In the second instalment from the roads of 2019 Tour de France, Jamie and Gary report back on their travel adventure #ChasingTheTour with all the details about that money-can't-buy trip in the MAVIC neutral service car!
Today I set off for Chalon from Mulhouse to see the end of today’s stage. It was a two-hour drive and I was accompanied by all of the team’s trucks and vans that were carrying suitcases and mattresses etc.
A fun way to make the drive more bearable was ‘Guess which team you’ll see next?’.
On arriving at my hotel I checked in, or tried to. I was inline after the UAE Team rep who was in a discussion with the Manager of the hotel about how many rooms the team had been allocated. This went on for 15 mins. A combo of French and Italian.
After finally checking in, I dumped bags, got into lycra and had a spin down to the finish.
Today was not a day for hard miles. Riding along the main road I passed Chris Horner, winner of the 2013 Vuelta. We rode together for 10 mins, I asked about what the pros chat about when riding stages like today.
After scouting the finish I went back to the hotel for a shower and change of clothes, then I went to nose around the UAE staff getting ready for the arrival of the riders, they had a list of requests for the hotel and were busy unloading suitcases.
Being on a team as staff may take you to the best races, with the best riders but it is hard work - often for little pay. I had a chat with a couple of them, this may come in handy later in the day…..
I then rode down to 7km to go, watched the peloton race past at 10km and after hot-footed it to the finish line. After all the riders had got in cars & buses I rode back to the hotel. I had a beer and waited for the UAE riders to arrive.
The riders all got off the coach, Dan Martin posed for some selfies with fans, (not me - I am waiting to be seated next to him at dinner). I then mooched over to see the mechanics do their thing and the saw the coach driver cleaning his bus. I got chatting to Etzio, the coach driver, and asked, in return for a beer, would he allow me to have a little peek inside the bus? He said he could do more than that and gave me the royal tour, I even stood in the shower cubicle. It was very plush and the air conditioning was first class.
I then sat at a raised table having a beer with the Mavic Neutral Service team, who are also int he same hotel. I asked about their role and who are good teams/bad teams and how much equipment & spares that they carry.
It was very interesting and we swapped numbers to meet up on a rest day for a drink. The UAE riders came in in 1s and 2s for their dinner. It was not the ‘whole team sitting down together’ that you imagine. The UCI are staying here too, it is a bit much for a Campanile on the edge of Chalon!
I drove an hour from Chalon to a small town where I parked up and rode the 35km to where I’d see the stage. Today it was the feed zone for me. I have lost count the number of times I’ve seen De Gent pass me in a break, they weren’t sparing the horses today as the pace was brutal. The bunch passed all single lined. Offredo was about 10 mins back all alone and then there was a very long wait for the broom wagon to pass - it was following Laporte who had the look of someone who’s heart was not in it.
Maybe he was ill but it looked like his days in the TdF are unfortunately numbered. From there I drove to the hotel I was in that night. A little village at the top of a mountain.
This was always going to be a long day. A drive off the mountain where I was staying to Brioude where the stage finish is. I arrived around 1300 and cycled the 30km into town. I scoured the area and I worked out that I could see the race go by at 10km to go, bomb back into town and see the riders cross the line. A bit like Chalon.
I had fun whilst waiting for the race, meeting Marcel Kittel and finding an incredibly steep 7km climb.
I got to my spot to see the race pass and then rode into town. So far it was a ‘normal’ TdF stage. I locked my spot at the barriers around 250 meters after line as it was clear and I could stand at barrier with my bike.
Then when the stage winner, Daryl Impey, won the stage he stopped exactly where I was. This allowed me to film all the emotions of a stage winner and his soigneur. I even got to shake Daryl’s hand!
Riding back to my car I bumped into the Mitchelton-Scott soigneur, Oxsi, and showed him the video. He gave me his mobile number and two Mitchelton-Scott cycling caps in exchange for me to send him the video. I was only pleased too. I then rode to the car and drove the 3 hours to Albi. Arriving at midnight. Just in time for all the road closures and fireworks. Lucky I was only tired and not absolute shattered......
