Back on the Champs
Back in France, and back in Paris. Feeling refreshed after a couple of weeks trundling around Switzerland (and with a week on the tools covering the Tour de Suisse), the time had come, once again, for me to kick off the wildest three weeks of the year: Le Tour.
It's always great to see a familiar face in a foreign place, especially in the sea of people that is Paris’ notorious Gare du Nord . I hadn’t seen Don Álvaro since he dropped me off at the airport in Madrid after La Vuelta last year, and after a couple of weeks solo traveling, it was nice to have some company. We caught up over steak frites and a beer before going to pick up the Skoda Kodiaq that had been lent to us for the Tour.
The underground car park beneath the Champs-Élysées was a fitting way to kick off our adventure. After all, we’d be back here in three week’s time – with only 3,351 kilometres, 21 stages, and a truckie’s idea of a good night’s sleep (every night) standing in our way.
Navigating out of Paris the next morning was something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Buzzed by maxi scooters and squeezed out by suicidal delivery trucks on all sides, our red-blooded Madrileño nonetheless kept his calm, while I looked on nervously as the proximity sensors beeped like disturbed crickets. Car and limbs intact, we eventually made it safely out of the city.
Our early departure had a purpose: I’d picked up a job shooting the Mitchelton-Scott team at their hotel near Cholet, over 400 km from Paris. Located in the Vendée department – which will play host to stages 1 through 3 – the area is also the home of team Direct Energie (or, the artist formerly known as Europcar).
With the Autoroute conquered, we arrived way too early as the riders were still out doing a recon of the 35 km team time trial course coming up on stage 3. Parked up in the shade, we easily snoozed away an hour before the team arrived and we joined them for lunch. Unfortunately I can't really share the photos with you (secret Beardy business) except for one of Adam Yates and yours truly, which Álvaro snapped on his phone.
As one of the world’s gastronomic hotspots, the idea of France instantly conjures up images of coq-au-vin, Camembert and crusty baguettes. Not so on Beardy’s Caravan.
More often than not, dinner on the Caravan can only be described as dire. With this in mind, and the fact that we were staying in a luxurious 2-bedroom BnB for the evening, inspiration struck and I cooked up a batch of Australia's favourite meal: spaghetti bolognese.
It was a gorgeous evening so we sat outside in the garden to eat our feast. Even though it was just me and Álvaro, it felt a bit like the Last Supper – with weeks of meals wolfed down in front of the computer, or scraped together from meagre press room leftovers, stretching out ahead of us. But tonight we were kings, so I topped up my wine and cracked another beer for the Don.
My Swiss fitness was not going to slip away without a fight. Even after a long day of driving, shooting and Masterchef-ing, I set myself an early alarm for the following morning, to squeeze a quick ride in before the team presentation.
The landscape around La Roche-sur-Yon bears little resemblance to the mountainous Swiss Alps that I’d acclimatised to, but I was just happy to be out riding – even if it was pancake flat.