Thursday, June 20, 2024

Le Tour de France 2006 – Day 7: Stage 4, Huy (Belgium) – Saint-Quentin


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We were spoiled at Strasbourg those first two days of Le Tour de France 2006 with the hotel just a couple of minutes from the press room and the action all within easy reach until the start on Monday. The driving is a killer now en route Saint-Quentin, not just because it’s boring and tiring but because of the time you waste. If I do a Grand Tour again, I’ll definitely organise a driver so as I can write as I travel.

Today we were on the road at 9.30 and it was wearing-on for 11.00 when we got to the stage start at Huy. Leaving Huy immediately after the riders rolled-out it was nearly three hours to get to the finish at Saint Quentin.

Ed and Guido Bontempi in Saint-Quentin.

After our business was finished in the press room it was another hour plus to the hotel in Compiegne — a lot of driving, a lot of time wasted. The hotel where James and Rebecca were staying was host to Lampre as well as Quickstep and DS Guido Bontempi was standing outside with former Giro-winner Damiano Cunego.

I thought I’d tell them a bit about ‘Big Guido’ and began to explain that he was one of the fastest men in the world back in the 80’s and early 90’s. Rebecca butted-in: “And now he’s just a big fat bastard”. She’s that kind of lady.

The stage started in the town of Huy, famous for its ‘ Mur’ in the Fleche Wallone Spring Classic. The start seemed less chaotic than usual and it wasn’t too bad getting my pictures for my piece fro the day, which was on style — haircuts, siders, ear-rings and the crucial issue of sock-length.

The big Russian, Karpets of Caisse D’Epargne is the hairiest man in the peloton complete with beard.

When I suggested the story to Martin he liked it, but said to get quotes from the riders about why they had adopted their look. How do you ask a Russian guy why he has chosen to have a head ‘like a burst couch’?

Coolest socks were those gracing the feet of Giovanni Lombardi of CSC — plain white, no logos, just above the ankle like a 70’s six day rider. Un-coolest were those of big Christophe Moreau, AG2R — they seemed to almost come up to his knees.

The drive to Saint-Quentin was uneventful, except for a frites-stop for James and Rebecca, I was sensible and just had a cheese sandwich — Rebecca nicked one end of it though, to make a chip-buttie.

At St. Quentin we were on the actual course for the last few kilometres, which is always a great experience with big crowds hanging-over the barriers hours before the start.

The press room in Saint-Quentin didn’t seem as busy today — maybe a lot of Dutch and Belgian guys are doing their reports off the TV now we’re heading deeper into France.

I had a load of work to do — all of the previous day’s shots, all of the SRM visit shots and all of today’s shots had to be emailed off, a total of more than a hundred. But you can only do five at a time or it causes hassles later.

I also had to write my piece and get it away before we headed-off to our hotel, which was about an hour away, in Compiegne.

We had seen enough motorways for one day, so we went cross country on minor roads through villages deserted in anticipation of France’s world cup clash with Portugal.

The residence for the night was an Ibis Hotel in the middle of a French ‘project’, high-density housing estates, notorious for social problems. Still, the room was clean and the shower worked.

It’s not every day you are in France when their team is playing a World Cup semi-final and we headed down town to find a bar to watch the fun. As you will no-doubt be aware, the French won 1-0 in a rather lack-lustre encounter.

I must confess that I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. Hordes of wasted young French guys started rampaging through the streets, many waving flares around, bathing the whole scene in red light. It was just-short of a riot — exit, stage right, pronto — it was just a tad scary. On the way back to the digs a fully-loaded car-transporter passed, complete with numerous flag-waving gentlemen among the cars on the top deck — crazy.

Back at the ranch and there was ‘Stuey’ O’Grady ambling around in shorts and T-shirt and buying water from a drink dispenser — skinny? Anorexic.

I’ve been sitting outside the Ibis since 07.00 Thursday, (07.55 now) writing this up, the Credit Lyonnais and Mavic people have nearly all hit the trail and CSC are starting to stir.

The legend that is PouPou.

Raymond Poulidor was stotting-around earlier – he just looks like he did when he was battling it out (always without success) for Tour glory against Anquetil. He has a Credit Lyonnais van with his name and portrait on it — handy if you’re trying to find it after too much vin rouge.

Shower time, talk to you from Caen.