I probably won’t do this day justice with my words.
Remember one of my first tips in part one, always speak to people who work on the race as you never know what can come from it.
Well, from meeting the Mavic guys a few nights earlier in Chalon, they sent me a text on Sunday to see if I’d like to spend this stage in their Mavic Neutral Service car, I replied “yep, that sounds cool” and I got a message last night saying it was on and to be there at the stage start by 1130.
I drove from Albi back to Saint-Flour, 3 hours, but I was buzzing despite the 0630 start time. It was amazing to be ushered into the ‘accreditation only’ area and drive out behind the red commissionaire's car.
After leaving the start we were positioned in between the convoy of teams cars - each team’s No.1 car was ahead of us and the No.2 team cars were behind. The helicopters make it a lot windier than it is when they are hovering low and kicking up all the dust.
The riders made a toilet stop after around one hour of racing, it was a leisurely pace for the first 100km. It was during these quiet times that the team cars discussed tactics together, the Jumbo Visma and EF Education were seen and so too Quickstep and Dimension Data.
From inside the Mavic car, you get to appreciate quite how big the numbers of fans are at the roadside, it is quite something to see lines of people, 3-4 deep in each town and village.
As for the rules of the convoy, cars drive on the right and motorbikes on left. The motorbike passengers with red helmets are Commissars. Race radio, by Seb Piquet, is spoken in French and English depending on which team is involved.
If a rider is at the back waving a bidon, the team car will get called up, address the riders need and then drift back into its place in the convoy. It is actually a lot less hectic than you’d think. The drivers know the width of their car to the millimetre and use all the space that they need. The Mavic team swapped over drivers at the halfway stage.
Back to the crowd and you can certainly sense that they are more lively in the afternoon. In the morning they just wave to you, in the afternoon there is dancing and a lot more banter. I am sure alcohol has nothing to do with this!
I cannot do justice to the day I had with words, I have posted some videos of the day on my twitter feed so feel free to take a look. When the race kicked off with around 50km, that was incredible, just buckle up and enjoy the ride. Bumper to bumper, horns blazing, riders behind, next to and ahead of us. A controlled panic with large amounts of adrenalin is the best way to describe it.
After the stage, it was the VIP coach back to Saint-Flour to collect my car and drive back to Albi. There really was no other way the logistics could have been worked out and I was never going to decline the invitation - I finally got to bed at midnight.
Today was a bit of a dream, surreal, something I never thought I would get to experience. I would like to publicly thank Mavic for their generous hospitality. Remember my tip, always stop and say hello to people, you never know where it may get you.
Rest day tomorrow so this means laundry, a ride and then some culture.
We intended to go for a nice easy spin, however, fate had other ideas for us.
As we headed out of town we had Jumbo Visma join us after 7km. I was with this team on a rest day in Carcassone last year too so re-introduced myself to Frans Massen, their DS.
I asked about the previous days' stage and whether they knew the wind was likely to play a part? Frans replied they did and that Thomas was so strong that once Ineos picked up the mantle it was game over for those behind.
I suggested that they get WvA in a longer contract, but Frans said there were a lot of teams sniffing around. We then chatted about Massen’s career and his stage win in ‘91 when he gained 10 mins in a break with Chiappucci. Then the pace got a little serious, Gary and I got back to the hotel after 70km in 32c heat.
I went to the stage start in Albi today. I wasn’t feeling too well, maybe a cold or a bit of tonsillitis. After the stage start, I drove to straight to Pau, dinner and bed. I guess after a few manic days in Briourde, in the Mavic Car and a ride with the team, I too needed a little bit of rest!
Woke up still feeling shit but the mountains are with us and I can recover when I'm home, I was determined to do what I was here to do!
I parked up and rode up the Peyresourde with Gary who had stayed on the mountain overnight in his camper van and had descended down to meet me. It wasn’t the hardest climb in the world and the views riding up to the summit were inspiring.
