Observations From Le Tour 2011
With the 98th Tour de France only a few days away, it’s time to establish a page that offers random commentary about aspects of the race that many may not be aware of… as well as just general observations of things that happen on Planet Tour this July.
By Rob Arnold
This is the 15th successive Grand Départ of the Tour de France that I’ve attended. The differences are immense from my first time on the race as part of the entourage, back in 1997 when Rouen hosted the Big Start. Back then cigarette smoke filled the media centre, riders didn’t have to wear helmets, clip-on aero bars had not yet been banned by the UCI and a group of young Australians were making their debut in the race. Robbie McEwen, Henk Vogels and Stuart O’Grady were optimistic young men about to embark on an adventure that would lure in thousands of new fans from their homeland.
Only one of this trio returns in 2011, O’Grady (LEO) – one of the six Aussie starters at Les Herbiers (or, more factually, the Passage du Gois this coming Saturday).
In total there were 28 riders from Australia who were on teams that are eligible to start. One, Matt Lloyd, lost his contract earlier in the year and instead of lining up for his third Tour, he’s busy with renovations on his new Italian home. A new kitchen is being installed… and he’s quietly working away on other projects for the rest of the season while also preparing to make a return to professional racing in 2012.
The compatriots of O’Grady who will be part of the peloton on 2 July 2011 are: Cadel Evans (BMC), Simon Gerrans (SKY), Matt Goss (THR), Richie Porte (SBS), and Mark Renshaw (THR).
Alas, McEwen won’t be here. It’s a shame but we were discussing how good it would be if he was given the chance to offer some insights on the race in which he’s won 12 stages in the past… for there are few who see as much as he does and are able to articulate it so well. But his RadioShack team is committed, once again, to a good GC performance and thus the sprinter was given a break this July. Let’s hope he appears somewhere between the tidal causeway in the Vendée and the Champs-Elysées in the French capital at the end of the month.
I’m sharing a hotel – a low-budget Campanille in La Roche-sur-Yon – with the BMC and Movistar teams and can report that the atmosphere within these two squads is most upbeat. Late last night, the Spanish squad’s mechanics were working on constructing new Pinarello bikes in time for the start in two days time. The electronic-shifting, Campagnolo-equipped bikes will have white frames for the 2011 race, a contrast to the dark blue that have been used until now in the first season of the new sponsorship arrangement with the telecommunications company.
Other things that I can confirm have changed since the preparation of the Official Tour de France Guide are the design of at least two team jerseys: Sky has replaced its traditional blue (on black) with green for this race; and Garmin-Cervélo has swapped the black and blue colours that have been used early in 2011 for white with a large slap of argyle pattern at the base of the jersey.
The atmosphere is not as electric as I remember it to be in Rouen in 1997… but the crowds are building at a time when, in actual fact, there’s not really a lot yet to see. There are innovations by the organisers that make their debut for the race in 2011 – including a new ‘Village’ near the site of the race HQ in Les Herbiers call ‘Avant Tour’. This is where spectators can watch as the ‘caravan publicitaire’ is prepared, and there is an exposition of sorts including stands from various sponsors.
During the course of this year’s Tour, I’ll attempt to report in on a regular basis to offer a few extra observations on top of what I write for the race’s Official site (LeTour.fr). Jetlag is still slowing down the mind, but a good night of rest has help raise my spirits… as well as the fact that, for the first time in five years, I haven’t been struck down with allergies within minutes of arriving in France. I’m looking forward to another exciting Tour and helping to bring some insight from the race in a way that we’ve not done before with RideMedia.com.au.
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