The 198 riders of this year's Tour de France were unveiled to an
adoring public at the Puy du Fou theme park for the race's official
presentation on Thursday.
Set in an old Roman arena, it was a Gladiatorial-themed bonanza
which would have made a jealous Russell Crowe reach for his telephone and seek
out the nearest hotel concierge.
It was quite a spectacle, with teams arriving in chariots, in
horse-drawn carriages, escorted by Medieval knights or, in the puzzling
anachronistic case of BMC, on the back of a clapped out antique car. Perhaps it
was in recognition of fossil George Hincapie's forthcoming 16th Tour
appearance? Or a slight dig at the inevitable moment Cadel Evans runs out of
gas? Who knows.
Local boys Europcar got things off to a flying start, being dragged
into the arena in a horse-drawn cart and ushered onto the central platform by a
bunch of beautiful maidens in demure dresses. But looking at the exaggerated
Gallic faces of Anthony Charteau, Thomas Voeckler and Christophe Kern made
Saddles think Jean-Rene Bernaudeau's men would have been more at home in Park
Asterix than the Puy du Fou, France's most popular destination after
(Incidentally, the Puy du Fou has an attraction called The Secret
of the Lance, in which a young shepherdess must defend herself from randy
English knights with the help of lance bestowed with supernatural powers...)
The 7,000-strong crowd was ecstatic with the arrival of the
Vendee-based outfit - but less so with reigning champion Alberto Contador's
introduction. Poor Bertie, had this been Ancient Rome they would have put their
thumbs down and unleashed savage beasts to rip him apart limb by limb.
Although, whether or not Clenbuterol is good for tigers and panthers is another
"It's a great place for a gladiator," said Fabian
Cancellara, resisting what would have been an ideal moment to insert a
Fab looked pretty suave in his new Swiss national road champion
colours - Leopard Trek, admirably, have gone for low-key nods to such accolades
as opposed to the full-flag modes elsewhere - although not as debonaire as
national road champion, in Saddles' eyes, sports the best jersey of this year's
race - a minimalist affair which oozes sophistication. It's funny, the cooler
Frank looks, the more gormless his younger brother Andy appears.
With the Classical gladiatorial theme being pushed, one rider would
have felt right at home: Roman Kreuziger. (Sorry...)
That said, the most animated was world champion Thor Hushovd, who
appeared on the stage wielding a Viking mjollnir hammer and wearing a brown wig
which, it has to be said, made him look rather like a butch lesbian. Still, the
get-up had its desired effect: Thor had his Garmin team-mates swooning on the
floor in adoration.
There was one moment of slight concern when the Quick Step team
were forced to walk to the stage as opposed to arrive on horseback or in a
chariot or cart. Questioned after the event, the organisers said there had been
a problem with the Quick Step vehicle and it had to undergo a routine
Hold on, we're going down
The whole Tour presentation almost didn't go ahead for one team after it
emerged that the private jet taken by Leopard Trek riders from Luxembourg to Nantes on Tuesday evening almost had a crash
landing after being forced to battle the elements.
Fabian Cancellara told his followers on Twitter that the plane
dropped "around 100 feet" and that some of the riders fell off their seats,
while Linus Gerdemann was said to have thrown up as soon as he stepped off the
It has yet to be confirmed whether or not the pilot was wearing the
orange colours of Euskaltel, although early rumours that Denis Menchov was
involved have been refuted.
Still, it will make Brian Nygaard think twice when arranging his
team's travel plans in the future. Perhaps they should have flown on the Tour
de France "official airline" - which, controversially, is not Air
France but, bizarrely, Qatar Airways.
The Doha-based carrier is an unlikely sponsor of the Tour after
pipping Air France to the
contract of flying the riders out from Grenoble
to Paris for
the final stage after stage 20's ITT.
Give it a few years and no doubt the Tour will start with two
stages in Qatar
- although some kind of compromise would have to be made over the race's
traditional scantily clad podium girls...
Saddles' top ten
BS said a month ago that he thought there's be no place in the top ten for
Cadel Evans, but in a pique of generosity, Saddles has changed his mind and
granted the Australian the 10th spot. There's no place for Bradley
- Alberto Contador
- Andy Schleck
- Robert Gesink
- Ivan Basso
- Samuel Sanchez
- Jurgen Ven Den
- Frank Schleck
- Luis Leon Sanchez
- Roman Kreuziger
- Cadel Evans
Stage one prediction
An Euskaltel rider to slip on the narrow Passage du Gois even though it will be
only crossed as part of the 191.5km stage's neutral ceremonial opening section.
Johnny Hoogerland will have an early pop but be reeled in by a counter attack
by one of the Vendee-based boys from Europcar - perhaps Tommy Voeckler - before
both Fabian Cancellara and Philippe Gilbert go for long-ones. Gilbert will
catch the sprinters cold and take the opening yellow jersey, which will go
nicely with his new bleached blonde barnet.
Follow Blazin' Saddles throughout the race on