We were at 3km to go and the big break came past and then the bunch, coasting it. Defiantly taking it easy ahead of the TT. Once the race passed I descended the climb and drove back to Pau.
Today was not decisive but tomorrow will shape the race as it leads into the more serious mountains.
An out and back individual time trial (ITT) in Pau.
I had an easy spin as I was still not feeling too good. I went out to see the course and to see La Course and watch the world’s best female racers. Marianne Vos won and met her after her podium duties had finished. She’s an absolute legend of the sport and it was a huge honour to meet her.
In the afternoon, I loitered around the finish, meeting some of the early finishers, this is where I met Alex Dowsett and was offered his bidon - my collection is now up to nine.
After a while, I decided to sit in the grandstand that had been erected. It was 32c so the free bottles of water that Vittel were handing out was very much welcomed. I stayed here to see the final finishers - who knew a ITT could be so exciting?
When Alaphilippe crosses the line it was like France had just won the race! It was incredible.
From here I made my way back into central Pau, bumping into the Phil Liggett. We chatted about staying in the same hotel in Pau last year and I commended Phil on his lovely memorial that ITV and Phil had produced, it was very moving.
On my way, I stopped at the Deceuninck-QuickStep hotel for a beer. I met Patrick Lefevre and we toasted his team’s success, Patrick said the ITT victory was not expected which made him celebrate even more!
Then it got really like a party when the yellow jersey arrived!!!
There was singing and dancing, with cheers from the small crowd and the other riders filming from their room windows. Julian Alaphilippe did a little jig, joined in and then went into a team truck. As he passed me, I put out my hand and congratulated him on his victory, we shook hands and he thanked me.
Quite an amazing way to end a day. I met a group of French and Belgian fans and we shared a few drinks, they were a good bunch who were obviously enjoying their day.
Up early and I drove to around 30km from the Tourmalet, it was the town where the sprint points were contested. The ride to the Tourmalet was pretty much uphill all the way. I thought I had left enough time as I was at the bottom of the Col at around 1030.
The climb itself is not too steep, certainly not Ventoux-like, around 6% with 8% in places. It is long though!. The atmosphere rose the higher I got. After a few KM the very same group of French/Belgian fans who I had met the night before started singing my name to the ‘Too Unlimited’ tune ‘No No’.
I stopped and we had a good catch up about our exploits with Deceuninck-QuickStep the night before. Then it was back to climbing. Gary was again parked up in his camper van at around 3km from the top.
Thankfully, Vittel was once again handing out free water to anyone and everyone. I am not sure what their budget is for the tour but it must be substantial.
As I got to around 5km from the top the Gendarmes had closed the road and were not letting people pass. They were directing people to do a ‘shortcut’ which was on a gravel path to the top but there was no guarantee that I would be able to get to Gary. So I decided to cut my losses and descended to the bottom and I stopped on the valley road, in-between the climb and the sprint. It was lovely, I was the only fan on the road for around 500m so it was quiet, warm and with a nice ledge to sit on. What this gave me was exclusive access to all of the caravan and my haul was epic. They must have felt sorry for me as I got more than one of everything and some stuff I had not even seen before.
The race came by, big gaps and tired legs. The autobus of sprinters and Steve Cummings was full of chatter and laughter. Black humour I am sure with what they had coming up. After the Broom Wagon passed I raced back to the car, watched the finish of the stage on my phone and was back in Pau before 1800.
Poor Gary didn’t get off the mountain until 2330 due to all the caravan traffic - you don't get kept up like that in a hotel Gary!
I went out for dinner and just as I was finishing, the group of French and Belgians appeared from nowhere. They got seats and we shared our final beer together. I leave early tomorrow for Limoux stage start and then a drive to Nimes.
In 1961 Tom Simpson won the Tour of Flanders, something so far no other British male rider has ever done. That may change this weekend, of course, but this is how Simpson did it.