Memories from World Championships past: Part II

Here’s the second part of my meander down memory lane with my friend Ute covering UCI Road Race World Championships from 2011 to 2015.

Copenhagen 2011

While Ute didn’t travel to Melbourne she once again volunteered in Copenhagen. I had facilitated her application as the section of the website calling for volunteers had only been available in Danish. She still thinks I speak Danish, I’ve not disabused her! Again she worked for a few days in the Press Centre leaving her to enjoy watching some of the racing with me.

Manx Missile in rainbow jersey

Neither of us is tall so we needed to be on the barricades early otherwise we risked having our view blocked by tall northern Europeans, specifically this year by tall Scandinavians. I’m quite sure that Norway and Sweden were empty those few days at the end of September while they lent the Danes a hand trying to drink the place dry! After the race on Sunday I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many empty beer cans discarded by the side of the road.

Ute, being German, generally has the upper hand at most years’ races, results wise. But not on this occasion as Mark Cavendish was guided almost to the line by a tour de force from Team GB. A French friend had asked me to get him Cavendish’s autograph and while I saw him briefly before the post-race press conference, it wasn’t the right moment.

No, that came the following morning as I was checking out of my hotel. Peta and Cav literally bumped into me and I seized my opportunity. My friend was delighted as the autograph was on a copy of the UCI official announcement of the win, accompanied by the route book and other goodies which my friend Bert had given me earlier that morning as I’d waved him off on his plane back to New Zealand. That was the last I saw of Bert who sadly passed away the following September.

Here’s the posts I wrote about my trip back in 2011:-

Cards from Copenhagen I

Cards from Copenhagen II

Cards from Copenhagen III

Cards from Copenhagen IV

Limburg 2012

Ute tried not once, not twice, but three times without success to volunteer. However I think staying in the same hotel as the Belgian team, which included Tom Boonen, more than made up for the disappointment of not having a lurid, ill-fitting volunteer’s outfit to add to her burgeoning collection.

During the Championships I stayed in the same hotel as the Italian and Spanish teams. How fantastic? No, not a bit! Fans and journalists camped out in the entrance hall and bar, hogging the WiFi bandwidth and all the chairs, the hotel corridors smelled of embrocation and there was lots of door banging.

Ute and I loved the fact that few spectators could be bothered to make the trek to the finish line. Well it is 4km from the train station and, unless like me you had got press credentials granting entrance to the press restaurant and facilities, it was pretty poorly served in terms of food and drinks. Still we had a big screen and a great up close and personal view of the podium, so we weren’t complaining. Honestly.

Aside from catching up with people we both knew, being at the finish meant we spent quite some time chatting to anxious Mums and Dads whose offspring were riding in the various categories. It’s always interesting to see a race from someone else’s point of view!

Belgian’s top dog in trade team time-trial (image courtesy of OPQS)

Ute and I spent 10-days in companionable admiration of the racing. This was the first Championship to (re)introduce the trade-team time trial and combine racing for Juniors, Under-23s and Elite so we positively gorged on great racing in an environment where cycling is hugely popular.

Even though I had a great time, I only wrote one blog post about the trip.

Postcard from Limburg 2012

Firenze 2013

Ute worked once more as a volunteer, as did Nathalie, but I didn’t get to spend much time with either as my beloved decided to come along too. We also took our bikes and much enjoyed cycling around the Tuscan countryside.

I have two abiding memories from this Championship. The first was Matej Mohoric who, having won the Junior road race in Limburg, added the Under-23 title at the tender age of 19 with some of his trademark top-tube descending. The second was the Dantesque conditions of the Men’s road race which should’ve been won by the uber-popular Purito Rodriguez. His sad face on the podium was almost more than I could bear.

As in Varese, the Italians contrived to have the start and finish in a stadium and, while viewing en route was free, you had to pay to get into the stadium unless you had accreditation. And that’s largely why my friend Ute volunteers, to get accreditation, though it’s by no means the “open sesame” it was back in Salzburg 2006.

Again, I only penned one post:-

Postcard from Tuscany

Ponferrada 2014

Our trip to the World Championships in Ponferrada was part of a three-week vacation which spanned the Med and Atlantic coasts in both France and Spain. Ute once again volunteered to help out in the Press Centre but I only saw her a couple of times, including at an evening reception about the following year’s Championship in Richmond.

