With Chechu back in Asturias, training for his next race in Austria in July, Christine Kahane is making her annual trip to the Dauphiné Libéré.
Christine and her husband Roger caught up with Team Discovery this week, in Grenoble and at stage 4, on the formidable Mont Ventoux.
See her official reports on thePaceline.
Mont Ventoux, 14 June 2007
The Yaroslav Triplets are three French sisters born the same day called Aurelia, Floriane and Lorine. We know them because they have created a website for the fans of Yaroslav Popovych. They love the nickname we have given them.
The Yaroslav Triplets said they would wait for us in front of the village church in Suze-La-Rousse, a tiny place on the border of the Vaucluse and Drome counties, five kilometers away from where they live.
We locate them straight away in their silver-grey Renault Espace, and straightaway the 14-year old Triplets pop out to greet us with a kiss on the cheeks, three times as is customary in this part of France. In Paris, it’s two and in Brittany, four. The French enjoy kissing!
We follow their car all the way to the Ventoux, a one-hour drive uphill through picturesque villages, and reach Vaison-la-Romaine, a small town famous historically for its Roman remains, where fifteen years ago a catastrophe (flooding and a mud slide caused by heavy rain resulted in 37 victims) saddened not only the region but all of France.
Half way up, the forest makes way to a more desert landscape. We carry on along the hairpin bends almost as far as the summit. We get out of the car and have a shock! We are shrouded in swirling mist, biting wind, and temperature that feels close to 0°C in comparison to the 30°C at the bottom of Mont Ventoux.
We put on sweaters and wind breakers and, following the Triplets and their mother, we proceed along a stony goat track to reach the race course, on the other side of the summit. Looking down into the drop makes us dizzy but the winding landscape is beautiful.
We arrive on the spot more than three and a half hours before the first riders would appear but the course is already packed with cars and people who have been there since mid morning. One of the motorhomes has its TV on, broadcasting the race, attracting a large crowd of spectators who pass on the information to others. There is a very casual and friendly atmosphere despite the biting cold.
Suddenly things start moving on the road. It’s the publicity advertising caravan of cars belonging to the various sponsors who throw green caps from the Credit Agricole bank to the crowd.
Still another hour to wait and the cold is getting more intense. We are all freezing and shivering. Eliane says she gets caught out every year by the cold of legendary Mont Ventoux.
Finally, a motorcade announces the arrival of the riders. Christophe Moreau passes first, looking very comfortable since he does not have his tongue hanging out of his mouth. None of us like him.
The Triplets, who know a lot about cycling, that they have been practicing in a local sports club since the age of seven, fancy of course all three the same riders, and don’t care for the French icons. We are in total agreement in that respect.
Eventually, a small bunch appears and we realize the two black and blue Discovery jerseys are Levi and Alberto. They look in good shape. Thinking of Rebecca, who has developed a liking for this talented young rider, we shout in chorus “Venga Alberto”. He turns his head towards us and smiles. The riders are so close that we could touch them. It’s amazing!
We are waiting anxiously for George (my second long time favorite) but the next Discovery riders are Egoi in a tiny group, Sergio all by himself, Thomas alone and suffering, and Benjamin among six or seven riders. We start worrying for George when another small peloton appears and we see at last his U.S. champion jersey. He is standing on the pedals.
Each group of riders is followed by team cars. Johan drives the first Discovery car and Eki the second. We wave at them and they wave back. They know us well enough by now.
We see the sign “Fin de Course” (End of Race) . It’s the frightening “Voiture Balai”, and just ahead of it is the pathetic sight of Alejandro Valverde, clearly in bad shape, pulled along by one of his team mates. A very bad day indeed for the Spanish champion.
The race is over.
Down from the Ventoux we experience the heat again. It’s 7pm and still 26°C. We decide to proceed to our riders’ hotel, a lovely country inn, Lance’s favorite, where Team Discovery is a regular client.
Chris, Vince and Craig are very busy dismantling and washing the bikes. The blue bus has preceded us by fifteen minutes, and the riders are all being taking care of by soigneurs Richie and Elvio.
What a great day!
Saturday 9 June
We are in Grenoble where it is very hot and see all the Discovery riders arriving at their hotel from the airport.
Alberto is very nice, as are the other riders, and we start taking photos of Alberto, Egoi, Benjamín, Tommy, Levi, George, Sergio Paulinho and Thomas Vaitkus (who is replacing Stijn Devolder who was previously planned for this race).
We are happy to see that they acknowledge our presence and we feel welcome by the supporting staff who starts to know us quite well.
Tomorrow morning, we will return to the Discovery hotel to say hello to Eki and Johan who are tied up in business meetings today.
Sunday 10 June
I must tell you I have another sweetheart in the team: Thomas Vaitkus who has very much the same type of personality as Chechu, is tall, good looking, charming, and speaks fluently at least three languages.
I am very pleased to see Triki (Beltran) in his green Liquigaz kit that suits him perfectly and cannot help give him a kiss. I'll send you some photos soon.
I have a nice chat with George (Hincapie) about his wife, Melanie, and little Julia who is raised bilingual (French-English). He says I can meet Melanie again at the end of the Tour de France in Paris.
I ask Johan (Bruyneel) news about his daughter Victoria, who is a spitting image of himself, and he tells us that she is also raised bilingual (English-Spanish).
Monday 11 June
The Discovery bus arrives on the “esplanade” where all the team buses are parked next to a circus.
There is an interesting contrast of jerseys between the three American riders : George with his stars and stripes US champion jersey, Levi with the green jersey for points leader, and Tommy with his standard team jersey. They train together in Girona during the cycling season. You can see that Tommy Danielson does not feel well, although he is very suntanned.
Alberto and Egoi are listening to last minute advice of director Eki. Sergio and Thomas are having a private conversation - I don’t know in what language? And Benjamin is alone and seems to be dreaming - maybe of his young wife Sara.
Then, I go over to the CSC (my second favourite team) boys to see Bobby, Dave Zabriskie and Christian Vandevelde who have just arrived on bicycle from their hotel to the meeting point and signature podium.
Bobby Julich tells me about his daughters Olivia, 5, and Chloé, 8 months, who is now teething. He says that when he is home in Nice he spends a lot of time with his girls. I had taken a nice photo of Bobby holding Olivia in his arms two years ago in Paris and gave it to him last year. He still remembers it.
With adorable Thomas Vaitkus, I speak a few words of Russian, and with Sergio Paulinho I speak Spanish. Most Portuguese know Spanish, although the contrary is not true. Sergio Paulinho is medium-sized, shy and new in the team and he seems very nice.
Thomas Vaitkus is about the size of my son Raphael (6'2", business editor with France 24) and I kiss him good bye and good luck, thinking I am holding my own son. I feel quite moved. I did not know this rider before I met him at the departure of Paris-Nice but I am ready to learn some more about him when I get back home.
We leave Grenoble at 10:45, together with the team buses, just after the peloton on its way to Roanne.
Photographs by Christine and Roger Kahane