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Tour de France: Stage 1 Journal - Part 1
By Nick Bull
Date: 7/24/2007
Tour de France: Stage 1 Journal - Part 1

Tour de France: Stage 1  Journal - Part 1
Making my way home from London after the Prologue, it dawned on me how much more excited I was about the opening road stage of this years Tour.  Stage one, conversely, involved me spending three hours on trains, the London Underground and...

Marseille and Montpellier have been lucky this week; they’ve hosted a finish then a start of this year’s Tour. If you live in an around these towns, you’d get a large dose the le Tour. People in south-east England were just as lucky, with the Prologue and Stage One taking place over easily accessible roads...

Making my way home from London after the Prologue, it dawned on me how much more excited I was about the opening road stage of this years Tour. The Prologue was easy -  get to London early, find a spot, stay there, enjoy the race. Stage one, conversely, involved me spending three hours on trains, the London Underground and several short walks, which ultimately turned into sprints.

06.00 The earliest start I’ve had in the three days that I have been covering the Tour in England. The sun is shining, there isn’t much wind about and any fatigue feels a long way off.

06.51 My walk to the Train station allows me to walk on a kilometre of the roads heading from Brompton (Kilometre 47 on the route). Plenty of barriers line the roads, two traffic islands are well protected and the dangers highlighted, and the road surface looks very good. (I can vouch for this, as it is a staple of any rides I now go on).

Click on photos for a larger image. All photos © Nick Bull

Photos © Nick Bull

My train ride takes me through Rochester, Strood, Gravesend and Dartford, all of which are hosting the Tour today. The roads are eerily quiet, yet they contain some mythical atmosphere. Perhaps it’s just the realisation that, after months of expectation, the Tour rolls into Kent’s roads.

08.17 I reach the start line, managing to find a space on the barriers for the second time in two days. At this point, the crowds are at least one person deep along the opening kilometre of what’s being called the départ fictif. The Caravan is just setting out from The Mall, and my lessons about it from the two days are that – with the exception of Skoda – companies are reluctant to give out goods right by the start and finish line. (So far, I have amassed six white Skoda hats, which look as good on me as socks pulled up to my knees.)

The Start in London  Photos © Nick Bull

08.34 Aquarel have a vehicle that sprays the crowds for a bit of fun. Someone makes a joke about ‘using it on their own people’, which I pretend not to hear. (Honest!).

The riders began signing on, and I’m slightly disappointed with the response from the crowd. Only Millar and Wiggins get a massively loud response, a mention of Wegelius has people looking slightly bemused by this ‘so-called Brit’. If you think this was poor, the Euskatel riders must have thought the crowd were paying their respects to a sorely missed.

The Royal Guard make their way down The Mall, which they did yesterday, although there are no horses on show (The ASO must have banned them, following the alarming amount of excrement deposited on the finish line yesterday morning….apologies for the waste of an anecdote. Ha!)

The Royal Guard pass playing a Beatles tune.
Photos © Nick Bull

One for you fact fans - today’s music of choice to pass time: ‘Please Please Me’ by The Beatles.

The only riders to warm up in the start line are Barloworld, and they only just make it past the start line before turning back and heading to their Motor home.

10.21 The person next to me spots Ken Livingstone talking to Christian Prudhomme, and calls the Mayor of London over when he becomes free. I shake his hand, snap him on my camera and engage in the conversation around us. His is clearly astounded by the reception the race has received, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he wants this back spectacle back again in the near future.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone
Photos © Nick Bull

10.23 France2 are standing right in front of me; it seems that the majority of their Moto-cams are focusing on Cancellara in the Maillot Jaune. Hopefully they will go avec the rest of the race motorbikes that have just begun their journey for the day – I want a clear view of the peloton!

Fabian Cancellara arrives at the start. Photos © Nick Bull

10.26 The first start of the day begins, prompting a crowd surge from behind. The view directly in front of me is slightly obscured by France Télévisions, but any look to both left and right gives me a great view of the riders. Astana were slow out of the blocks, trailing a few seconds behind the pack.

Riders gather for the start. Photos © Nick Bull

10.34 Getting out of the area and making my way to the Underground was slower than I hoped and anticipated. Luckily I’m traveling just three stops, and have thirty minutes to kill. Easy. In fact, easy would be the wrong word. A four minute stop on the approach to Westminster, then a slightly shorter pause just before Victoria slows my progress, and gets me in a worried state.

10.59 Five minutes behind schedule, but I’m on the train, which leaves in four minutes. I should just get to Rochester in time for the riders to pass by. Despite the risk with timings, I’ve had my eye set on seeing the race pass through here, as this is a beautiful place just minutes from my home. Talking to other race fans on the train, the majority of them are heading into Tunbridge Wells then onto Canterbury; the risk here is trying to locate a place at the finish.

At this point, the riders are slightly behind schedule, and that was just in the neutralised section. The race schedule of 44 kph is unlikely, particularly for this first hour, but it remains my guide. On those timings, I should get to Rochester with minutes to spare.

The biggest thing I missed was not having any information on the race; brief phone calls were all I had to go on.

11.41 I should be approaching Rochester by now; sadly I’m ten minutes behind my plans for reasons unknown. Perhaps the train driver wanted double pay for working on a Sunday.

11.43 My father calls, letting me know the riders are just approaching Gravesend, which means - luckily, that they themselves are riding within their limits, as expected. No more information is relayed to me.

11.44 I pass over Strood on the train. The crowds are out, but no sign of bikes just yet!

Strood, waiting for the tour to pass. Photos © Nick Bull

He is not the only one giving me updates along the route; two of my friends are just after the first sprint in Gillingham at 46 km, my sister is a further 2km down the route on Dock Road, which leads into Chatham. Messages from them are reassuring too.

Part 2  Continues here

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