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Three days at the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré 2006

This year the Prologue (a 4-kilometer individual time trial) of the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré took place in Annecy, capital of the Haute-Savoie region, a beautiful town with a rich historical past located in an ideal setting on one side of the purest lake in Europe and surrounded by pine tree forests and snow-capped mountains.

We arrived in Annecy on Saturday June 3rd early afternoon, without having any information about the hotel where the DSC team was staying, and we quickly realised that our normal strategy of just driving from hotel to hotel was not realistic because in Annecy it is almost impossible to drive anywhere: the streets are all one way, crooked or pedestrian.

We decided to try our luck at the race headquarters where we intercepted a journalist who very obligingly told us where the DSC were located, i.e. a long way outside of town, on the other side of the lake.

We immediately drove out there and found the hotel and the usual DSC bus and cars parked nearby. As the riders were late arriving from Geneva airport because Vladimir Gusev, who came from Italy, had missed his plane, we passed time chatting with the mechanics and soigneurs. (If you are interested, we now have a complete breakdown of names, nationalities etc.) One of my favourites contacts, Richie, had come straight from the Giro which, he said, was a very tough race for the whole team.

On Saturday late afternoon, the team finally arrived but the riders were tired and in a big hurry to relax in their rooms, so I hardly had a chance to talk to them, but nevertheless Michael Barry obligingly signed my copy of his book “Inside the postal bus”, a very entertaining publication.

On Sunday June 4th in the morning we returned to the hotel site. The DSC riders came out at 9:30 and went off for a warming-up ride and to check out the prologue circuit.

Before they left, I manage to have a quick chat in Spanish with José Azevedo. José lives in Vila do Conde in Portugal, his wife’s name is Sonia and they have a little girl called Mariana who will be 5 in August, and he does not know yet what he will do when his professional career as a rider is over, but probably will remain in the cycling field since he loves it.

Then, I got hold of Benjamin Noval, a very handsome tall guy with beautiful dark eyes (des yeux de velours (velvet eyes) as we say in French) with long and very thick black lashes, who told me that he lives very near Chechu in Spain, they often train together and are very close friends. Benjamin said he was getting married to his fiancé Sara at the end of this year. So there will hardly be any bachelor left within the DSC team! Benjamin does not know yet if he will be selected for the Tour de France, and nobody seems to know whether Triki Beltran, Pavel Padrnos and Viatcheslav Ekimov will be part of the Tour lineup either.

So Benjamin has to perform very well on the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré if he wants to be on the Tour de France team.

After that we went to the Critérium du Dauphiné Village and chatted with a group of people who knew Michael Barry from the time he lived and trained in Annecy. They liked him very much but were completely anti-Armstrong (like most French people). I know it is useless trying to convince these biased people, but I cannot help telling them, whenever I have the chance, that if I have recovered from three recurrences of cancer in five years it is definitely thanks to Lance who gave me the strength and the motivation to fight the illness.

Then we went over to the team bus area and spent about five hours watching the DSC riders doing one after the other a 30-minute warming up before it was their turn to go to the departure line for the time trial. When it was time for the top riders (including George Hincapie) to ride, we made it to the finishing line and were really pleased when George, who had not raced for several weeks because of his injury during the Paris-Roubaix race, put in a very strong performance, two seconds behind Dave Zabriskie, and ahead of several other very good riders like Floyd Landis, Alex Vinokourov, or Levi Leipheimer. George won the polka dot jersey because he was the fastest up the slope immediately following the start, and the DSC team came first in the team standings with three riders in the top ten.

On Monday June 5th, about one hour before the departure of the first stage, the team buses got to the site. All the DSC riders rode their bikes from their hotel, 9 kilometers away. George was immediately recognizable with his polka dot jersey which suited him perfectly. He was the center of attention for a lot of youngsters who wanted their photograph taken with him. George very graciously spent time signing autographs and then rushed to the Critérium du Dauphiné Village to have his photo taken with the sponsors of the polka dot jersey. Then it was time for the riders to go and sign in on the podium, and line up for the start of the stage.

There is a lot of fraternizing between the riders of different teams, and George and Floyd seemed to have quite a few things to tell each other, while Johan Bruyneel seemed very friendly as well with Dave Zabriskie and congratulated him for his performance. It seems to me that in cycling there are no problems between the riders and the team managers. The mischief seems to be caused by just a few unpleasant people who have completely polluted French public opinion.