TALES FROM THE BROOMWAGON

Day 18 – Tuesday, July 18

AS the Daily Mail keeps telling us, there are thieves everywhere. Even at
the top of Alpe d’Huez. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised although between
us we feel a bit silly today after some toerag cut through the lock in the
night and stole our bikes off the back of the camper van. A Colnago C50 and
a brand new Merckx have gone and will probably be sold on now.

I’d like to be able to say I hope the recipient of the Colnago with the
broken crank slips and damages his danglies permanently but it’s more than
likely to end up in the hands of some poor soul who thinks he’s got himself
a bargain and he will just be another victim of the crime.

We reported it to the police, more in hope and to get a crime number than
anything else, and then cursed our complacency.

Here we are, surrounded by thousands of cycling fans, who, surely, would
look out for the bikes. But, of course, we gave any would-be thief pretty
easy pickings and it’s not much of a surprise they have been nicked. We
should have put them inside the camping car, we know that now, but three
weeks on the road have deadened our senses somewhat.

There are so many things to check and double check. Laptop, phones, wallet,
Dictaphone, camping car keys, the maps, the road book, the camp site guide.
One oversight and we’ve been done.

Ed got up at the crack of dawn to get a flight home from Grenoble. Andy the
photographer deserves a medal for getting up at the same time and driving
him down to Bourg d’Oisans where he planned to get the 7am bus.

The bus service had been suspended so Ed had to take a taxi. We received a
text message mid-morning that read: “My second mistake was to assume
Grenoble airport would actually be anywhere near Grenoble.” He was having
almost as bad a morning as we were.

He made it home, though, his Tour of duty complete for this year. Little
does he know but he’s going to be forced to take driving lessons in time for
2007, otherwise we’re sending him to cover the Vuelta.

Dan has decided to stay for a few days but his plan to get some good riding
in was wrecked immediately by the bike thieves.

Alpe d’Huez when the Tour is in town is a great place to be. There are tents
on every spare patch of grass. If you parked all the camper vans in the
resort bumper to bumper they’d reach to Venezuela, Or something.

The race itself was incredible. It’s been years since we’ve seen such an
open mountain stage where the riders have appeared to go through good and
bad spells in the space of a few kilometres. It was a breath of fresh air to
actually see a race, rather than simply a gradual increase in speed followed
by one super-dominant rider pedalling off into the distance.

Talking of which, Lance Armstrong arrived in town and gave a press
conference. He was just getting warmed up on the drugs issue, including
L’Equipe’s allegations against him and Operacion Puerto when some wally
changed the subject and asked him how his marathon training was going.

I guess that’s how Woodward and Bernstein got started.

******

DAY 19 – Wednesday, July 19

GAMBLING is bad. Having taken two sizeable speculative punts on George
Hincapie and Floyd Landis back in May, I was coping reasonably well with the
fact that Big George had blown my chances of a Carribbean break later this
year but I still held opes that Floyd would get on the podium.

Until today, when he went pop and sixteen hundred smackers that were heading
my way for backing him at 40/1 disappeared down the gurgler.

I hid it well, though. I spent the afternoon in a mood but that was as much
because everything seems to be going wrong.

We’re still in Alpe d’Huez while the race is heading to La Toussuire. Work
is getting on top of us and the logistics of being in the mountains are
causing problems.

Having signed up happily for this trip I now realise how long the Tour de
France is, especially if you set out a full four days before the race even
starts.

It’s easy to think the riders get a relatively easy ride because they have
every task sorted out for them by a legion of team support staff but they
still have to get up early every morning, get their head together enough to
race a couple of hundred ks and then cope with the traffic jams and late
arrivals at hotels.

Given how we’ve coped with the odd late lunch or missed meal I doubt any of
us have the constitution to cope with the professional life. You are
constantly required to lower your sights, adapt to the circumstances around
you and just get on with it.

Having said that, morale is okay and team spirit in the Broomwagon team is
holding up. Just.

After a full day writing and having to content ourselves with watching the
race on television Simon chipped in with: “I’m so glad we got in TWO rounds
of golf today. Oh and a nice long lunch, and time for a swim.”

He was either being sarcastic or I’d blacked out because my vista for the
day had been no more far-reaching than the computer screen in front of me.

But it’s pretty harsh to complain, really. After all, I could be in a
factory gutting fish. Or in a call centre talking to people who hate me
before they’ve even finished dialling.

******

Day 20 – Thursday, July 20

I AM NOT ONE OF YOU, so stop waving at me.

There is a custom among camper van drivers to wave at their fellow camper
van driver and this has started to make me feel very uncomfortable.

I don’t want to appear rude, particularly as the magazine’s logos are
plastered all over our Broomwagon, but I also don’t want to become part of
the camping car community.

It’s like people who drive peculiar old Citroens (I should know) or old
Minis. They can’t help waving when they pass someone in the same car.

However, I feel a fraud. I am not a camping car person. I have found very
little merit in living in a glorified Transit van equipped with the sort of
mock, lightweight furniture you see in show homes. Our Broomwagon would be
complete if it had a bookshelf with those polystyrene-filled fakes of
Classic works of literature because everything else is made of the thinnest,
least durable materials known to man.

So when someone waves at me I wish I had a sign that said: “I hired this in
Belgium. It’s not mine. I am not a camper van fetishist. Sorry but you’ve
got the wrong idea.”

But I fear it is inevitable I will struggle to re-adjust to normal life and,
like a sailor returning to dry land after a long voyage, it’s going to take
me a while to get used to living in a proper building.

In fact the two most stressful days of our trip so far have been when we’ve
been based in a reasonably appointed apartment at Alpe d’Huez.

So it was not necessarily with a sense of irony that I announced to Simon
and Dan, as we left the ski resort: “We’ll be alright now we’re back in the
bus. Safe now.”

What on earth am I going to do with all the extra time I’ll have when I get
home? I am worried I will take to driving for hours in search of camp sites
in England, racing to get to them before they lock their gates at night,
simply to replicate the Tour de France experience. I may even sleep in the
car.

We watched the most amazing stage of the Tour de France I have ever
witnessed in a bar and I had extra motivation for cheering on Landis – the
fact that every second he gained over Pereiro and Sastre gave me a better
chance of winning my bet.

It was an astonishing feat, the sort of thing you read about in accounts of
pre-war Tours. We really have been very lucky with the quality of racing
and, as a cynical so-and-so, I have chosen to focus on enjoying the show
this year. It really has been quite a show. As Simon said the other day when
tensions were getting high: “Look, it could be worse. We could be out here
reporting on Armstrong winning by five minutes again.”

The choice of sounds for the stereo is limited. We have failed to get the
radio to recognise our ipods so all we have are a handful of CDs left by an
IPC Media employee in the company car we took from the office in Croydon to
Ostende.

One of the CDs is by a fella called Terry Bush and it’s the theme to the
television show about a roaming nosy dog, The Littlest Hobo.

The title track is called: “Maybe Tomorrow” and we have adopted it as our
theme for the trip.

Sing along now.

There’s a voice, that keeps on calling me
Down the road, that’s where I’ll always be
Every stop I make
I’ll make a new friend
Can’t stay for long, just turn around and I’m gone again

Maybe tomorrow, I’ll wanna settle down
Until tomorrow I’ll just keep moving on.

Have I lost the plot? I think so.