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Tour de France: London Prologue Journal
 
By Nick Bull
Date: 7/12/2007
Tour de France: London Prologue Journal
 

London Prologue Journal
"No sign of anyone in tents; the crowd is only one person deep at this stage of proceedings, and I manage to tuck myself at the front, around 15 metres from the line, which is as close as the public can get to the finish."

Sunday evening was bittersweet. After spending ten hours on various trains over the previous four days, I could finally put my feet up, have some food at a reasonable time and enjoy a good nights sleep. The reverse of this was knowing that le Tour had completed its two day gracing of English roads, and the carnival was making tracks towards Dunkirk for the start of stage two in this years race. Throughout the weekend, I was jotting notes and taking pictures on my average camera phone, though the main aim was the savour this momentous event taking place in front of my eyes.

London: July 7th
08.46 I arrive at Green Park station, almost two years exactly to the moment London was hit by the attacks at nearby Underground stops. London is eerily quiet, even with Wimbledon and the Everest-of-hypocrisy Live Earth concerts going on in the capital as well. You wouldn’t have guessed that the Tour de France is going on just streets away.

08.51 The short walk from the station brings me to The Mall. I ignore Buckingham Palace in the distance, and enjoy the sights of the finishing straight on the Prologue course. I’m not allowed to walk down it, despite my best attempts at being a French worker. I did contemplate acting as Prince Harry.

08.52 No sign of anyone in tents; the crowd is only one person deep at this stage of proceedings, and I manage to tuck myself at the front, around 15 metres from the line, which is as close as the public can get to the finish. The two gents next to me will save my position, so I venture down to the start. Crowds were this sparse all around the course at this stage. I wonder if the Royal Family will come and join us in the VIP grandstand. I think they’re more of a horse family. (Camilla definitely is).


Tour workers set up the start ramp. Photo © Nick Bull

The Caravan begins at 1pm, the race at 3pm. As you can imagine, the standing and sitting on The Mall was quite tedious. Occasionally a handful of riders would pass you by, having completed some ‘dummy runs’ of the course. Astana were the first out, and must have gone round the 7.9km circuit at least five times before the Tour began. Cofidis and Saunier Duval were two of the last teams to be seen, possibly trying to minimize exposure - and pressure – on Messers Wiggins and Millar.

‘Ticking away, the moments that make up a dull day,' sing Pink Floyd as I put on ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, to try and pass the time. Yes, I also played ‘Bike’, too.

The big France 2 screens are tested throughout the early part of the morning. When ready, that very station is left on for the assembling crowds to enjoy. Whatever was on was aimed at Children, and with no sound it was even harder to comprehend. I didn’t watch it that tentatively.

13.27 Finally the Caravan begins to reach the finish. Skoda must be pleased, the only souvenirs we managed to get at the line were white hats clad with their logo, and small models of the new Fabia, their latest car to hit the road. The majority of the other vehicles drive past us, some passengers wave but the majority are clearly ready to enjoy the London sun.

At this point the race PA begins in both English and French, trying to wet our appetite for the imminent prologue departure. ‘We don’t charge for applause’ declares Hugh Porter, our commentator for the day. Seeing as pay for roads we may as well give pennies to clap. (Don’t worry Ken, you’ve done a great job for Cycling, so I’ll leave the politics for another day.)

The legs really began to ache at this point, so I try telling myself that I’m not riding up the Col d’Aubisque, which the riders do in a few days time. That didn’t help. Luckily the booming sunshine hardly affects where I’m standing; trees are shading me brilliantly.

14.58 The screen feed begins to focus on the France 2 TV broadcast. Helicopter shots of Big Ben striking 3pm bring goose-pimples to my arms. The Tour in London beings.

15.09 Enrico Degano, the first man off, completes his ride. With the riders traveling so fast, and the frailties of my Nokia camera, I miss him completely. The same applies for the majority of the next riders through, even if I begin to capture them in the far end of the frame.

15.26 Result. I manage to get a reasonable picture of Oscar Freire completing his ride around London. Somehow I don’t think Graham Watson will be worried just yet.


Oscar Freire Photo © Nick Bull

15.31 Oscar Camano of the Saunier Duval team is the first rider to change the line on the finishing straight, giving us fans an even better sight of a rider in full flow. Heck, I even manage to get a fairly good picture of him too! Those pro-photographers are slowly fearing my Phone Camera, I suspect.


