Tour de France 2017 Stage 2
Not much happened, Kittel won, and Mark Cavendish got 4th; a rather ominous result for his rivals considering how little training and racing he's done in the build up. I'll be very surprised if he doesn't end up winning at least won stage in this years race, a career defining result for nearly any other rider, yet just another mark on the board in his pursuit of Eddy Merckx' all time record.
On that note, here is a photo of Mark and I together just before the start of Stage 1 when we bumped into each other, eighteen years after the first time we met. Little did we know at that first meeting that twelve years later I'd be captaining the GB team to his 2011 World Championship victory.
As for me, much like the stage, not much happened. Although I did bump into an old friend from my Cofidis days. On my morning ride through Liege to the finish I had been thinking about Francoise, a Belgian lady who would travel with the team on Grand Tours to take care of everything. This was before the days of team chefs and luxury buses and mobile kitchens, it was Francoise who made sure everything was organised for us at hotels.
After the long days she would cook food on a mini stove in her room for when we got back after long transfers, she would go into the kitchens and make sure they were cooking us the food we needed, she would then bring it to the table herself in the restaurants, she would do the shopping we needed and organise our washing and anything else we needed doing. She was the only female in a very male world, and she became to many of us a maternal figure on the road. I hadn't seen her in years, yet riding through the streets of Liege with that familiar Belgian architecture had reminded me of visiting her house once upon a time and all the memories came flooding back.
After the stage, while riding back to the car, I heard someone shout my name, it was over an hour after the stage so there weren't so many people around and it was easy to spot who had called. It was, amazingly, Francoise. She was with another woman, whom I'd never met before, "David, c'est la maman de Franck." It was VDB's mother, she was lovely, and proudly showed me pictures of his now teenage daughters.
Franciose told me she thought of me every day, because she wore a cross around her neck that she'd bought with money I'd shared amongst the staff at the Vuelta one year. I had forgotten till then about the day I had been employed by Fassa Bortolo to help in their lead out for Petacchi. I was using the Vuelta as training for the Worlds, and Cofidis didn't have a sprinter so there was no conflict and I figured it would be good speed training. They gave me €1500 in cash that evening at the hotel (those were the days when that sort of thing happened), I gave it to the staff as I didn't think it was right for me to keep it, I'd never known Francoise had bought a cross with it.
Ned rolled up as we were finishing talking, and I introduced them all, and Ned asked Francoise, "Alors, Il etait comment durant cette epoque?" Francoise welled up and smiled, "Ahhh, c'etait le plus gentil des garçons." Which made me smile, and reassured me to hear because I now no longer have any idea of what I was like back then. We kissed and said goodbye, I wish I'd got a picture of us now, but in honesty I was completely discombobulated by the encounter and didn't even think of doing that. I'm sure we'll cross paths again. I hope we do, Francoise was always a silver lining to what was often a dark cloud.