I don’t mean to diminish the efforts of everyone involved in the Tour de France, but now that we’ve got a time trial under our belts, it feels like we’re finally racing. I missed the prologue, that ceremonial, official launch of the Tour. The scenery on Corsica was absolutely stunning, but now that we’re watching the riders fight it out in mainland France, the Tour has officially begun. Let the pigeons loose.
For those of us lucky enough to have lived a little bit of life in the pro peloton, the start of any big stage race or season will uncork a flood of old memories. For me, unfortunately, the Tour’s Corsican kickoff put my brain into a loop of Cheech and Chong.
For Shelley Verses, however, the reminiscing was directed by the chaos caused by the Orica Greenedge team’s stuck bus. A pioneering American soigneur in the ’80s European pro peloton, Shelley saw and experienced things that sort of defy explanation to folks who weren’t there, and she reached out with an electronic note to a small selection of her old bike-race friends, including me.
Back in the ‘80s, France and Italy were rife with protesters. They especially loved to make themselves heard during the biggest sporting events in the world, the Tour de France and the Giro d’italia. The race organizers were careful to not allow television coverage of their cries on live airtime—which is just what they were looking for.
I cannot count how many times we, the soigneurs, were stopped on the courses, on the way to and from the feed zones because protesters were lying across the road.
I have seen them naked, painted and chained. Chained together and chained to posts. I have seen them hauled off by the local cops, and the Tour organizers and Tour police picking up their signs and mess minutes before you boys rode through! I once saw a farmer on a tractor give a local cop chain-cutters to cut chain.
Trucks stuck under bridges! Yes, I remember seeing detours for local vehicles for you in the mountain stages. There was a truck stuck under an overpass. The driver of the semi was frantically trying to go forward and back. He finally busted loose, backed up, pulled over, and was going to turn around after you all went past—but rebar was sticking out from the overpass, and the spectators, farmers and local police picked up the crumbled concrete that had fallen onto the course before you rode underneath!
You probably complained of ‘rough road’ there, but were never told of the drama that had unfolded.
Luckily, the Orica GreenEDGE team has something of a sense of humor, and didn’t let a broken air conditioner or a few minutes of (behind-the-scenes) panic put a damper on its momentum.
After his fantastic stage win in yesterday’s third, and final, stage on the island of Corsica, Simon Gerrans’ team took the top step on today’s Team Time Trial podium in Nice, putting Gerrans into the yellow jersey. What a start for the Aussies!
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