Thursday, June 13, 2024

Le Tour de France 2006 – Day 6: Stage 3, Esch-sur-Alzette – Valkenburg


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I’m on Le Tour de France 2006 heading to Valkenburg. You know you’re in Luxembourg when the sanitary ware in the public toilets is by up-market ceramics company Villeroy & Boch.

After I closed the diary last night it was another drive – to Kirschberg, a suburb of Luxembourg with Portuguese flags flying everywhere. The cycling TV guys were letting me share a room — I pay the bills remember, not L’Equipe.

On the road.

It was a Novotel — big, impersonal, clean and expensive — just like Le Tour. Johan Bruyneel was schmoozing in reception when we arrived.

After a shower we headed down-town to find a plate of pasta and a cheap and cheerful joint to eat it in.

On the way out of the hotel, in the foyer most of the CSC and Caisse D’Epargne teams were sitting on the floor chatting — looking like schoolboys on an outing, Sastre, Karpets, Valverde and a dozen others.

We found a wee caff in Valkenburg open where a Portuguese dude was in full rant to the locals about how good his football team was and how bad the French were. I was thinking: “If this boy starts on me I’ll just point to my two English chums and yell — ENGLEESH!” That should do the trick.

Fortunately the bar man calmed him down and we were able to scoff our tagliatelli in peace.

Sleep wasn’t hard to find and I was up, showered, shaved and re-packing the car to make it look less like a rowp on wheels, by 07.50. Valverde strolled-by in his snow-white leisure suit, looking like a sailor from a Jean Paul Gaultier after-shave ad. (He didn’t look so cool later on in the day when he was carted off to hospital with a broken collarbone.)

Talking of Spaniards, I was looking at Iban Mayo yesterday. If power-to-weight is important, then he’s well on the way to a good Tour — the man is skeletal.

More driving to the start, le Village and breakfast — melon, scrambled eggs, croissants and coffee with beautiful girls as a back-drop. I bumped-into fellow journo Randall Butler in there and had to hide my wee Olympus camera, his has big lenses, a flash gun, wires and all the stuff. I grabbed my humble shots of girls, the jazz band and, of course — riders.

The “Boogie Man” in Valkenburg.

‘Boogie’, resplendent in a fresh Dutch national champion’s simit; Rujano – jeez he’s tiny, Bobby J, Eki and a couple of my ‘Golden Oldies’ — Eros Poli and Guido Bontempi [respect].

Main gig of the day however was to meet-up with Ulrich Schoberer, the inventor and business brain behind SRM Power Cranks.

This year he has organised nine riders (2 each from CSC, Quickstep, Gerolsteiner and T-Mobile, plus one from Milram) to have their SRMs wired-up to a sender so that it transmits their data via the mobile telephone network to TV companies ARD and OLN who can then display it on-screen.

Speed, cadence, heart-beat and power are all available, but the TV guys only display two at any one time so as they don’t ‘over-load the viewers with data’. “Bullshit!” reckons Uli.

SRM’s impressive “factory”.

I watched him setting the electronics up on the T-Mobile Giants before the start and once le Tour was safely on its way we headed for Julich, Germany where his factory is situated for a photo sesh and an interview.

The drive up was a pain, with road works everywhere, but the trip was worth it, SRM’s industrial unit isn’t big, but if you are a sad anorak figure, then it’s a joy.

Back in 1986 Uli used to race, but he got frustrated trying to figure out a way of measuring his fitness on a week by week basis to see if he was improving.

He was an engineering student, so he sat down and analysed the best way to measure his power out-put. Power expressed in watts is the absolute measure of how well you are going, cadence, heart rate and speed can all be influenced according to circumstance.

If a rider is trying to join the Australian track team for example, they will be given an ergometer test and if the watts aren’t there, then no squad-place.

Uli hard at work on a new PowerCrank.

Uli figured that the best place to measure the output was between the crank and the bottom bracket before too many frictional forces have intervened.

The original Power Cranks were crude affairs — but they worked – and after leaving university he only worked for one year as a technician in a college before he set-up his own business — 20 years later his product is recognised as the best cycling training-aid ever.

If you like cycling history then his factory is a shrine, he has kept all the old models of power crank and the control boxes to gowith them, he has a marvellous collection of bikes, jerseys, photos and memorabilia from grateful clients – how does Armstrong, Basso, Boardman, Cipollini and Lemond sound for starters?

I interviewed Uli in Valkenburg for a future article — we’re not going to run it during the Tour, it will just get ‘lost’ — and took a load of pictures.

Uli had bought-in pizza for us and wanted me to get stuck-in to the wheat beer, but I resisted and it was with reluctance that we hit the trail again.

Destination Maastricht to pick-up Cycling TV’s Australian cutie-reporter, Rebecca — ‘Becks’ is OK, but not ‘Becky.’

She is taking-over from Steve and she had been waiting for us at Maastricht for hours, Stevie’s mobile battery had gone flat so it was me who got the steady stream of text messages — ‘where are you? ‘What’s your eta?’ But she was fine when we got there though she can swear a bit – a real Aussie Sheila. They were sharing their hotel with Quickstep, CSC and Lampre — Boonen had just taken the yellow jersey behind stage-winner, Mathias Kessler (T-Mobile) and ‘Tornado Tom’ fans were out in force.

There was no room at the inn for Ed though and I had to go and find my own digs, The Admiral Hotel where I’m sitting banging this out on Wednesday morning (I think it’s Wednesday anyway).

After my shower last night, I was lying on my bed thinking about captioning pictures and writing this when the mobile rang. It was Steve, inviting me down to his hotel to use the internet connection. I drove back down there for about 9.30 pm and left at around 11.30 pm without getting near the internet, apparently the connection was a slow one and he was still sending film when I left. I wasn’t too concerned because I got the use of an office to caption my pics and write most of this.

The Germany/Italy game was on the box downstairs and the place went crazy when the Italians scored. Apparently the Germans in the audience stood up and switched-off the set after the second goal. The night air was lovely, so I decided to have one beer outside my hotel on the patio — it was just perfect.

I beat my 06.30 alarm this morning, sat down to write at 07.00 then ran Steve to Maastricht station for 07.30, it’s 09.00 now and time to pick-up Rebecca and James (the cameraman) and head for the start — must dash.