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The Guinness of Oz: McGee shares the moment

There is nothing like a media scrum on the first day of the Tour de France, especially when you find yourself at the epicenter and face-to-face interviewing the day’s winner. But after waiting for the best of the day for the prologue to start, that’s where I was within a minute of Australian Brad McGee taking out the 6.5km “race of truth” in Paris. As soon as McGee dismounted, he lay on the cobblestones. He then sat up to find himself surrounded by a phalanx of probing microphones and television cameras. The first push’n shove, press of the flesh and huff’n puff of the centenary had been

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By Rupert Guinness

There is nothing like a media scrum on the first day of the Tour de France, especially when you find yourself at the epicenter and face-to-face interviewing the day’s winner.

But after waiting for the best of the day for the prologue to start, that’s where I was within a minute of Australian Brad McGee taking out the 6.5km “race of truth” in Paris.

As soon as McGee dismounted, he lay on the cobblestones. He then sat up to find himself surrounded by a phalanx of probing microphones and television cameras.

The first push’n shove, press of the flesh and huff’n puff of the centenary had been fought and won – for many others, lost.

And McGee, his breath barely caught, was ready to reward with his very first impressions of his 52.466kmh ride in the most prestigious start to any Tour.

It is no secret that the best quotes are the very first. They come when the emotion, exhaustion and sense of occasion are at their peak – not at the press conference, by which time team directors, press agents and sponsors may have gotten into a rider’s head – or tried to.

McGee, who has been trying to win the Tour prologue since his debut at Dunkirk in 2001, is one of the best at opening up to media, too – in three languages to boot!

McGee didn’t miss a beat as questions were fired at him in English, French and Italian – while nine riders (some of them not too badly rated at that) were still to finish.

But he is a proven performer in expressing the moment. In the 2001 Tour, within minutes of blacking out and collapsing in exhaustion at the stage finish in Sarrans following his two-man break with German Jens Voigt, he was chatting with reporters.

But today in Paris, there was a difference. Even before the first question was asked, McGee was rattling furiously, as if he had prepared for the soon-to-be winning moment.

“Let’s not get excited. Let’s wait for the last couple to come in. I’ve been there before and beaten by many seconds,’’ said the FDJeux.com rider.

“With (directeur sportif) Mark Madiot and my brother Rodney in the (team) car, it was the perfect combination. I laid it out exactly as we planned. Can’t do better than that.

When told he sounded as if he had prepared what he said, McGee answered: “Man … I’m in the zone. Everything comes naturally. Let’s wait and see. It’s going to be close.”

Crouched down to his eye level, I asked what was his plan. They obviously work, as his win in last year’s seventh stage proved.

He replied: “Not to explode on the hill, get in the tuck (position) and then just try to ride a bigger gear all the way home.”

Asked what it was like to carry the pressure of expectation, the still-smiling McGee confided: “My heart rate has been 140 (bpm) all day”.

Meanwhile, in the back of my mind I prepared for the disappointment should McGee get rolled, as could have happened, if not by Lance Armstrong, then by David Millar.

But when other riders may have preferred to escape the media scrum and live out the agony of waiting alone, McGee remained, allowing us to share the moment.

Millar did not better him, with mechanical problems a major cause. Then came Armstrong and the supposed moment of truth.

But As McGee looked over our heads at the finish which Armstrong had still to reach, his smile gave away what his words would confirm, those being: “I’ve got it … I’ve got it.”

And as everyone cheered, the first media scrum of the centenary Tour came to a close. Somehow, everyone walked away feeling a winner.

Thanks for sharing the moment with us, Brad.