Oscar Camano Photo © Nick Bull

15.36 Huge groans of pain from everyone around me as we see Stuart O’Grady’s crash. When he comes in around two minutes after, the biggest applause of the day thus far rings out. I still say crashing at 40kph is nothing compared to standing for six hours. Apparently not, I’m told. Sorry Bjarne, I won’t mention it next time.

16.09 I laugh loudly when Zabriskie fails to set the fastest time; the man next to me had £10 on him to win today. Then he tells me he fancies Leipheimer from the Tour. Being a better judge of person that he was, I still say he was a nice guy.

There is a brief lull in the excitement as the domestiques set their times; I feel for them as few specialize in Time Trials, and the crowd are not as enthusiastic for their efforts as they will be when the Brits and the favourites come to post their times at the end of the afternoon.

17.00 The first Brit to finish, Charlie Wegelius crosses the line. Not many people seem to be aware of who he is – the press have been focusing so much on Millar and Wiggins, which is a great shame. Ask Danilo di Luca who he’d rather have in his team. (I like him too, even more thanks to the picture I got of him – he rode on my preferred side of the road [the one nearest the fans]!)


Charlie Wigelius Photo © Nick Bull

17.37 At last, we’ve got some excitement again. Klöden sets an unbelievable time, so much so that my mouth is wide open on the TV replays. Still, I got on TV looking ugly, which is more than most people can achieve these days. (Merci, TV Editor).


Kloden on his way to setting the time to beat. Photo © Nick Bull

17.58 We’ve been treated in these past few minutes, as three of the five British riders have come home to finish. The atmosphere is increasing – and so is expectation .Millar is the one we we’re all watching, though from his intermediate time and a count back of seconds after Geraint Thomas had finished made it clear that he hadn’t disposed of the Astana rider. I think that his plan of ‘getting results on bread and water’ may work better if he tries energy foods.


David Millar Photo © Nick Bull

18.0 Just like the majority, I’ve been boring and I’ve slumped for Vinokourov to win the race. His Prologue time was solid if not unspectacular; more interestingly though was the time he’s lost to archrival and team-mate Klöden. I am baffled about how the dynamic of Astana will work, particularly after these past few minutes have unfolded. Another Hinault – Lemond battle would be a dream scenario, especially as some of us weren’t around when that took place back in the 1980’s.

18.04 A slight feeling of anti-climax begins to emerge, as Bradley Wiggins’ time is only third fastest. It is now we realise (a) just how good Klöden’s time is and (b) only two riders can really challenge the German for the first Maillot Jaune of 2007. (I must just say at this point my money was on Rogers to win).

18.15 If I looked funny on the Klöden TV replay, then I’m baffled as to how to describe me on the clip when Cancellara crosses the line. I honestly don’t look as bad as I did in that, my expression was firmly down to the amazing time posted by the Swiss rider. Wiggins and Millar’s times look even more inferior after the World Time Trial Champions’ efforts. Despite the lack of British success, the crowd applaud and cheer Cancellara.


Fabian Cancellara Photo © Nick Bull

18.17 I look slightly red-faced as I’m reminded about my prediction of ‘Rogers to win the Prologue’. I use the words of the Australian at the T-Mobile press conference, when he said that ‘the course is a bit too short for me’. The subject soon moves on, and I still look (fairly) knowledgeable.

18.18 Despite a poor intermediate time, the clock at the finish line states that possible-2006 Tour Champion Oscar Pereiro posts a time of 8.54. I’m dumbfounded by this seemingly excellent ride, especially as he lost the Maillot Jaune to Landis last year in the races’ final time trial. (It is not until I return home and look at the results around 9pm that I realise this wasn’t the case).

18.28 Who says the Tour is not commercial? A large group of people, all wishing to see the Podium ceremony, have to try and catch the Maillot Jaune from behind the VIP area, which is sealed by 7 foot fences and banners blocking our viewpoint. ‘This is disgusting’ an older gentlemen states. Things won’t be changing anytime soon, one suspects. I have to stand on tiptoes to get my best picture; even this is blocked by a digital camera in front of me.


Podium Ceremony Photo © Nick Bull

Come 8.30pm, I’ve made it home to Rochester, through which the Tour will pass during Stage One. Having not eaten lunch, stood for ten hours and had just two toilet breaks throughout my whole time in London, my body feels rather lethargic. There’s no rest though, I have to wake up at 6am next morning to ensure I’m on the Mall again for the roll-out…………..
 

 
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