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The fifth man

The fifth man. In any Tour de France car he is welcome. So long as he pays his bills and in doing so makes our share a little less. So long as he offers to buys the first drinks at night when we reach our hotel. So long as he is grateful for our company. And grateful too for being rather useful. At times. But he is definitely not welcome when he can't find a car to go with the next day. When he leaves everyone else cramped with knees up to their chins and elbows tucked to their sides like not-so-little chickens in a coop. Not every car has a fifth man, though. Wise choice. I reckon on days

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By Rupert Guinness, Of The Australian

The fifth man. In any Tour de France car he is welcome. So long as he pays his bills and in doing so makes our share a little less. So long as he offers to buys the first drinks at night when we reach our hotel. So long as he is grateful for our company. And grateful too for being rather useful. At times.

But he is definitely not welcome when he can’t find a car to go with the next day. When he leaves everyone else cramped with knees up to their chins and elbows tucked to their sides like not-so-little chickens in a coop.

Not every car has a fifth man, though. Wise choice. I reckon on days like Wednesday. Okay, our fifth man did find another car once we made it to the start in Bazas for the 147km run to the foot of the Pyrénées at Pau — the capital of Béarnaise sauce for those who love nothing better than to slap the stuff over a nicely cooked slab of beef. But I digress….

Our fifth man did pay his bills, too. And okay, he didn’t buy the drinks, but heck … life on the Tour is all about a little give and take. But boy did he take today…

He didn’t take my money, food, room or even newspapers (that, now is a very dangerous thing to do – too dangerous for him). But he did take the plain old blatant p…s!

To protect the innocent (he is not), I won’t mention his name. Let’s just call him VN5. Let’s say too that there’s a few out there in Tour ‘la -la’ land who would simply say, “I told you so,” were they to know. There are a few others who, we know, would say a lot, lot more as well. He knows, too, does VN5.

For a little background, and I’ll be brief, VN5 did a lot of “taking” two years back. It was during the Pyrénées when he and I went for our morning run. They inevitably turn into desperate and ugly foot races between middle-aged “could’ve-if-they-had’ve-beens’. Close ones, too, and tough, at times.

There we were, 50 minutes down and 10 to go, the finish was in sight. Then an old lady on a bicycle stops and asks for directions. I stop, wondering what directions I could give. But did VN5? No siree … He looked over his sweaty shoulder, seized the moment and bolted, thinking he had me. I was shocked.

Not that he didn’t want to help the old lady, but that he flicked me better than a Belgian in a local kermesse. After confessing, “je ne suis pas du coin” (I am not from this region), I took flight in pursuit of VN5, inspired by the need to avenge his treachery and ultimately let him know it.

I’m still inspired by that two Tours on!

Two years on … to Wednesday morning. We dragged our old and flabby bodies out again. VN5 said he felt a little tired. Needed an “easy jog,” he added.

An easy jog, I promised. And he got it as we plodded past plush vineyards in the countryside east of Bordeaux. We chatted and marveled at the beauty of rural France. At how well they look after the lines of grapes spreading to the horizon. At their pride for treatment of the simple grape.

VeloNews Euro’ correspondent Andy Hood (he is not VN5, for the record) later quipped when driving to the start: “What’ s really amazing is how the French look after their vineyards better than themselves!”

VN5 and I? We ran and ran. Albeit slowly. Then we returned for the jog back that would normally become THE RACE.

“No race today,” said VN5.

No race he got, especially on the approach to the hotel when we caught sight of a man standing next to his car looking a little lost. “I’ll bet he asks for directions,” I joked, offering VN5 a not-too-subtle reminder of his treachery two years back.

Ask for directions the man did. And stop I did to say (again). “je ne suis pas du coin.” VN5? Attack again did VN5 — this time too close to home for me to catch him.

And a sorry hollow victory did he claim, like a rooster having bagged the prize hen, was VN5. All day. Even now in the press room!

Tonight we head to Lourdes, the town of miracles and holy water for Catholic faithfuls. VN5 is a believer, he says. Good for him is all I can say. He’ll need to have a god in the mountains.

For Thursday, my revenge will be had. And VN5 will be sorry for it. Truly sorry. The fifth man … ha, he’ll feel like half a man.