My beloved and I much enjoyed watching the racing in a very convivial atmosphere and in the company of parents who had offspring racing. Since we were all staying in the same small casa rural, it made for a lively discussion over dinner most evenings. As you can see from the photo above, this was not a well-attended Championship. Probably the least well-attended of those I’ve been to, but it wasn’t easy to get there and it was held in an area of Spain with a low population. However, it was a beautiful area to ride around and it’s on one of the many routes to Compostela.

That said, I did manage to write a couple of posts:-

Postcards from Ponferrada I

Postcards from Ponferrada II

Richmond 2015

Official Richmond UCI Road World Championship 2015 artist Greig Leach.

I had high hopes for Richmond which formed the second part of a vacation in the US. We didn’t take our bikes as I’ve found riding in the States to be frankly scary. It was an opportunity for me to finally meet Greig Leach after we’d already worked together on one project and this event was to form the basis of our second collaboration. I also met up with a couple of my fellow VeloVoices. Unbelievably, I’ve still not met everyone on the team.

Ute volunteered and once again spent time in the Press Centre but unlike in Europe, her accommodation was provided by a local host who also made sure she saw plenty of Virginia. I only saw her the once as we were staying in very different parts of town.

My beloved and I enjoyed watching the racing, there was no problem standing close to the finish line for any of the races, even the blue riband event, the Men’s road race. Our hotel was out of Richmond so we camped out at The Marriott Hotel which was almost on the finish line. One of the organisers had told me last year in Ponferrada that they had modelled the event on Salzburg, with everything being in the centre of town.

They’d gotten that part of the equation right and the thousands of Eritrean fans, who’d descended on Richmond for the races, provided lively animation. However, they were no substitute for the thousands of European fans who typically arrive by camping car, and colonise part of the course in order to support their riders. What I’m trying to say is that it was well-organised bur a bit lacking in atmosphere.

Again, I did write a post about our trip:-

Postcard from Richmond

Neither Ute nor I went to Doha 2016. But as an avowed fan of all things Scandinavian, she was in Bergen 2017 and can be found manning the reception desk in the Press Centre at InnsbruckTyrol 2018. We had hoped to meet up this week but sadly work has gotten in the way and I’ll have to settle fo watching the action on the television.

Memories from World Championships past: Part I

I’ve been fortunate to attend ten consecutive UCI Road World Championships. I worked as a volunteer at the first few which gave me an opportunity to make a number of friends whom I continue to meet up with at various cycling events. My first WC was Salzburg 2006 and my last was Richmond 2015. I ducked out of Qatar and Bergen, and was due to attend this week’s in Innsbruck but work intervened! So I’m having a bit of a gander down memory lane revisiting the highlights of championships past with my dear friend Ute who’s manning the reception Desk in the Press Centre in Innsbruck this week.

Salzburg 2006

We first met in Salzburg when we both worked as volunteers. She assisted with the podium ceremony – flags, anthems, flowers etcetera – while I dished out packed lunches to the 2,000 or so volunteers, army, police and municipal workers. Now I appreciate that hers sounds the more glamorous job but mine afforded me the opportunity to see all the racing and catch the action on the podium. Let me explain.

Valeria – another friendship cemented in Salzburg – and I were billeted in a large tent at the back of the press area right next to the all important television chow wagon. That’s right, no packed lunches for us – we were royally fed all week. Most of the volunteers dropped by to collect the lunches for their team but a few had to be delivered giving us an opportunity to get out and about and check on the action.

Super Mario

In Salzburg all the races took place on the same circuit. We watched the race unfold on the adjacent big screen, emerging only to watch the riders pass by from the specially adapted platform for handicapped fans. Now this is going to sound a bit callous but it was a) in a great spot right by the finish and b) they weren’t going to leap up from their wheelchairs and spoil our view. We weren’t the only fans who shared this opportunity. Guess who we met? I have to confess both Valeria and I went a bit weak at the knees, he drips sex-appeal.

Salzburg wins the award for being the best volunteer experience. Largely I think because everything was pretty much in one place, the atmosphere was terrific and, of course, it was our first. You never forget your first anything, do you?

Stuttgart 2007

18 months post-Puerto, the Germans were reluctant hosts and it showed. This time Valeria and I were working in the luxurious surrounding of the UCI’s Congress Hotel in the centre of Stuttgart manning their VIP welcome desk where we provided, and I’m quoting a high-ranking UCI official here, “the best service ever …”

Bert and Me

This was where we first met Bert,who used to attend the Congress on behalf of New Zealand and whose lengthy service to the world of cycling had been recognised by the UCI, Queen and country. He was an old charmer, everyone knew and loved him. I’ve lost count of the number of World Championships he attended but it must be close to 80! (That total includes a few on the track, MTB etc.) He’d seen Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali race and had a whole raft of interesting tales to tell, if only you took the time to sit and listen.

