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The Guinness of Oz: Raise a glass to Rest Day!

Sitting in the outside terrace of bar called Le Nat, we raised ourglasses of beer and toasted what is a rare feat in Tour de France trip– 36 hours free of relative trouble. Le Nat is in the town of Beziers, in southwest France, just 33km away from the start of Thursday’s stage 12 in Narbonne to Toulouse.As we drank, we shook our heads in disbelief at our good fortune. Thatis, until we realized that Le Nat is not exactly what we thoughtit was. Let’s just say the bar was open, and it was not yet dark, but itwas preparing to provide its clients with other services than just drinks!Our

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By Rupert Guinness

Sitting in the outside terrace of bar called Le Nat, we raised ourglasses of beer and toasted what is a rare feat in Tour de France trip– 36 hours free of relative trouble. Le Nat is in the town of Beziers, in southwest France, just 33km away from the start of Thursday’s stage 12 in Narbonne to Toulouse.As we drank, we shook our heads in disbelief at our good fortune. Thatis, until we realized that Le Nat is not exactly what we thoughtit was. Let’s just say the bar was open, and it was not yet dark, but itwas preparing to provide its clients with other services than just drinks!Our glasses finished, the sudden reminder of looming editorial deadlinessaw us willingly say thanks but no thanks to the bar’s … errr… nighttimeservices and return to our hotel to write and file our respective restday stories.The rest day. It is anything but on the Tour. First of all, there isa long drive – albeit this year a relatively short one of about two hoursbetween Marseille and Narbonne. Not that there we were free of hiccups.It wouldn’t be the Tour otherwise.Our black Passat for one would be complaining if it could talk likethe Volkswagen Love Bug. It gave us a few hints after we dropped in atthe U.S. Postal Service hotel at Montpellier for a snap update on LanceArmstrong’s rest day with his family.Pussy Passat (yes, it’s a shocker of a nickname but the best we couldcome up with) sounded some warning bells rang when the oil ran dry. Andagain when the gas tank did too. Then it screamed and groaned when a three-pointturn while changing directions in Beziers’s pencil thin streets left hersecond best after scrunching a high curbstone.(don’t worry… it’s a rental!)For us, too, there was some angst, the sort you feel when all goes toosmoothly, when there is no event to report on and little murmur of a breakingstory – like the Festina affair in 1998. When life on the Tour is quiet,is when the nerves start to rattle. It is when you keep wondering if thereis something you’ve missed that everyone else has reported!I distinctly recall that afternoon in Dublin, Ireland at the start ofthe 1998 Tour.  I remember when what was meant to be festival-likeTour start was broken by the news of Festina soigneur Willy Voet beingcaught at the Belgian-French border with illegal drugs.I just hope as I write these words at 7.30 p.m. (French time), lookingout from my room at the simple but quaint Hotel des Poetes (which I amnot) that all hell is not breaking loose. We are on a promise tonight.Dinner at 8 p.m. Early to bed. Early too rise. Then refreshed, ready tocover the second half of a Tour that promises to be one of the most excitingever.The anticipation among the Tour media corps is refreshing after theyears of suspicion and disillusionment that followed the Festina affair.The issue of drugs has not yet raised its ugly presence. The only newsthat has swept the media, which is often criticized for being too doggedin the pursuit of a drug bust, is the excitement of a blockbuster race.Drugs may again hit the headlines. But with Armstrong leading Alex Vinokourovby just 21 seconds, and a little over seven minutes covering the first19 riders – when such a gap would once cover just the first three – itis hard not to be swept up by the possibilities of a fantastic race.Sitting here as the scorching summer sun sets over the red roofs ofBeziers and the day’s Mistral blows its last breath, you can’t help butfeel privileged to be covering the Tour again. Heck…. I may just go backto Le Nat and raise another glass.Well, perhaps not that particular bar!