By Andrew Walsh
It’s 7.30 am, very cold in the French Pyrenees, I’m questioning why I do these things, I’ve 2 grumbling kids to pack into the car and a 3 ½ Hr drive to look forward to!!
4hrs later, plenty of fun on the French autoroute, and a mechanical problem, we are approaching the town of Gagnieres, the start village of the final stage of the Etoile de Bessèges.
As we pass team car after team car (AG2R, Bouygues Telecom, FDJ etc) we finally see what we’ve travelled all this way for, in the distance two gleaming black Jags with what looks like a faint blue flashing! Team Sky are here!!
We arrive in the village all looking forward to our first sighting of this new British Team and wondering if they can live up to our expectations (in the past we have chatted with Cav, Dave Millar and many others including team members of Garmin, Columbia, Astana etc). Within minutes we have found Sean Yates, Directeur Sportif for the day and after he has signed the kids autograph sheet, taken it into the team bus to get all riders to sign, he is happy to discuss the state of the team (illness had decimated the field including 3 of Team Sky). He then gave his expectations for the day (Bouygues Telecom to be very strong and on the front) and looked forward to the Valencia training camp and the Ruta Del Sol.
After we had left Sean to do his job, we set about finding more riders, the great thing about cycling in general and especially true of the smaller races is the accessibility to the riders. The stars you watch in the TDF claiming Green (Thor) etc, are just getting ready at the side of the road, as long as you are polite they are happy to pose for photos, sign autographs and have a chat. Try to get this at your local football club!!
Michael Barry and Nicolas Portal were more than happy to spend time with the kids, Team Sky were all we had hoped for, just a shame that the British riders had fallen to the illness!
Onto the race and the layout of the final stage with 3 laps of a large circuit followed by 7 laps of the finishing circuit made it perfect to watch the start, move onto a junction of both circuits and then onto the finishing line. We found our place 25 Mtrs from the line, alongside French and Dutch fans and waited for the show to continue, the kids (8 & 5) received the freebies that they have come to expect at cycling events! and with a breakaway being reeled in, the action continued right to the very end.
One final trip to the Team Sky bus and a quick thank you to Sean Yates and off we set off on our drive home, tired but content.
All in all we got to meet our team, met heroes old and new and got great access to the race watching it pass by 9 times, it wasn’t quite the TDF but made up for it in so many other ways!!
Roll on the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya…….