buses that carts riders from stage finish to hotel and on to the next day’s start. The press would like to see them disappear – and quick.

They are a menace to not only traffic, but to the heart and soul of a race that was once rich in offering a unique intimacy between riders and the fans and media because of the open policy concerning access.

We can thank (not) the boffins in cycle team management for that. They may believe they have taken professional cycling into the future by buying buses to protect their riders from prying fans and probing minds from those `evil doers’ among the media.

It is no secret that from inside their buses, riders pick and chose who they want to talk to – or ignore – as they peer down from inside through tinted one-way glass.

Long gone are the days when the Tour had its unique look where riders – including Tour winners – calmly sat on the hoods of team cars, happily signing autographs while chatting to reporters, who scribbled their quotes.

All you can do now is wait and pass messages to busy soigneurs and mechanics that you might not mind a quick word with a rider and then pretend to nonchalantly look at your watch – as if you are not as stressed as you really are – and feel the time ticking by.

As it does, you know there are two options left: the inevitable moment when the bus drives away, or when you give up once more the vigil and leave empty-handed. Some teams are better than others – better being the word to judging the willingness of a cycling team to grant access to riders. But it is a still a crapshoot, and frustratingly one stacked heavily against the media.