 

Valeria and I both agreed our favourite moment was meeting the incredibly humble, but oh so charming, Miguel Indurain who signed what seemed like hundreds of autographs at our behest for other volunteers. I do believe Valeria still has the photo I took of her snuggles up to Miguel wearing that rather Bet Lynch-ish low-necked leopard print top!

Stuttgart stands alone in not winning any prizes whatsoever, rather we’ve awarded it a big fat raspberry.

Varese 2008

Drawn by Nathalie and signed by Tom

Home to the Mapei centre, the town of Varese embraced and celebrated the World Championships with a style not seen before or since, by me at least. I was staying in a small guest house not far from the town centre where I was working in the accreditation centre: more long but enjoyable days.

Mine hosts served breakfast whenever I wanted and would rush to comfort me when I arrived back from a long day’s work with herbal tea and home-made cake. I never wanted to leave, have remained in touch and visited many times since. Ute was again manning the flagpoles. I worked with a great crowd of largely local students and bonded with fellow fan Nathalie. We’ve kept in touch and frequently meet up at Italian races.

Varese wins my prize for the nicest volunteer outfit by a street mile. Grey trousers, light blue polo shirt, navy blue v-necked sweater and quite my favourite backpack which I still use. Sadly, the trousers had matchstick legs, they probably only fitted the hostesses and podium girls.

Mendrisio 2009

Swiss boys: Fabian with my friend

Again I’d volunteered but as it was only 10km up the road from the previous year’s event, the organisers were swamped with applications and decided not to take anyone from outside the region. Ute threw a wobbly and, fearful of an international incident, the organisers wisely gave her a position in the Press Centre. I stayed with my friend in Lugano, helped out on the Santini stand, saw all of the racing and rode my bike on the road race circuit. My friend Nathalie was a hostess in the VIP stand where, with the exception of Sunday, staff outnumbered guests. We chatted using sign language as I was camped out on the 50m to go line opposite.

My favourite moment came when I was riding along the flatter part of the circuit and seemed to be drawing a fair amount of excited interest from the fans on the roadside. I looked around to find none other than Fabian Cancellara sucking my wheel. I flicked my elbow and he obligingly came through. I stayed on his wheel for another five or so kilometres, admiring his fluid pedal stroke, until the road turned upwards and I slid off said wheel.

Mendrisio wins my prize for the most exciting racing. You may recall Cancellara won the time trial so easily he was celebrating 100m from the line and Cadel Evans won the men’s road race having demonstrated he was indeed an attacking rider.

Should you wish to know more about my trip and the racing, here’s the links to the posts I wrote back in 2009, the year I started the blog:-

Observations from Mendrisio

Postcards from Mendrisio I

Postcards from Mendrisio II

Postcards from Mendrisio III

Melbourne 2010


This wins my prize for the best organised and most fan-friendly event despite it being staged some 70-odd kilometres from Melbourne in Geelong. Fans had access to both sides of the finish line while the UCI’s guests and sponsors tents were at the base of the final drag. Viewing spots with refreshments and a big screen were dotted all over the course and given different nationalities. I was again camped out on the 50m line next to the hard-core Tom Boonen fan club that had turned up even though their hero hadn’t. Shame, really, the course would’ve suited him.

I again rode the course, this time on a hired mountain bike. I was glad of the lower gearing on both of those strenuous climbs. One moment sticks in my memory from Melbourne. I was enjoying a coffee in the Spanish team hotel when they found out about Alberto Contador’s positive test for clenbuterol. They were shocked, devastated and extremely upset. That news effectively killed off the Spanish challenge.

Again, here are the links to some of the posts I wrote about the racing:-

Postcards from Melbourne III

Postcards from Melbourne IV

Postcards from Melbourne V

Memories of Melbourne I

Memories of Melbourne II

You’ll find my thoughts on the UCI Road World Championships from Copenhagen 2011 to Richmond 2015 in Part II.

Vuelta pangs

When the route for this year’s Vuelta a Espana was published in January my heart sank, though not for the reasons you might imagine. This year’s race started in Andalucia – last visited in 2015  – and later visits northern Spain, Asturias and the Basque country, three of my favourite places in Spain. I had to go! Sadly, I knew I couldn’t since it clashed with a family (beloved’s not mine) wedding for which I was making the cake. Instead I’ve had to settle for watching it in its entirety on the television, a poor subsistute for being there in person.

