Thursday, June 20, 2024

Le Tour de France 2006 – Day 11: Stage 8, Saint-Méen-le-Grand – Lorient


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There’s a great old 70’s film called, ‘The Omega Man’. To cut a long story short, Charlton Heston is the last man left alive (by day anyway) in a post-viral world. He roams this completely deserted US city with not another living thing in sight. I felt like him last night as I drove towards Calais on Le Tour de France 2006 and onwards today to Lorient, but the virus which had brought my world to an end was called, ‘The World Cup Final.’ French auto routes are really safe when there are no French people on them.

Dave Millar.

Even by the standards of this trip, yesterday was radge. It started well enough; we didn’t have to be up early and I drifted out of sleep at our Ibis at around 07.30. Shower, shave, an hour to the start at the wee village of Saint-Meen-le-Grand, scrambled eggs for breakfast, washed-down with local cidre — so far, so good. It was a tad damp, but that’s Brittany for you. It’s usually sunny by the afternoon.

I had a couple of missions for the day — I needed pics of contributor Magnus Backstedt, I wanted pics of David Millar’s velo (the Americans are calling him Mee-laar by the way) to complete a feature I did on the top bikes of the Tour, I wanted some ‘distraction’ and ‘local colour’ shots plus I thought I would get some rider impressions of week one.

Robbie relaxing before the rollout towards Lorient.

Backstedt is a nice guy; I got my pics and some of him with old Jacky Durand who still looks in great shape. I chatted to Magnus about the first week and he said he had found it hard to start with, but was settling-in OK, he thinks Landis will win.

Chris Horner is a good guy to talk to, he listens to you and gives good answers.

He wasn’t surprised by Gonchar’s (at his post-win press conference the old Ukraine Bear himself said that’s what his proper name is) chrono win. Kloden is the guy to beat on GC though in his eyes.

Magnus Backstedt.

I tried to get a few minutes with Bradley, but his wife and kiddy were in Le Village, so he was understandably preoccupied.

I spied David Millar sitting reading the paper and asked if a few words were possible. “No problem”, he said and I hit him with a few questions.

The answers were much fuller than I’ve had from him previously and I think maybe I’m connecting a little bit — this on the day I go home of course.

He’s enjoying the Tour, but taking it day by day, no goals or predictions. He was disappointed by his time trial but says he just can’t get ‘top end’ and hurt himself yet, I took some pics then left him to find his pre-race coffee.

The usual ‘Golden Oldies’ were cutting-about. I got a pic of Eric Caritoux of France — quality guy; he won the Vuelta in 1984 in a ‘death race’ against Spanish combines. It’s said by those who know, that Caritoux rode 100% clean, which makes his win all the more commendable.

I grabbed a few words with former Tour of Britain stage winner Julian Dean of New Zealand and CA.

Julian Dean.

He’s not the kamikaze sprinter he once was and his locks have been shorn. His role now is as lead-out man for Thor Hushovd.

And he told us that he was glad the cloud over the start of the race had vanished and was looking forward to helping Hushovd get another stage win.

By then it was roll-out time. We watched the tail-end of the bunch vanish.

I gave James, my camera man neebz for the week a hand with his stuff into the SRM van — they were giving him a run to Bordeaux and that was it. Alone in an empty car park – a long way from Kirkcaldy.

I popped the 70’s soul in the slot and bolted — I had a plan. The Isley brothers were giving it ‘This old heart of mine’ when Icaught site of Mont-Saint-Michel, reaching up on the horizon, the top of the steeple stretching into the heavens to get closer to God. It’s a wonderful place, despite the crush of people — if I wasn’t on a tight schedule I would have paid another visit.

The irony of working on the Tour is that you don’t actually see much of the race – it would be different today.

After I’d done around 100 miles, I dived off the auto route into the ‘bocage’ — the name given the earth banks topped with hedgerows which edge the roads and fields in these parts. Rural Normandy is quiet on a Sunday afternoon and it was a few villages before I found my oasis — Villers Bocage and the Bar de l’Hotel de Ville.

“Excuse moi madame, le TV pour le Tour de France, c’est possible, s’il vous plait?”

“A oui, certainement Monsieur!”

"My" bar in Villers Bocage.
“My” bar in Villers Bocage.

I was close to tears, especially when I saw the Faema coffee machine (Merckx’s team in the late 60’s/early 70’s).

I sat on my bar stool, sipped my Amstel and watched the six man break try and hold-out to Lorient whilst trying hard to ignore the b.o. wafting-off the two guys next to me.

Calzati’s win was well deserved; his timing was just right — French stage wins are good for the race.

I had a Faema cafe au lait, reluctantly headed back to the auto route and decided just to drive all the way to Dover.

That was my Omega Man drive, and I relied heavily upon the Sounds of Philadelphia during those final 200 plus miles; Billy Paul, The O-Jays and Harold Melvin all did their job.

Calais ! What can you say? It’s a cowp of a place, and even worse when the French have just lost the World Cup.

I got myself an Ibis and rang my editor just to let him know I was alive and to tell him that I would file my copy and pics when I got home.

“Thing is Ed, it’s the rest day tomorrow and we don’t have any real content. I was kind of banking on a piece from you.”

I’ll spare you the grim details, but let’s just say that it was 2.00 am when I got to bed and don’t ever have your life depending on the wi-fi in an Ibis. I was up at 06.00 to give my Editor a ring (10.00 pm Vancouver time) to ensure he got all those words and 60 pics. He got most of them, but I had another three falls or a submission with the wi-fi to re-send the last of the pics. It’s 08.45 GMT just now and I’m on the ferry.

If I survive those 500 miles back to the Kingdom of Fife I’ll give you a few words. A demain!