The boys are suffering from protein overload, and it’s only stage two.

Words by Edward Pickering in Les Essarts

Sunday July 3, 2011

We mildly disgraced ourselves by going out to do a recce on the team time trial course this morning. Having already had to slip past an ASO goon in shiny shades and chinos who informed us that under no circumstances would we be allowed to ride on the course (we obeyed, then hid behind a van while he was looking in the other direction – take that, ASO!), we then encountered resistance in the form of an extremely stiff cross-headwind and some nasty drags on the return leg. While already-drunk fans gave us ironic cheers (plus a few winces of sympathy), and the day warmed up, we slowed down quite badly. Lionel had to go and sit under a tree for a few minutes when we got back to the press car park.

Now the race has started, we’re settling into the routine of early morning-traffic jam-sit in an extremely hot press room-work-have dinner extremely late. We’re determined to get out and see more of the race, however, so for the start of stage one, I went to the Passage du Gois with Andy the photographer. Lionel opted to stay in bed for a bit, digesting the rare duck he’d had for his birthday meal the evening before (“I woke up at four with the meat sweats,” he explained). We’d spent the meal making sure that we’d drunk enough not to be able to drive over to the Quick Step hotel if the team vehicle impounded by the police turned out to contain anything it wasn’t meant to. “Maybe the police were searching for Tom Boonen’s form,” Lionel said, then tweeted, since he felt his wit deserved a wider audience than just me and Andy. “A spokesmen confirmed they found nothing,” he added.

We managed to get onto the Passage just before the publicity caravan. We’d spent a bit of time stopping off to buy motorway service station sandwiches that had “ham and cheese” on the label, but quite strongly tasted of fridge and salt, and we were one of the last cars let on by another ASO goon in shiny shades and chinos. It’s actually quite an eerie experience, driving across the Passage, especially as the sea was still virtually up to the edge. Away from the mainland it was very quiet, apart from the wind. The feeling of sensory deprivation caused by the lack of sound was more than made up for by the sensory overload of the stench of seaweed. But it was deathly quiet, apart from the sound of the waves. Then the publicity caravan blared through and destroyed the atmosphere.

The girls and boys on the caravan floats are still looking relatively fresh and cheerful. But the constant grind of having to smile at cheering pervs in the crowds by day and attending the legendary publicity caravan parties at night (we’ve still never managed to crash one) means that by the time we get to Montpellier, they’ll look less like Barbie and Ken, and more like Baby Jane and Keith Richards. They’re nowhere near that point, however – they’ll look back with nostalgia at these early stages.

I suggested to Andy that we climb up one of the pontoons, 10-metre high platforms for people who get caught out on the causeway at high tide. He agreed, doubtfully. Turns out Andy’s a little nervous about heights. Which made it all the more galling for him that I’d forced him up there, and a keen amateur photographer inexplicably stuck his hand up in front of Andy’s camera just as the peloton filled the frame of the picture he’d spent a couple of hours working out. Andy’s a mild-mannered man, and I don’t believe he’s ever uttered a swear word, but he was definitely thinking one.

We’re leaving the Vendée tomorrow, which means we’re moving out of the castle. Next stop, Redon, for the inevitable Cavendish win.

Are you suffering from the meat sweats? Email us at cyclesportontour@hotmail.co.uk

Friday July 1
Travel:Illers Comblay-Les Herbiers
Hotel: Chateau de la Tremblaye, Cholet
Dinner: It was Lionel’s birthday, so we pushed the boat out and went for the gourmet menu. Crab and langoustine ravioli on mushroom pâté to start, then Lionel had “delicious” duck. Ed had smoked wood pigeon in a pot cooked on a bed of grass, with the legs poking out. For the record, dessert was chocolate four ways. Booze: Bordeaux, 2007 Chateau du Barry. And cognac.

Saturday July 2
Travel:Illiers Comblay-Passage du Gois-Les Herbiers
Hotel:Chateau de la Tremblaye, Cholet
Dinner:There was a wedding at the Chateau, so we had to slum it at the Petite Auberge in Chambretaud. We both had duck. “The ham would have been too fatty,” said Lionel. Special treat for the evening: Vendéen beer.

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