This was brought home yesterday when one of our friends unexpectedly donned the race leader’s jersey. My beloved and I were beside ourselves with joy for him. So few riders ever don the leader’s jersey in a grand tour. Indeed, Rudy Molard is the first rider from his Groupama-FDJ team to wear the leader’s jersey in a grand tour in 13 years. The last being Australian Brad McGee, also in the Vuelta back in 2005. If I recall correctly, the previous French riders to don a leader’s jersey would’ve been Thomas Voeckler in Tour de France 2011 and Sylvain Chavanel in Vuelta a Espana 2011.

Competition to get in and stay in yesterday’s break was fast and furious, particularly since the day before’s stage winner had come from a long-range break. But once the break of 25 riders formed, the peloton seemed content to let them get away. Rudy was the best-placed rider on GC (28th and 3:46 back) to get into the break.

Once the break’s advantage reached over 4 minutes, Rudy became the “virtual race leader.” However, most assumed that Sky or, as on the previous stage, another team would up the tempo to reduce the advantage. But no one, not even Sky seemed to have the appetite for a chase.

Inevitably, the breakmates attacked one another, shattering the group, and a trio of riders finally stayed clear with another threesome, one of whom was Rudy, in hot pursuit. At points Rudy seemed to be flagging as he led the second trio in hot pursuit and, once the leaders started playing cat and mouse, they were in sight. But it was a case of too little, too late. Rudy was riding for the jersey, not the stage win and he succeeded. My beloved and I had been screaming encouragement at the television screen for most of the afternoon, and I’m sure we weren’t the only ones.

The outpouring of love for Rudy on social media was lovely to witness. We also learned that his nickname in the team is Mr Gourmet! Watching him mount the podium, you could see how unaccustomed he was to all the attention and he wasn’t too sure how to react. Finally, you could see he was starting to appreciate just what he’d achieved. Remember, it was only back in the spring that he’d won his first WorldTour race, stage six of Paris-Nice, raced on his adopted-home turf.

Speaking post-race to Eurosport, Rudy said:

A leader’s jersey in a Grand Tour is both beautiful and emotional. It’s a high point in one’s career. I’ll try to make the most of it. I started thinking about it (of the leader’s jersey) only at the end of the stage. I thought about victory, but it was not easy to manage. We were 25 (in the breakaway), there were a lot of attacks, I buried myself for the win. In the end, I said to myself, “Come on, let’s try for the general and we’ll see how it goes.” Even when the peloton crossed the line with a sufficient time gap, I still didn’t really believe it.  Let’s see if I can defend the jersey until Sunday, that’ll be good enough.

His team chose yesterday evening to announce that he’d resigned for another two years. They must be delighted to have retained his services particularly as in the post-race interviews he reinterated that his role was still to ride for his team leader. Let’s hope he hangs onto that jersey until Sunday’s difficult, taxing ascent to La Covatilla.

Postscript: Some of Rudy’s advantage was eroded post-race by a 20 second penalty for late feeding!

Holiday photos: day 31

Three day hiatus for the Clasica San Sebastian, our return home the following day and then yesterday’s corporate video shoot of my beloved for his Chinese clients.

This was our ninth consecutive Clasica and it’s one of our favourite races on the calendar largely because of its location, field of quality riders and overall ambience. We’ve also ridden the entire parcours, just not all on the same day!

Using my beloved’s photos, here’s how the day unfolded, starting with the sign on which is always a good opportunity to catch up with the riders, staff, announcers, journalists and photographers that we’ve gotten to know over the years in a more relaxed atmosphere than say, the Tour de France.

 

The organisers have tinkered with the race route with over the years but it still aims to showcase the area’s beautiful beaches and landscapes, plus major attractions. We next caught up with the riders just over half-way through the race, on the first of two ascents of the famous Jaizkibel climb. The roadside was chock-a-block with fans, many enjoying lavish picnics.

Unless you’re familiar with the Basque country, you’ll fail to appreciate there’s very little flat and average gradients tend to mislead because they’ll always contain a few stinging ramps at over 25%. I speak from (bitter) experience. It’s a great place to cycle around simply because so many locals do, the roads are quiet and the traffic respectful.

After the peloton has toured the Basque countryside, it sweeps through the finish line before its assault of the final barrier. Unfortunately, 20km before the finish, a crash in the peloton either took out (Mikel Landa, Pierre Latour and Egan Bernal) or waylaid (Tony Gallopin, Izagirre brothers, Primoz Roglic, Greg Van Avermaet) a number of favourites.

