This month I got the incredible opportunity to experience Le Tour De France in a way that very few do – sat in the front seat of the Mavic Neutral Service car! Ever since reading Lance Armstrong’s biography as a 13 year old I had longed to experience the Le Tour in person, but like many things in life it had gone on the back burner and was one of those things I would do ‘someday’.. So when I got the call from Paul at Mavic asking if I’d be interested in coming out to France to take up the front seat for Stage 8 of the Tour, I didn’t need to check my calendar (although I pretended I did)! All that was needed was my wonderful, pregnant wife’s blessing, which I did manage to wangle!
After a nightmarish journey to Geneva where I was meeting Paul which included trains, taxis, cancelled flights and 36 hours of travel, we settled into the hotel where Team BMC, UAE and the Mavic Service Team were staying which was really cool! After a decent breakfast we headed to the French town of Dole where the stage was starting and put on our wristbands which gave us access to the Stage Depart village where we got to meet the riders, see the bikes up close and enjoy complimentary refreshments. The atmosphere was fantastic and it was great to see how the locals sincerely welcome Le Tour and support it as it travels through their area – there were thousands gathered at the start line and the whole of the stage was lined with people shouting and cheering as the riders went through.
I met the Mavic Service Crew that I was going to be stationed with for the day and we headed to the rather spectacular Mavic branded Skoda Superb and waited for the stage to get underway.
As the Race Director got the day underway we headed out along with the many team cars and chased down the peloton – nothing could have prepared me for the way the team cars have to drive throughout the stage! Generally the Race Director’s car is directly behind the peloton, followed by the Mavic Service Car which we were in and then the team cars, however when a rider dropped off the pack to collect water bottles and nutrition for the rest of the team, his team car was allowed ahead of ours – this coupled with the number of teams and the at times very thin roads made for some very close calls and hair-raising moments! The cars all drive very close to one another, which for the most part was fine – I felt relaxed and trusted the exceptional driving our Mavic chap was showcasing, but after mid way through the stage on a descent when a team car slammed on in front of us and then the Commissionaire rear-ended us, I didn’t feel quite so relaxed about it all!
One thing that struck me on the day was how fast the pace of the peloton was – growing up watching the tour I had often thought that on a good day, perhaps I could keep up with the riders for a few miles – this idea was blown straight out the window, the pace is absolutely brutal – I am not sure if it is the lenses that are used and the perspectives etc but the live coverage really does not do the speed justice.
A highlight was watching the skill of a Team Lotto rider who I couldn’t identify at the time – we were heading down a steep mountain descent following the peloton with our tyres squealing as we meandered down trying to keep up at over 90kph – this chap fell back to his team car and with one hand on the bars and started receiving bottles off his team car, stuffing them down his back while cornering at this ridiculous speed – his skill and calmness was mind blowing.
It was an exciting stage and we saw some great work from Team Sky to pull the peloton up the final ascent to Station Des Rousses in the Jura Mountains. Frenchman Lilian Calmejane of Direct Energie soloed to victory.
After the stage we made the journey back down the mountains in the Service Car to Geneva where we met with the rest of the Mavic team for an evening meal and drinks which was a really good laugh and was a great opportunity to get to know some of the other guys better – some of whom had been pro riders in the past.
After a very good nights sleep in Geneva I took the flight back to Bristol and got reunited with my beautiful family who came to pick me up at Carmarthen train station to save me from that painful last leg of the journey into Pembrokeshire by train. It was an incredible weekend and one that I will remember for the rest of my life, Ill be sure to bore my future grandchildren with the stories when that time comes! Thanks again to Paul and all the crew at Mavic for the opportunity!