Monday, June 17, 2024

Le Tour de France 2007 – Day 6: Stage 16, Orthez – Gourette, Col d’Aubisque


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The alarm went at 06.00 this morning, we’re driving the full stage today, all the way from Orthez to the top of the Col d’Aubisque, that’s 218.5 kilometres with a 3rd, two 1st and two hors categorie climbs.

Col d'Aubisque
Orthez looks like a nice place, but this morning it’s wild. Photo©Martin Williamson

It’s 07.45, and we’re trying to exit the autoroute at Orthez, but Tour traffic is clogging the toll plaza.

In the midst of all this are Marge, Homer, Bart and Lisa Simpson, on their four-up bike. They are advertising their movie, on the Tour publicity caravan, I wonder where the wee one is? – transpires that Marge is carrying her, none of them have a helmet on, either.

Col d'Aubisque
The parcours nips into Spain for a few hours today. Photo©Ed Hood

Writing a journal like this when you are on the Tour is quite difficult, your main focus is on the job you are doing and the diary has to be fitted around everything else. Take this entry, I’m sitting in the bathroom on Thursday morning, waiting on my bath filling whilst Martin is still asleep.

If you follow the race the way we do, driving full stages and spending days up on mountains, it’s tough to find the time to write, even on the BlackBerry.

Col d'Aubisque
We come across a wee shed in Spain where the owner was selling Patxaran – woof, Ed reckoned it was 80%. Photo©Martin Williamson

Driving the stage, you have to keep your eyes open, to get the ly of the land, spot photo opportunities and grab interviews.

Also, a lot of the time, you are on small twisting roads or crazy descents and it’s next to impossible to write. Most times, I get up to date, last thing at night – but yesterday I just didn’t have the head for it.

Col d'Aubisque
Orange-clad Basque fans line the climbs for mile after mile. Photo©Martin Williamson

As I said above, we intended to drive the whole course and try to get some up-beat interviews as well as trying to explain what a stage is really like. We didn’t get as many interviews as we would have liked, but we got three good ones and a lot of good pics.

Col d'Aubisque
We meet some great Aussie folks, Shannon and her dad are following almost the entire race. Photo©Ed Hood

As I explained earlier, no non-race traffic was allowed past the press room, so we mini-bussed it to the top then walked down, so as we could get pictures – I had blisters last night; six kilometres downhill, sockless on burning tar.

Col d'Aubisque
We see Rasmussen and Contador pass us at warp speed on the Col d’Aubisque. They must have been doing 18mph on a climb that our hire car struggled up in first gear. Photo©Martin Williamson

We arrived back at the press room eventually and sat down to work. I finished my copy while Martin sorted-out the pictures, a time-consuming, finicky job.

Col d'Aubisque
George Hincapie enjoys some American support. Photo©Martin Williamson

Meanwhile, Rasmussen’s stuttering answers were met with gales of laughter from the journos as his press conference was beamed-in.

We shrugged and got-on with our work. The first bomb dropped shortly after that, former Italian champion, Cristian Moreni (Cofidis) had failed a test, and was out, not only that – so was the entire Cofidis team.

Col d'Aubisque
Our view as we walked back down to the Press Room from the top. Photo©Martin Williamson

I dont have pictures of Bradley Wiggins on my walls, but the man has progressed so much this year and his ride in the TT at Albi was a good one.

To deny him the chance to ride the last TT is very hard. But! If that’s what it takes to get the message home, then so be it. Another thing that was shocking, was the sight of Moreni being dragged-away by the police immediately after the stage, still in his racing kit. I’m sure that particular image will do no harm to those who are still ‘dabbling’.

Col d'Aubisque
Excisted Rasmussen fans – we are desperately sorry for people like this, who invest so much in their heroes, only to see the reality bite. Photo©Ed Hood

It was late when we finished at the salle de presse on the Col d’Aubisque and began the journey to Lourdes, we tried to get back the shortest way – over the Aubisque, but there was grid-lock up there as they were still stripping-down the commentary positions and barriers at the top. U-turn, back down the hill and the long-way round.

We were still on the road and it was approaching midnight when the text came in from Martin’s girlfriend; she had just seen on the TV news that Rasmussen was out.

Col d'Aubisque
We watch Rasmussen win the stage on the Col d’Aubisque on the big screen outside the Press Room, and listen as the watching crowds boo him! Photo©Ed Hood

I fired-off emails and texts and we pieced it together, the two Danish federation tests that Rasmussen missed because he was “in Mexico visiting my wife’s family”. He had actually been training incognito in Italy. Italian commentator and ex-rider Davide Cassani had spotted him in the Dolmites and mentioned it whilst commentating on Italian tv. The Danish journalists that have been following Rasmussen’s progress heard this commentary and put two and two together.

Rasmussen had to admit to his Rabobank manager Theo de Rooy that he had lied about his whereabouts. Rabobank acted quickly; they fired him and he’s off the race. This wasn’t so-much bomb number two – it was a thermo-nuclear device.

As we sat in the sad, neon, tackiness that is down-town Lourdes, munching our over-priced pizza at wearing-on for 1.00 am, we were in a state of surreal shock.

It’s 11.00 am now, on Thursday and we’re off to the stage start at Pau, to get rider reactions.

What comes after thermo-nuclear device? Fallout.