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Tour de France: Stage 1 Journal - Part 2
By Nick Bull
Date: 7/24/2007
Tour de France: Stage 1 Journal - Part 2

Tour de France: Stage 1 Journal Part 2
Nearly ten minutes behind schedule, I arrive in Rochester. I’m told that Millar is in a breakaway group, with some chasers closing him down quickly. I run to take my position just after Rochester Castle

11.51 Nearly ten minutes behind schedule, I arrive in Rochester. I’m told that Millar is in a breakaway group, with some chasers closing him down quickly. I run to take my position just after Rochester Castle - which is a good kilometre away from the station. With the hot weather and the crowds assembled on the road, this isn’t the most fun I’ve had. One slight change to route has taken place, cutting around 400 metres out of the course, which is encouraging, as the originally intended route would have seen the pack climb up a narrow stretch of road that contained two ninety-degree bends.

11.54 I find my spot, which is nowhere near a barrier so I can get a great view of the riders. Being the geek I am, I consider the road surface, the line out of the preceding corner and the wind. Yes, all this just to see the riders fly past me.

12.07 The ‘teenager-with-attitude’ on the side of the road next to me (one of the volunteers helping out with the race) is on his phone. I’m glad he’s not getting paid, and no doubt he doesn’t appreciate cyclists whilst he’s driving fast with his boom boom music on in his car.

12.11 Millar, now joined by his chasers, pass through. The crowds are enthusiastic, many chanting the Brit’s name – clearly they knew he was in a breakaway. ‘Was that it?’ asks a middle-aged woman. She’s only here for the social, I tell myself.

The break with David Millar passes. Photos © Nick Bull

12.16 The peloton reach Rochester, naturally taking a longer time to pass through than the earlier breakaway. CSC look very strong, protecting the Maillot Jaune of Cancellara. Vino is off the back slightly, I assume at the time that he’s just had a puncture; it turns out he changed his wheel just metres up the road. Picture chance missed!

The peloton reaches Rochester CSC and Cancellara, Vinokourov

The peloton Photos © Nick Bull

Almost by surprise, I receive a call from a friend – he’s just seen the race pass through Rochester, and wanted to come to the finish in Canterbury. I obliged, and to say I was pleased would be an understatement. (He needs to be educated, as he only knows Armstrong and Ullrich). We get to the Train Station with a few minutes to spare; the platform is full of race fans, though many seem to get off at our earlier stops.

Canterbury is half-a-dozen stops down the line, so again my time on public transport is minimized. Leaving the train at Canterbury East station, it is clear to see that many people have come to watch the race. My father calls again; he’s been talking to local Police, who estimate that there are 7,000 people already at the finish line - this was around 13.15, two hours before the peloton are expected.

Undeterred, we head along Rheims Way, trying to find our vantage point for the finish. Again, the crowd can get 20 metres from the line, and no closer. Unsurprisingly, this is already four people deep, so we head back on ourselves, and find a great spot around 40 metres from the line, where we are second from the barriers.

Canterbury Finish

The caravan is running behind schedule, so I get to see that again. Hardly any souvenirs are given out again, so I can only assume that they end their work each day around the 500 meter mark. The aforementioned Aquarel vehicle has a mini-water fight with spectators along the roadside. Only in Kent, I say. Only in Kent.

The atmosphere is building, as Millar is still in the lead group, and Cavendish is seen towards the front of the peloton. As the expectation gradually rises, David is left behind as his break companions attack, and the T-Mobile rider has a fall at the bottom of the final climb. McEwen has also come down, Quick Step are driving the peloton, so a Boonen victory looks likely.

15.22 Cavendish looks close to tears, as he requires a bike change. I mutter one of my finer French words under my breath, as it is clear that his day is over.

15.29 Lotto are pulling hard to get McEwen back to the main pack, but the speed up front is quick and thirty seconds is a sizeable gap at this stage of the, um... stage.

15.38 Milram lead the pack as they enter the final two kilometres. There is a narrowing of the road and a short kick over the River just a few hundred metres from the line, which the pack roll over with ease. No-one has come down either, which is a relief as this finish, whilst not dead straight, is scarily quick.

15.39 The pack pass me; McEwen has come from nowhere and is leading out the sprint. Boonen is there, but cannot match the Australian’s speed. Hushovd is coming back to the Australian, but again was too slow in responding. Robbie makes it look easy, crowning what has to be one of his finest rides.

Robbie McEwen

15.42 Mark Cavendish comes in to rapturous applause. He looks gutted and beaten. His chance will come, though ultimately he’ll have to wait until le Tour 2008.

Mark Cavendish

With access to the podium minimal, we leave our spot after the Bus comes in for the day. The crowds are lively and have clearly enjoyed their day in the sun. We hear that Millar has climbed (sorry) into the King of the Mountains jersey, as well as claiming a top five position for the time being. My friend asks me if Millar will win in Paris; at first he struggles to understand my answer. I make up some lame analogy based on soccer. He now comprehends.

The peloton finishes stage 1.

We find a bar to sit down in, positioned just slightly off the route. The crowds have dispersed, the road is eerily quiet, but what it has just witnessed will be remembered forever. My hectic weekend is all-but over, which is one of the most bittersweet feelings I can remember.

End Note
Monday, 8th July 2007

16.42 On my ride towards Burham, which takes in the Tour route, I get Goosebumps as I see the road graffiti that people wrote yesterday. Millar and Wiggins are mentioned frequently, and I also suspect that there was a Hincapie fan out on the roadside. I raise a smile, then ask myself how the race passed over these roads so quickly.

Tour Graffiti

20.27 I receive a message on my phone: ‘We must do Paris one day’, it says. I write back saying ‘Nope. The Alps’.

I’m already saving to do just that.

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