TALES FROM THE BROOMWAGON

Day 3 ? Monday, July 3

THE Broomwagon made a nuisance of itself for the first time today. Electing to avoid travelling south to the start at Obernai we had a relaxed start to the morning, waved au revoir to our campsite, bought a picnic at a supermarket aptly named ?Ed? and headed to the Col de Valsberg, the second of two third-category climbs early on the route.

Armed with our newly acquired orange Presse plaque stuck to the front of the Broomwagon we are allowed to drive on the route well ahead of or behind the race. In theory we should have been allowed on the course but as we neared the route the cars were parked three across. There was never going to be a way through.

So we did the only thing we could ? park up and act as nonchalantly as possible. A flustered late middle-aged Danish couple asked us to back up but the cars were double-parked for at least two kilometres and the job of reversing this giant of the road would be like trying to thread a frayed piece of wool through the eye of a needle. It simply wasn?t going to happen.

?Don?t worry,? said Ed, ?the Tour will be through in about an hour and a half.?

?We don?t want to see the Tour,? said the Danish man. ?We want to go back.?

I shrugged. Ed?s a non-driver so I left him to explain that we weren?t budging. In the end the Danish couple accepted their fate and settled down for a two-hour wait. Mr Denmark cracked open a can of lager. That?s the spirit, I thought.

?I wouldn?t mind but we were stuck like this for two hours yesterday,? he said. You had to feel for him particularly when he said: ?We have travelled everywhere in the world ? America, Australia, Venezuela, all over Europe. We only have Holland and France to do.? He said it like his life?s work had been ticking off countries in a giant note book. ?But French people are the idiots of the world. We won?t be back.? He wouldn?t give many examples except that they were hopeless at giving directions. Given that neither of the Danish couple spoke a word of French it seemed a bit harsh.

We took our picnic and my camp chair a few hundred metres up the road and snacked and waited. Two Spaniards came past. Eleven minutes later the bunch passed and we picked everything up and strolled back to the bus. For millions of people every July that is their Tour de France and quite delightful it was too.

The bulk of the public are not particularly interested in the outcome of the race, much less the drugs, they just like the excuse to take the day off work, pack a hamper and a table and chairs and sit and chat all afternoon. The anticipation is the thing and when the race has whizzed by they toddle off again.

Back at the bus I discovered a serious design flaw with the handbrake. When it is fully depressed it is out of reach to all but NBA basketball players or Mr Tickle. The lever is too far down and you have to lean forward considerably to grab it. This caused some French people to over-react a tad as the multi-tonne vehicle rolled a few feet backwards. (Towards some children). Look, no one was squashed flat, there?s really nothing to report.

Meanwhile, I have learned some rather alarming news about the chemical toilet, which remains untouched by Cycling Weekly or Cycle Sport staff. I had studiously failed to listen when the man at the camper van hire place in Belgium had been running through the process for emptying the chemical toilet. This was so I could plead ignorance if it ever came to the having to allocate the task. Now Ed tells me that the man said to Simon that ?we?d get a couple more uses out of it before it needs emptying?. This is really unsettling news. Could it be that we are driving round with a medley of waste from a party of Dutch swingers in the over-sized jerry can contraption under the bog?

After five relatively stress-free evenings at the Camping Municipal in Wasselonne we decided to book ahead a few days so we are not left frantically searching for lodgings. It?s not so much that we crave flushable toilets with proper ceramic bowls or a shower that is able to dispense more than a shot glass of hot water at more than a dribble, but the bus contains just one power point. Which only works when plugged into electricity. With mobile phones and laptops needing constant charging this presents a headache.

Unfortunately our green Michelin Camping guide does not list sites in Luxembourg ? or Holland or Belgium for that matter so we have nowhere booked for tonight or tomorrow. We could stay inside France, I suppose, but the uncertainty is exciting. Where will we end up.

If you don?t hear from us again, call Interpol. We?ll have been gassed and robbed by Bandidos, no doubt.

As for the cycling, we watched the end of the stage in a little work-a-day café in the centre of Thionville. Far more agreeable than the hermetically sealed enjoyment vacuum that is the press room.