We were packed and ready to walk out the door, Christophe our friendly taxi driver was waiting downstairs, when my beloved suddenly remembered that he hadn’t checked in for his evening flight to Bradford. Like last year, when we drove to Le Grand Depart in Normandy, my husband had to attend a client’s sales meeting in Bradford. So he was flying to Düsseldorf with me, checking in to the hotel, which was at the airport, then flying off to Bradford. He leads a jet-setter’s life!
I had to unlock the office so he could print off his boarding card which took longer than anticipated because he hadn’t even completed his passport information for the booking. Luckily, I had decided to get to the airport early so we could have lunch in the La Plage restaurant. Of course, this was predicated on an early arrival. I wouldn’t mind but absolutely everything else had been done for him. Despite the last-minute hitch, we made it to the airport with enough time for lunch. However, our tardy arrival outside the flat had poor Christophe questioning whether he’d arrived on the correct day. Typically we’re waiting outside for him when he arrives to pick us up. I hate keeping anyone waiting, not so my beloved!
Checked in and ready to go, we went to the airport restaurant which is decorated as if it were at the beach. There’s even a winding slide for kids to descend from it, so much more fun than the stairs. I admit I was so tempted to have a go but it did look rather narrow. Imagine if I’d gotten stuck and they’d had to call the fire brigade to get me out? Maybe next time.
On the flight, we fortunately had three seats between us and I’d nodded off before the plane had even taxied down the runway, only waking on arrival in Düsseldorf. We’ve both visited the town a number of times, though always for either Dental or Medical exhibitions. So we’re very familiar with its large exhibition centre a short drive from the airport.
My beloved just had time for a reviving drink in the hotel bar before walking back to the airport, leaving me to attend the team presentation without my photographer or indeed any transport! Luckily friends on one of the teams staying in the same hotel were kind enough to give me a lift. I have to say it wasn’t one of the better Tour presentations though at least it was very spectator friendly and over fairly swiftly. I was back at the hotel in time for a nightcap and very welcome early night.
Friday morning I needed a taxi to get to the Exhibition Centre to collect my accreditation, and that of a friend, and once again managed to get a lift back to the hotel with one of the DSs I know. I’d already decided that with so few team press conferences being held in the Press Centre, I’d just attend that of Trek-Segafredo, largely because its hotel wasn’t far from ours.
As usual, Alberto Contador turned up on time to a packed audience, along with John Degenkolb who was rather surplus to requirements. The questions were all for Alberto though someone eventually felt sorry for Degs and posed a quick question. I took the opportunity to have a chat with Haimar Zubeldia, the
oldest most experienced rider in the race who was called off the substitute’s bench at the last moment. Back at the hotel, I had tea in the hotel lounge surrounded by the Astana team. I have to say Fabio Aru was looking as chilled as Alberto and, after his performance in the Italian national championships, it would be worth considering him for your fantasy tour team.
Waiting for my beloved to return from Bradford, I watched the MotoGP practice from Sachsen Ring followed by the semi-finals from Eastbourne where Djokovic looked to be peaking at just the right time for Wimbledon.
Finally, sport-sated, I decided to wait for my beloved in the same restaurant where we had a drink the previous evening. The hotel has four restaurants so we’re spoilt for choice however we favoured the more casual one serving German specialities. That evening I was taunted by the delicious smells wafting from the meals of the couple on the next table who were tucking into truly magnificent Wiener Schnitzels, quite my favourite German/Austrian meal. While on my other side, the table was enjoying another of my favourites – cold, rare roast beef with saute potatoes and remoulade sauce. My mixed salad really didn’t cut it in the olfactory stakes. I was tempted to cut and run. This doesn’t bode well for our trip to Austria over Christmas. Fortunately my beloved arrived to distract me.
The first stage’s time-trial started and finished at the Congress Centre but we decided it would be much more fun to watch the riders in the Old Town. Despite the weather, crowds were out in force, many taking the opportunity to watch cycling for the first time. We donned our wet weather gear, found ourselves a good spot on the parcours which was near a large screen, close to facilities and great refreshment possibilities. I love watching time-trials because you can see each rider individually though we were constantly holding our breaths as the riders slid around the course trying to avoid pools of water and thick white lines. After an exhausting afternoon, watching a thrilling time-trial event in a superb atmosphere, we returned to the hotel and dinner, followed by an early night. Watching bike racing is often almost as exhausting as taking part!
Sunday dawned grey and overcast but thankfully dry as we headed to the start of stage two alongside the Rhine. After a quick breakfast in the Village du Depart, where I once again bemoaned the loss of the fresh fruit stand, it started to rain. We took shelter in the Tissot stand where we picked up a couple of great caps and a water bottle. Replete we headed to the bus paddocks. I regard the Tour as a great opportunity to say hi to those riders and staff that I know and make arrangements to catch up with them at subsequent, less pressured races. Plus a number of ex-riders we know now work either for ASO or major sponsors of the Tour. I try not to get in the way of the hoards of journalists who earn their livings writing about the Tour.
Having done the rounds, we strode quickly back to the car and headed to Maastricht where we’d be staying for the next two nights. It’s one of my favourite places in Holland and the venue for the start of Amstel Gold. We were staying in a hotel with a waterside view over to the Old Town which is a pleasant melange of building styles on cobbled streets. Sadly, due to the weather, my photos of Düsseldorf don’t do it justice nor did the week-end’s television coverage. However, it’s well worth a visit which can easily be combined with a trip to nearby Cologne.