By Rupert Guinness, Of The Australian
If there is hell on the Tour de France, we came close to it on 217.5km of mostly long, flat, bumpy and dead roads from St. Martin de Landelles to Plouay in Brittany on Sunday.
For followers of the Tour – les suiveurs – anything longer than 200km and without a mountain in sight (let alone under our wheels) is pure and painful purgatory. Today’s eighth stage to the site of the 2000 world road championships was a case in point.
Okay … the riders in the peloton behind us attacked, attacked and then some until the final break of seven finally got away. Okay, the last 10km battle between them, before Dutchman Kartsen Kroon (Rabobank) took the stage, was also a blast.
But on such a course like today’s, it was all an inevitable scenario – a bit like watching “The days of Our Lives” for the first time in years where you know what is going to happen, except the name of who will finally be on the podium.
Still, there are the occasional highs on days like these. Albeit pretty obscure ones that do little more than stir you awake from a back-seat slumber.
Or they can entertain you after too many coffees or the inevitable lunch break – officially, the cultural stop where all too often reporters garner that first hand local experience that is dribbled out in their copy as the scene setter. Speaking of which, an interesting observation of today’s eighth stage came during one such break at the town of Montauban-en-Bretagne, 86km into the stage, where the second of three intermediate sprints was held and by which time a big break was ahead.
For all the hype and hoopla over the feats and achievements of Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France, Greg LeMond is far from forgotten or absent from the hearts of the French – especially this who followed him through three Tour wins, as well as his infamous battle with Bernard Hinault in 1985 when they finished one-two.
Sitting and waiting for our lunch in La Table Ronde, a roadside café where the Tour swept right past, the reminder came when the owner – curious to know where we were from – stepped up, grabbed our accreditation passes one by one before asking our nationalities.
Hearing two of our group were from the U.S., his ears pricked. “Ahh … Greg LeMond!” he said before nodding in approval. Yes, Greg.
In an era where everything American in cycling is supposedly Lance Armstrong, it was refreshing to hear such adoration for someone who pioneered so strongly not just for the U.S. but all English-speaking cyclists.
As we sped away with the break hot on out wheels (yes, again), we were still talking about Greg. His wins and losses, his virtual open-door policy to media interviews no matter how tense the race was at the time, and his boyish good humor. Naturally, the talk turned to Lance and why, when on the cusp of a fourth Tour win, it seems he is yet to win over the hearts of the French.
Not that doing that should be what drives Lance. Not that it was the force behind Greg winning either. It is just one of those things.
Maybe, we joked, Lance should Frenchify is name from Armstrong to `Brasfort’ – as in Bras (arm) Fort (strong). Boom. Boom. Bad joke.
**Update on Miss Brittany (no not Spears) who made her publicized Tour appearance today. We never saw her to tell the truth. Well, unless you count a sighting of her feet as we passed her on a shaded, forested road and twisting descent with 30km to go. As we sped past the Aquarel platform on the back of a truck, she was standing atop and waving from it.
But wait, there’s more. We get another chance to see Céline Autricque Monday during the stage 9 time trial from Lanester to Lorient.
Aquarel (yes we have mentioned the name again) has asked her to present the best Under-25 rider with the white jersey.