Monday, June 24, 2024

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 14: Blagnac – Rodez, 181.5km. Michael Matthews makes it two in a row for Sunweb


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Yes, there are days when we’ve criticised the racing – those endless ‘sprinter stages’ where only the last five minutes saves the day.

But we were puzzled by the comments we saw about yesterday’s stage to Rodez on social media; the “Bore de France” and the break “allowed for purely commercial reasons”?

Yes, it was a ‘breakaway stage’ but after two days such as we’ve had with Bardet then Barguil’s wins on tough stages in the Pyrenees it would be difficult to expect another big GC battle.

Michael Matthews
Eventual stage winner Michael Matthews stays safe in the bunch. Photo©Martin Williamson

But even then the stage did dish up a great finale with Matthews’ win and the maillot jaune changing hands.

And remember that this isn’t some pan flat trundle across the plains; these are tough roads; rolling, surfaced with chippings and there was a stiff wind under a hot sun.

Michael Matthews
BMC and Sunweb work to get Tommy within sight. Photo©Martin Williamson

We were at around an hour to go and the ‘finiseurs’ teams had the wick turned up, with BMC for Greg Van Avermaet and Sunweb for Matthews particularly active aided and abetted by Sky for Froome who can finish well on the ‘ramps.’

And when you see the state some of the riders are in then you can have nothing but respect for them – and it’s all got to be done again tomorrow.

We missed out the start and parked up on the parcours early, we wanted to see the caravan for the first time this year.

It’s obviously a purely commercial venture but a highly entertaining one too and some of the tat that’s catapulted out in to the crowd is actually useful, like the McCain’s shopping bags or edible, like the Haribo sweets and Cochonou sausages.

The vehicles that are on the race do a great job of catching the eye and product association, here are some of our favourites;

Michael Matthews
BiC pens in the caravan. Photo©Ed Hood

BiC pens and lighters have supported the Tour for years; it was in the colours of the professional team sponsored by Bic that Luis Ocana scored his Tour de France win in 1973.

Michael Matthews
Skoda support the Green Jersey competition. Photo©Ed Hood
Michael Matthews
Tim Harris. Photo©Martin Williamson

Skoda cars pump huge amounts of money into the race with an armada of vehicles; ex-British professional champion Tim Harris drives one of their VIP cars – his job is to give individuals invited by Skoda a memorable day on the race and if they’re really lucky they get up in the helicopter.

Skoda invite successful dealership owners, competition winners and folks they’d like to influence on to the race for the day.

Michael Matthews
“Because kids and cyclists love Haribo so.” Photo©Ed Hood

Haribo sweets have been on the race ever since I’ve been watching, dispensing literally tons of sweets – and bringing Crocodiles to the Alps.

Michael Matthews
Bostik. Photo©Ed Hood

Bostik adhesives are a new addition and also have their logo on the race direction arrows.

Michael Matthews
Ibis Hotels. Photo©Ed Hood

Ibis hotels used to have guys ‘sleeping’ in beds on the back of a flat bed hurtling around France for three weeks.

Michael Matthews
Dancing her way across France. Photo©Ed Hood

Xtra washing powder have nubile young ladies on their vehicles dancing to pumping tunes and firing out packs of washing powder.

Michael Matthews
Lovely sausages. Photo©Ed Hood

Cochonou’s tiny pork sausages have saved Dave, Martin and I from hunger many a time – and their gingham 2CV’s still look cool.

Michael Matthews
Kleber Tyres. Photo©Ed Hood

And my personal favourite – the Kleber tyres big boxer dog.

All of the vehicles are immaculate, washed every night with the staff working long hours to keep the vehicles clean and stocked up with tat from the ‘mother’ trucks.

Michael Matthews
Convoys of trucks throw out thousands of Vittel shirts, hats, and other ‘goodies’. Photo©Ed Hood
Michael Matthews
The result? Entire sections of the road delighted to help advertise the company on TV (and cycling websites). Photo©Ed Hood

Vittel mineral water really ‘goes for it’ with vehicles dispensing T-shirts, water and newsletters prior to the caravan; and a big presence on the caravan with their famous ‘skoosher girl’ who sprays you with water as she passes – wonderful on a hot day like yesterday.

Michael Matthews
The fine water spray refreshes and has the crowd laughing. Photo©Ed Hood

The race?

The snapshot we saw was a good one, at the top of the last short but nasty col and a spot where the soigneurs lined up to pass a final drink up.

Michael Matthews
Martin and Marcus blether about ‘deep tissue massage’. Photo©Ed Hood
Michael Matthews
Marcus hands up a bidon to Burghardt. Photo©Martin Williamson

We got chatting to Marcus, the Bora physio/chiro – a nice guy with time to chat; race staff can be a bit ‘off’ due to the fact that they get requests for bidons from the fans about once every 10 seconds.

Michael Matthews
The Two Tommies. Photo©Martin Williamson

Tommy Voeckler in his last Tour and ever aggressive Thomas de Gendt were first past, the Frenchman putting a show on for his legion of fans – even though he’s not that popular in the peloton – and the Belgian chasing ‘most aggressive’ rider and the overall ‘baroudeur’ award for kilometres off the front.

Michael Matthews
De Gendt leads Voeckler. Photo©Ed Hood

Most aggressive rider of the day nets 2,000 euros with a bigger pay day for the overall kilometres award from L’Équipe.