It’s hot in Carcassonne. Blue skies, not a cloud in sight. A bright, bleaching sun bounces off old Roman walls across the street. This place, Brasserie du Dôme, is crawling with yellow lanyards, ASO-issued. I’m 150 meters from the press centre, 200 from tomorrow’s start village. Ground zero. “How many?” the waitress asks. “Un.” Just me.
It’s a rest day at the Tour de France, and we all need it. But, there are no rest days at the Tour de France.
Team Sky’s press conference was this morning. It was in a small corner of a crappy Campanile that’s currently charging 260 euros a night for the honour of laying one’s tired head on its lumpy beds. Sky lost the hotel lottery, and there’s nothing they can do. In the press conference, Chris Froome insisted he just wants to see his team win, which is probably vaguely truthful, but definitely not entirely so. Then, Dave Brailsford said the Italians and the Spanish are great but the French are inexplicably dickish, roughly paraphrased. “It just seems to be a French thing,” he said. “It’s like a French cultural thing, really, isn’t it?”
So that means Sky’s post-Moscon, post-salbutamol, post-jiffy bag, post-calling-David Lappartient-a-small-town-French-mayor public relations campaign is off to a smashing start. The hearts and minds of the French people are all but won.
When you eat alone they put you in the corner, so you can’t depress people. I’m going to order a cassoulet for lunch. I had one last night and it’s basically three meals in one bowl in terms of both calories and volume, but these are problems for tomorrow.
And I want a beer.
Geraint Thomas said, “We get along, for now,” in the press conference. He smiled, and Froome laughed, and it was definitely a joke. But I guarantee you someone will print it without that context, because that’s the world we live in.
No, not beer. Some rosé. Un pichet. Vingt-cinq, s’il vous plait.
Greg Van Avermaet just poked his head into the side door of an old Peugeot van across the street. There are a lot of amateur cyclists about, including many in full team kit, but you can always spot the real thing. Is it weird that I recognize Van Avermaet’s bum from 50 meters? I don’t think it’s weird. He might think it’s weird.
It doesn’t seem like the kind of vehicle an Olympic champion would poke his head into for a chat. But it does seem like the kind of vehicle a kid from Lokeren might poke his head into for a chat, and Greg Van Avermaet is that, too.
A little crowd has gathered, standing about 10 feet away, quite respectfully. He’s done chatting with the person inside the Peugeot and now they pounce. Selfie selfie selfie, sign a shirt, sign a poster. The gold highlights on his bike throw streaks of light across the pavement next to him.
The cassoulet at Brasserie du Drôme is not as good as last night’s cassoulet. It’s a bit runny. But when you put beans and duck and pork and lots of fat in a bowl and cook it for a real long time it’s sort of impossible not to end up with something that tastes pretty good.
The rosé is great.
There comes a point in the Tour when everyone seems to give up on being tired. Or give up on worrying about being tired, anyway. This is just life now. Life is a bike race. Bike race is life. Was like was. I think this is why rest days ruin riders sometimes. They’ve forgotten what it’s like to live without the bike race. A rest day is a reminder, and their body likes it. It wants more of it. Take me back to the rest day, it says, as the rider falls off the back.
The team from CyclingNews just sat down in front of me. None of them ordered cassoulet. Amateurs.
I’ll have the tiramisu, please. And the check.
Van Avermaet rolls away. Gets ten feet down the road. Red light. He stops. Waits. An amateur blows the light. Van Avermaet keeps waiting, standing there in that quintessential red-light pose, right foot unclipped and stuck out to make a tire/tire/foot tripod. It’s the same pose he strikes at the start line of the Tour of Flanders. But this is just a red light in Carcassonne under a bleaching rest day sun.