The Tour de France team presentation is a strange affair. Fans lap it up, arriving early to take their places in front of the stage on which the participants will be displayed, pleading desperately for any goodies being thrown from vehicles in the race caravan.
Yesterday in Liège they cheered enthusiastically throughout (there was no repeat of the Alberto Contador booing incident from 2011), seemingly unflustered by the heat. By and large, most people gathered around the stage, making this the only time in the Tour that the team buses are largely free of autograph hunters.
The riders most likely view it somewhat differently. For them, there’s a lot of waiting around on their team buses, before a quick wave to the crowds while on stage and – for the big names – a handful of interviews afterwards.
All quiet around the Team Sky bus…for now
Team personnel are more visible; for example, while all his riders were waiting on the bus, Dave Brailsford was seen walking around the presentation area, looking relaxed as he talked to former Sky employee Brian Nygaard.
As it happens, it turned out that only eight Sky riders were actually onboard. During proceedings, Mark Cavendish must have headed off it, and almost made it back there without attracting a crowd.
Clearly visible in the rainbow jersey, the sight of him walking back up to the bus got a small group of fans going. A mix of teenagers and grown men, who probably should know better, sprinted as fast as they probably have ever done in an attempt to get a picture or autograph of the world champion.
Like prey being hunted down by a shark, Cavendish clearly knew what was coming. But his attempts to get back on the bus were being hindered; the doors weren’t opening. The enthusiastic fans smelled blood, gathering around him as the path to safety belatedly began to appear. To his credit, he signed a couple of items and allowed fans to snap away.
After appearing on stage, Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins carried out interviews for France 2, the Tour’s host broadcaster. Wiggins excelled here, speaking in fluent French. He does this fairly often, even if he knows that sometimes his English humour will be lost on the natives. Five more interviews for Belgium, Dutch, Norwegian, American TV crews followed, and never once did he lose his cool.
“It’s what I dreamed of as a child,” he said in one interview. Presumably he was referring to his billing as the Tour favourite, and not everything else which comes with that tag.