Tour de France 2017 Stage 1
Arrived into Dusseldorf on Friday afternoon and waiting there for us was our car for the three weeks, a white Maserati Quattroporte, the same car that had taken us around the Tour the year before. It's a subtle set of wheels, helps Ned and I move around un-noticed, because fitting in is very important to us. DOH
We went straight to the Zone Technique, this is the area behind the finish line where all the media are set-up, it is a feat of logistics that is moved daily around France, or in this case, Germany. The ITV truck reminds me of the Millennium Falcon (only because NBC are next door and they have big shiny trucks and bare more resemblance to the Empire, making us the Alliance), and like the Zone Technique is a feat in logistics and TV know-how, I have no idea whatsoever how they make it all work, I can barely get my wifi to work at home FFS. It is in this truck, the Falcon as I'll call it from now on, that Ned, I, and the majority of the ITV TdF production will call home for the duration of the race.
After checking in with the director, Steve "Doc" Docherty, and peaking our head into our commentary booth (unlike other commentating teams we are not on the finish line but commentate from the truck itself within the Zone Technique), we head off, but not before collecting our other sets of wheels. The new, and final versions of the Brompton CHPT3, which happened to be launched by Brompton that very same day.
That evening we met up with Steve Smith, Castelli boss, for dinner. What's amazing about Steve is that he himself had driven through the night on Tuesday in order to get the boxes of new kit to Team Sky so it would be there ready for the riders on Wednesday. Which seems crazy, as I'm sure he could have got somebody else to do it, but the pride he has in the work they do meant he personally wanted to guarantee they received it all. Steve and I are both into our cars, so instead of going into the centre of Dusseldorf we found ourselves on the outskirts having a burger in a garage. Not just any garage, but the Classic Remise Dusseldorf, an old train depot that has been converted into one of the most remarkable car museums I've ever seen.
It was phenomenal, I walked around taking videos to send to my boys, feeling like a little boy myself. Weirdest thing was that we were the only people there, and you could just walk in off the street, the only life present was in the little diner in the middle, where we had our burgers. Even Ned, who is not a petrolhead, seemed affected. In fact, he found his dream car, and I have to say it was a fine choice, a Mercedes SL Pagoda, I'm very proud to think I brought a little bit of petrol powered emotion to Ned Boulting, something arguably never previously achieved.
It was a classically random Tour de France occurrence, and the perfect way to kick off the road trip. The next day we woke up to rain; something that when I was racing, back in the day, I would have relished in a TT as it tended to give me an advantage as I was more comfortable than most in bad conditions. Still, I could empathise with the dread it would have filled many of the racers with.
It wasn't just the racers that were filled with dread, but also Ned and I, time trials are arguably the hardest thing to commentate on as there is very little going on, and what does go on can sometimes escalate into something incomprehensible. The course itself wasn't the most technical, in the dry anyway, the rain changed that, corners that normally would be considered benign became properly hazardous. It was obvious after only the first starters that it was going to be a very challenging course for all taking part.
The consequences were grave for two in particular, Alejandro Valverde and Ion Izaguirre, the Spanish riders saw their Tour de France come to an end on the same corner, a sweeping left hander off a bridge. It was this same corner that saw numerous other crashes, the majority of which we didn't see on the TV coverage although have caught glimpses of on social media, in particular Patrick Bevin's spectacular slide out, which I can recommend looking up, it's madness wasn't seriously hurt.
It does bring into question the safety measures NOT taken out on the course. The weather forecast had been unchanged in the previous days, rain was almost certain, so why didn't the organisation cover the tram lines, or put some form of barrier protection on the clearly obviously danger points? It is a recurring question, and normally I am quite understanding to the complexities in involved, after all this opening time trial require 30km of barriers, still, it's the Tour de France, there are more resources and more at stake, and hence why there are more crashes, anyway, as ever, food for thought.
Probably the most brilliant thing about the day was the fact that Matt Rendell was bringing in guys to the commentary booth to help Ned and I fill the time. Three gave us their time, Nicholas Roche, Bernie Eisel, and Ben Swift. They were all soaked, still in their speed suits, Swiftie even came in with his aero helmet as if he'd not even stopped across the finish line. Only after talking to Nicholas Roche for 5mins did I realise he was bleeding, "Nico, did you crash?" "Oh yeah, slid out, I'm okay though." About 30 seconds later an arm poked through the curtain and offered him a bandage, in the mean time he carried on like it was all completely normal. Only professional cyclists. It's one of the reasons they often don't fight for their rights, they just take for granted how ridiculous it all is. Which is probably why those of us who can should try to look after them.
As for Geraint, what an amazing result, such a shame there was no coverage of his ride as it would have been great to watch, the speed he covered the final 6km was mind boggling. His track pedigree coming into its own on the fast and flat run in, something that we thought he had sacrificed in his quest to become a better climber. If he has kept the power at his optimum climbing weight we could be seeing the true beginning of the next British Grand Tour winner.
The fears Ned and I had about it being a dull and difficult day commentating were totally unfounded. It was actually good fun, well, apart watching the crashes, that's never good fun.