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Up to Chamrousse behind a sausage truck

On the time trial stages in the Tour de France, journalists have the option of following behind one of the riders to get from the start to the finish of the stage. You might think that on the uphill test to Chamrousse, well, that’s a no-brainer. Follow Lance. Or Ullrich. Or Beloki. Of course, things are never so simple. For one thing, most of us would prefer to get to the pressroom at the finish before those big hitters have started, so that we can monitor their progress all the way up the hill. For another, when you follow the favorites, you get a good view of the team car, a couple of

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By Bryan JewVeloNews Senior Writer

Drivers on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles give each other more space than what Pradera got from the Cochonou v ...

Drivers on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles give each other more space than what Pradera got from the Cochonou v …

Photo: Bryan Jew

On the time trial stages in the Tour de France, journalists have the option of following behind one of the riders to get from the start to the finish of the stage. You might think that on the uphill test to Chamrousse, well, that’s a no-brainer. Follow Lance. Or Ullrich. Or Beloki.

Of course, things are never so simple. For one thing, most of us would prefer to get to the pressroom at the finish before those big hitters have started, so that we can monitor their progress all the way up the hill. For another, when you follow the favorites, you get a good view of the team car, a couple of organization cars, a sponsor car, and a train of other press cars — but you only get to see Lance’s butt a couple of times.

On Wednesday, circumstances led to the VeloNews crew trailing behind ONCE domestique Mikel Pradera, a 26-year-old Spaniard whose most notable achievement last year with the Euskaltel-Euskadi team was a seventh-place overall finish in the Dauphiné Libéré. He began the day in 48th place overall, 52 minutes behind race leader François Simon.

While Armstrong, Ullrich and Beloki would have virtually their own race caravans trailing them, it was a much more lonely road for Pradera, who was followed only by a publicity caravan vehicle from the French sausage company, Cochonou. That of course led to the obvious question: If Pradera flatted, would he have been able to get a spare wheel, or would he be planted by the side of the road eating a Cochonou sausage?

The publicity van, painted in a red-and-white-checkered picnic-tablecloth motif, was not your typical follow vehicle, especially with a similarly decked out Cochonou sausage man behind the wheel. Obviously more used to driving in the publicity caravan than behind an actual cyclist, the driver tailgated the poor rider all the way up the climb, while a couple of VIPs watched from out the sunroof. Drivers on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles give each other more space.

With the sausage truck following so closely, it was a little tough for those of us behind to get a good line of sight, but we finally settled in to watch the lean Spaniard make his way up the hill.

The first indications that he wouldn’t be going particularly hard came on the downhill just before the start of the main climb, when the pink-clad rider rode in a decidedly non-aero’ position, hands on top of the hoods, seemingly more concerned with getting comfortable on the bike than putting in a fast time.

Once he hit the climb, that was confirmed, as he spun along in his smallest gears. But this was no Armstrong spin; Pradera would finish the time trial 11 minutes slower than the American.

Despite that time gap, there was still no doubt that this was a top professional cyclist we were following. The lean, sculpted legs turned with relative ease, on an ascent that would have your local club rider in serious trouble. For mere mortals, there would be no going “easy” up this climb.

By the top, Pradera even had his right thumb and pinky extended out, cocking his wrist in a drinking motion, h ...

By the top, Pradera even had his right thumb and pinky extended out, cocking his wrist in a drinking motion, h …

Photo: Bryan Jew

Still, Pradera showed signs of the effort, standing up on the pedals on the steepest bends, and rocking the shoulders back and forth to keep the forward progress going. And as the climb progressed, he even — to the surprise of those raised on warnings not to do so — grabbed a couple of bottles of mineral water from spectators by the side of the road. By the top, he even had his right thumb and pinky extended out, cocking his wrist in a drinking motion, hoping to bum yet another water from the crowd.

By the final 5km, he was caught by the rider who started two minutes behind, Telekom’s Jens Heppner, grinding his way up in a much bigger gear.

No, this wasn’t the same ride that Armstrong or Ullrich or Beloki would be doing, but at least this much was the same: the crowd. Maybe not quite as loud or boisterous as they would be an hour later, the thousands of spectators nonetheless cheered the Spaniard all the way up the climb, showing their full support for this little-known rider. So what if some of the loudest cheers were “Cochonou!”?

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