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Cycle Sport on Tour, part three

The awkward conversation about room-sharing.

Words by Edward Pickering in Cap Fréhel

Wednesday July 6, 2011

The car’s a mess, sleep deprivation is starting to kick in and we’ve overdone the protein and rich sauces. It really feels like the Tour has started.

We reluctantly moved on from the Chateau de la Tremblaye to our new hotel in Pontivy, just south of Mûr de Bretagne, where we stayed for two nights. The Hotel de l’Europe is run by a brutally efficient posse of three or four French women of indeterminate age, and their microscopic dog, who appears friendly, but is actually sizing up your ankles for taste. The most interesting thing about the hotel is that the baths have jacuzzi fittings, which I felt compelled to try out yesterday morning. I had a lovely deep warm bath, before going down to breakfast, where Lionel said he’d endured a cold shower, “because some idiot in the next room used up the hot water running a bath”.

We’ve doubled our number. Ellis and Hugh, after four hellish nights in the Nantes Ibis, are now on our schedule and we’re sharing hotels and occasionally rooms all the way through. Now journalists aren’t like bike riders. We don’t like sharing rooms, mainly because we’re all cynical misanthropes who can’t stand other human company, but for last night we had to broach the subject of who would share with whom.

It was an uneasy conversation.

Lionel went for the “I’m developing a tickly throat,” angle. Clever. Nobody wants to share with the sick boy. I mentioned that I sometimes get “a bit grabby” in my sleep. It was enough – Ellis and Hugh top-to-toed it in room 205.

We didn’t go to the start of stage three because it was miles away, and there weren’t 26 hours in the day to both file copy and sit in a traffic jam. Instead we thought it would be a good idea to go and watch the race on the Pont St Nazaire, the bridge over the Loire that doubles as a fourth-category climb. The problem with our plan was that we’d have to join the race route, and the authorities really don’t like it at all when idiots try to join the race route. For journalists, race staff, team staff alike, there is a place near the start called the PPO, the point de passage obligatoire, and it provides the only access to the race route.

We slowly drifted up to a roundabout about two kilometres south of the bridge, and the gendarme on duty, who was sporting a highly intimidating trimmed goatee beard and mirror shades, basically shook his head at us. We were going to have to get out and talk.

“Look, we have stickers on our car. We’re accredited to be on the race route,” I whined.

“So what? Anybody could just print that out on their own computer,” he said. As if to emphasise just how easy it would be, he added, “Even I could print that out on my computer.”

I flourished my plastic Tour accreditation at him. “Could you print this out on your own computer?” I didn’t ask, and he seemed more impressed. “Drive up over the kerb there, and have a good day,” he said.

I got back into the car and said to Lionel, “We’re going to drive over the kerb there, and we’re going to have a good day.”

“It looks very high,” Lionel said.

I drove towards the kerb.

“It looks very high,” Lionel repeated.

One wheel went up. “It’s very high,” Lionel said.

The other wheel went up, and there was a scraping sound, as if the bottom of a Citroen C5 was grinding very hard against concrete

“I told you it was very high,” Lionel repeated, all the way to the bridge.

After all that, they wouldn’t even let us stop on the climb, so we parked up close to the bottom on the other side, from where we had a superb and unusual view of the peloton descending at about 70 kilometres per hour. The peloton is usually far longer than it is wide, but the road off the bridge was four lanes, and in the crosswinds, the bunch had expanded to fill the width of the road. With the distance and foreshortening, it was possible to see the pulsing and changing shape of the bunch as it sped down the hill.

We watched Garmin execute the most exciting move of the Tour so far in a café in a town called La Roche Bernard, notable mainly for the fact its name contains two of the top three of the 1987 Tour de France, then drove to Pontivy where we came dangerously close to missing dinner. Followers of our blog in 2006 will know just how serious a matter that can be.

Now we’re at the press room in Cap Fréhel, which is basically a tent in a field that smells of cow poo, with a few portaloos outside. For me and Lionel, who recently attended Glastonbury, it’s all a bit too soon.

Are you top-to-toeing it with a cycling journalist? Email us at cyclesportontour@hotmail.co.uk

Sunday July 3
Travel:Cholet-Les Essarts
Hotel: Chateau de la Tremblaye, Cholet
Dinner:Worst restaurant of the Tour so far. Dry fish and bland sauerkraut for Ed, and a ropey old piece of Côte de boeuf for Lionel. “It consisted mostly of connective tissue.”

Monday July 4
Travel:Cholet-Pont St Nazaire-Pontivy
Hotel:Hotel de l’Europe, Pontivy
Dinner:We feared the worst, as there appeared to be one place serving food in the whole town, and it looked like the kind of bar where lonely men drink pastis from 11 in the morning. But they came through with rolled pork and chorizo, washed down with a dry Vouvray. Then we went to the one pub in town and had a series of démi-pressions. This was a mistake.

Tuesday July 5
Travel:Pontivy-Mur de Bretagne
Hotel:Hotel de l’Europe, Pontivy
Dinner:A North African restaurant for huge lamb shanks and merguez sausages. Excellent.

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