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Cycle Sport on Tour, part four

Naked riders and 12 kinds of fatty meat in batter. Cycle Sport’s travelogue of the Tour continues.

Words by Edward Pickering in St Flour

Sunday July 10, 2011

It’s almost the first rest day of the Tour, and it can’t come soon enough for team CS. After a low-key start to the race, we’ve been putting in huge turns in the car and this, combined with a very reckless and ill-judged series of dinners, means we could do with a couple of nights in the same hotel.

We skipped the finish in Lisieux, heading straight to our hotel in Le Mans, which turned out not to be in Le Mans at all, despite the publicity clearly describing it as such. It was actually out on the ring road, a dispiriting dual carriageway lined with warehouse-style superstores and horrible, cavernous restaurants. More of the horrible, cavernous restaurants in a bit.

I’d decided to go to the Garmin hotel, an out-of-town Kyriad, to have a chinwag with Jonathan Vaughters. Vaughters was padding around in his bare feet, having left his shoes in the team car, while Ramunas Navardauskas was wandering about in his underpants, having locked himself out of his room.

This isn’t unusual. Professional cyclists are remarkably relaxed about nudity. I once interviewed Tom Boonen while he lay naked on a massage table, politely averting my eyes when he rolled over. The only time I ever roll over like that, I’m at home and the curtains are closed.

I’ve got quotes from riders in their hotel rooms, while their room-mates emerged from the shower, just as nature intended. And I once congratulated a rider for his top 10 finish in the Tour of Britain while he stripped off down to just a pair of legwarmers, on a Sunday afternoon on the Mall. ‘Maintain eye contact at all costs,’ I told myself.

In short, you can’t be uncomfortable with the sight of naked manflesh and be a cycling journalist.

Vaughters was in quite a talkative mood. So much so that I didn’t leave the hotel until well after 10 o’clock. I was edging dangerously close to the possibility of a Missed Dinner, which along with having to get interesting quotes from Edvald Boasson Hagen, is one of the worst things that can happen to a journalist on the Tour. I was just eyeing up a perfectly flat pain au chocolate that came in the promotional material from one of the Breton stages and had been squashed at the bottom of my bag, when I drove past a shopping mall with a large sign reading ‘restaurant ouvert, 7h-23h’. Result!

Unfortunately, it was a non-Michelin starred eat-all-you-can Chinese buffet in a warehouse. My superb run of dinners (which had continued the evening before with a fillet of hake served on polenta in Dinard), was about to come to an end.

I dined on 12 kinds of fatty meat in batter, while Ellis and Hugh texted me from the Old Town, where they were eating rare steak and drinking fine wine. Lionel had done no better, however. “I had a Quick Burger,” he said.

The Le Mans to Chateauroux stage was our worst yet. We got lost on the way to the start, turned up late, then it started to to bucket down so the riders sulked in their buses, while I didn’t get quotes from them. The only moment of levity was seeing Movistar’s Andrey Amador jump the queue for a portaloo right in front of me as the bunch was already heading out. He looked like he was in a hurry.

We drove for three and a half hours to Chateauroux, including getting lost. Then we got stuck in the pressroom suffering from writer’s block. A two-hour drive to our hotel in Montluçon was interrupted by an emergency dinner of steak frites in La Châtre.

Although a couple of colleagues who spent the other night kipping in their car might disagree, there’s only one thing worse than not getting to your hotel until 11:30. And that is not getting to your hotel until 11:30, and discovering it is an Ibis.

Ibis is the most sinister of all hotel chains.

The uniformity of Ibis is the enemy of all that is interesting about travelling. Do I remember that charming little hotel with the cobbled courtyard and suit of armour in Compiègne? Yes I do. What about that lovely Chateau in Cholet, with the old staircase and great restaurant? I’ll never forget it.

But I’ve probably stayed in about 30 or 40 Ibises over the course of my working life, and I can’t remember a single thing about any of them, save for the fact that the room will be just like the last one I stayed in, and that the breakfast will be muesli, cornflakes or Coco Pops, along with pancakes, bread and jam and coffee from a machine. Just like last time. And the time before that. And the time before that.

Still, Ellis and Hugh were in a great mood – they were going back home that morning, to be replaced by Andy McGrath.

Andy’s full of beans, because he hasn’t spent 10 days living in a car yet. Also because he’s about the youngest reporter in the Tour pressroom, even, we reckon, including the group of schoolkids ASO bring in every year, called the ’Jeunes reporteurs du Tour’. Lionel and I confuse him with cultural references to the 1970s and 1980s, while he gets us back by talking about anything that happened after 2003.

Still, we’re all going to be full of beans in a few days. Regular readers will know of Cycle Sport’s obsession with cassoulet, and after the rest day, we’re heading right into cassoulet country.

Have you come close to missing dinner? Email us at cyclesportontour@hotmail.co.uk

Wednesday July 6
Travel: Pontivy-Cap Fréhel-Dinard
Hotel: Hotel Printania, Dinard
Dinner: Grilled hake on polenta. The chef added fine slices of andouillette. “I’m not finishing that,” said Lionel. “Andouillette is like eating rubber bands in a verucca sock.”

Thursday July 7
Travel: Dinard-Le Mans
Hotel: Hotel La Pommeraie
Dinner: Quick Burger for Lionel, Chinese buffet for Ed. Ellis and Hugh lived it up in Le Mans old town.

Friday July 8
Travel: Le Mans-Chateauroux-Montluçon
Hotel:Montluçon Ibis. See also: every other Ibis in the world.
Dinner:: Steak frites grabbed en route to the hotel.

Saturday July 9
Travel: Montluçon-La Bourboule
Hotel: Hotel Regina, La Bourboule
Dinner: Recklessly cheese-laden. We went to the Cyrano in La Bourboule, an excellent place which specialises in Cantal cuisine we remembered from 2008. Jambon cru and melted cheese on bread for starter. Lionel and Andy had confit of duck, with melted Cantal cheese on top, Ed went for a huge lamb shank. Then a trio of slabs of Cantal cheeses: bleu d’Auvergne, Cantal and St Nectaire, which made the cheese glands, just behind the jawbone, sting a bit. Washed down with Côtes du Rhône. Andy had nightmares, while we’re still getting the cheese sweats two days later.

Sunday July 10
Travel: La Bourboule-St Flour-Vic sur Cère
Hotel: Le Terrendou. More about this later. Fantastic!
Dinner: Beef bourguignon and pasta, grudgingly served at a town centre restaurant which was also feeding a posse of people from the publicity caravan. They look tired, bored and cold.

Cycle Sport’s Tour village: All our Tour coverage, comment, analysis and banter.

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