Despite changes to the parcours three years ago, where the organisers added the final brutal Murgil Tontorra climb, the race is typically won by a rider exiting the Tour in fine fettle, after a successful attack near the summit of the last climb. This year was no different with former winner (2016) Bauke Mollema (Trek) counter-attacking just before the summit and, overhauling the duo upfront, rapidly followed by Musketeer Julian Alaphilippe. The latter won the sprint for the line with FDJ’s Anthony Roux best of a small chasing bunch.

That made it 36 out of 38 that a Tour rider had won the race, though Alaphilippe was the first to win Fleche Wallone, KOM jersey and the Clasica in the same year, underlining his versatility as a rider.

Alaphilippe was rightly delighted with his victory and chose to wear the Basque black beret (txapala) at a rather jaunty angle – very French! One of those from the early break, Cyril Barthe (Euskadi-Murias), won the KOM, intermediate sprints and most aggressive plaudits while Ion Izagirre was the best placed Basque rider. All in all it was a very enjoyable day’s racing.

 

 

 

 

Holiday photos: day 27

My beloved returned midday on Sunday, feeling somewhat weary after working long days and a couple of evenings. I took him out for lunch to one of our regular haunts where we both ate a light  meal. I find when it’s hot and humid, I’m not so hungry. However, it’s important to keep up one’s intake of fluids otherwise it’s easy to become dehydrated. After lunch we sat and listened to some music, it was the last day of the Jazz Festival, most of which my beloved had missed. We then pottered back to our rental flat to watch the final stage of the Tour de France.

The final day of the Tour is a bit of a parade for all bar a handful of sprinters for whom winning the sprint on the Champs Elysees is a blue-riband event. I generally have paper and pencil in hand noting down the names of places we’d like to visit as the television cameras pan past a chateau or two as the peloton heads for its final circuits round Paris. Of course, I’m not the only one, 47% of the television viewing public watch the Tour to see France’s glorious heritage. The footage never disappoints.

Thereafter, we went back out to enjoy the final couple of hours of the Festival, sitting on one of the many park benches in front of the Town Hall. As we wandered back we popped into one of our favourite bars for a nightcap. Well, it would’ve been rude not to.

 

 

Holiday photos: day 25

Typically when we come to San Sebstian it’s to watch the one-day bike race, La Clasica, and we’ll stay a few days either side of the race. The first time we came, we were able to watch a local race the Prueba Villafranca-Ordiziako Klasika, then held on the last day of the Tour de France, which was won by neo-pro Gorka Izagirre (2010) riding for Euskatel-Euskadi, he’s since won it a further two times. This edition was won by Rob Power (Mitchelton-Scott), his first professional win. We would probably have gone to watch it had my beloved not high-tailed it to the UK for a few days.

On Thursday I went to the Town Hall to see the presentation of this year’s Clasica San Sebastian. The route is broadly similar to last year’s though there are some tweaks. The race attracts a stellar cast and is usually won by a rider who showed great form in the last week of the Tour. But the big news from today’s presentation was the organisers’ intent to hold a ladies race over a similar course on the same day next year. This is a fantastic move and I would encourage the UCI when it’s looking at the classification of races for the WorldTour to give precedent to one-day races that organise them for both the guys and the gals.

 

Holiday photos: day 23

Every year I try, and every year I fail to eliminate all my cyclist tan lines. This year, however, not having cycled quite as much, I thought it might be easier. The first to go are always the ones on my face. The line across my forehead and the mark of my chin strap. Next up are my hands. I always wear gloves when I cycle but once the sun starts to shine and I’m out and about, without the bike, my hands quickly tan to the same colour as my lower arms.

My arms progressively lighten as you head toward my shoulders and there’s a definite line where the sleeve of my cycling jersey ends. I never wear sleeveless cycling jerseys. No, scratch that. I never wear sleeveless anything. As it gets warmer, I do lower the zip on my jersey which means I get a v-shaped neckline tan.

I wear very short socks but my feet always tan easily albeit with the readily identifiable “t” from my Birkenstocks. This is much more difficult to eliminate. Since I discovered Birkenstocks a few years ago, I rarely wear anything else all summer long. I have them in pretty much every colour under the sun and some.

Next up is my major problem area, the legs. I have a line from wearing my 3/4 length bib-shorts from Octobet to May compounded in the summer by the line of my cycling shorts, roughly halfway up my thighs. My thighs tan quite readily  but my shins do not. In particular, I have a permanent untanned zone from just below my knee. I can confirm that this stripe effect is not a good look.

This holiday, I’ve been wearing knee length tailored shorts exposing my shins to the sun’s rays most days to little avail. I’ve even donned the swimsuit and indulged in some actual sunbathing. My two sister, noted sun worshippers, would be proud of me. Less so probably about the UV50+ sun protection, they never stray into double figures.

Holiday photos: day 19

I’m in heaven for the next two weeks. We’ve rented an apartment with car parking overlooking the main beach in San Sebastian. It’ll be an opportunity to plunder the markets and whip up a few meals, as well as visiting all of our (many) favourite bars and restaurants.

Of course, no sooner than we’ve arrived, my beloved will be heading back to London for four days to attend a meeting of research boffins. This is a statement of fact rather than a complaint. I’ll be more than happy pottering around one of my favourite places on my own. I have lots planned, including attending a presentation of La Clasica. This is a race held on the Saturday after the conclusion of the Tour de France and is typically won by a rider exiting the Tour in fine fettle.

It’s one of my proud boasts that I’ve ridden the entire route of La Clasica, just not all of it on the same day! If (some of) the boys are lucky, I might just whip up a few batches of cakes for the race finish. Tasty treats are always welcome after many hours in the saddle.

Holiday photos: day 13

A veritable smoregasbord of sport on Sunday, but what to watch, when? Our dilemna was partly resolved when Rafa lost in the semi-final at Wimbledon. It was unlikely that the final would reach similar heights and we fully expected Djokovic to win his fourth title which he did.

We ate lunch at our hotel in Saint Jean de Luz before settling down to watch a mouth watering afternoon of sport starting with the German MotoGP from Sachsenring. Nine poles and nine victories for my chou chou Marc Marquez, who’s leading the World Championship. I was a happy bunny.

Next up the Tour de France’s cobbled stage finishing in Roubaix which started a bit earlier so as not to clash with the match. Sadly crashes and inopportune mechanicals either put paid to or severely dented the ambitions of a number of riders, but hey that’s cycling. You also had to feel for those nursing injuries from earlier stages, those cobbles must’ve been really painful. It was good to see former Paris-Roubaix winner John Degenkolb pick up his first win since recovering from a terrible accident.

Finally, the blue-riband event, the eagerly awaited World Cup final. The beach and streets emptied, as everyone tuned into the match. Finals are rarely great matches, although this one was exciting. Lady luck was wearing red, white and blue as pre-match favourites France showed flashes of both brilliance and stupidity to beat Croatia 4-2 and lift their second World Cup, twenty years after their last. I’ve become a huge fan of Kylian Mbappe who has enchanted everyone with his maturity and was rightly best young playet of the tournament.

Some of my favourite scenes were President Macron’s celebratory dance – don’t give up the day job! – and the mass huggging which followed the presentation of the trophy and medals. The hotel where we were staying broke out the bubbles to toast the team. It had been a great week-end for the French, though you had to feel for the Croats, and for anyone in France hoping for a good night’s sleep.

 

Holiday photos: day 7

Yesterday the Tour de France came to us with a stage start in La Baule, albeit at an out of town shopping centre. We arrived early to bag a car parking spot and watched the caravan go by. Was it my imagination, or was it really bigger than last year? Sadly Haribo weren’t distributing any of my favourite gummy bears though I did score a couple of shoppers – always handy.

The crowds were again a challenge as I fought my way into the Village for some water before picking my spot to photograph a few of the riders on their way to sign on. I found a much better spot than on Saturday, standing opposite a small group of boys who were clearly trying to collect as many rider autographs as possible, loudly hailing each of them by name as they rode past.

Obviously, on home turf, the crowd favours French riders but their biggest cheers were reserved for a certain Peter Sagan (pictured above) looking resplendent in the green points’ jersey. He happily signed plenty of autographs, including for the kids opposite, and posed for lots of selfies. Certain sections of the crowd were still booing Chris Froome but he too happily signed autographs.

I caught up with a few friends, including Rudy Molard who’d been felled at 60km/hr by a stray water bottle and had consequently cornered the market in bandages. I restrained myself from embracing him as he told me it hurt pretty much all over. However he was still smiling. Cyclists are a tough bunch.

All too soon the peloton was streaming out of town under a burning sky and I walked back to the car. Several days of rest and recuperation and my leg is feeling so much better. Time to head to our next destination, Bordeaux.