Sunday July 23 - Stage 20 : Sceaux-Antony to Paris Champs-Elysées
For the last stage of the Tour de France 2006, the Village was located in the beautiful setting of the Park of Sceaux, just in front of the Castle, where my husband and I often go on Sundays to listen to the festival of classical music concerts taking place every summer.
We arrived in Sceaux around 10am and waited for the opening of the Village, scheduled for 10:30, sitting on a bench in the shade since the sun was already burning hot. Next to us was an elderly French couple and we started talking. Of course they were backing the French riders and in particular Cyril Dessel, the new French revelation of this Tour de France. Naturally, the conversation turned to Floyd Landis and my husband and I realized that most French people are sure Floyd could only be doped to accomplish his exploit, which is totally unrealistic in the French minds.
We spent one hour in the Village which was very crowded and where there was no shade, and then went to the parking lot where the DSC bus was arriving, driven by our friend Valentin who told us the riders were due at 11:30 Gare de Lyon, the TGV station for trains arriving from the South East of France. The riders got to Sceaux around noon, all the teams together. The DSC riders seemed very tired but were still gracious, specially Chechu who told me he felt terrible and was happy the Tour was over. He also said that his wife Laura would be expecting him at the arrival point on the Champs-Elysées.
We left before the presentation of the teams on the signature podium because the heat was unbearable even for us who were not doing anything strenuous.
In the afternoon, around 3:30, a good 30 minutes behind schedule, the pack, lead majestically by the Phonak team, passed through the area where we live. There were many people gathered along the roadside for our mayor had asked everybody to go down in the street in order to greet the riders. I managed to see distinctly Yaroslav and Chechu in the center of the pack with their numbers 7 and 8.
Back home, we watched for a while the end of the stage on TV with the last arrival, full of emotion, of Eki on the most beautiful avenue in the world.
Then we rushed to the huge hotel where all the teams customarily spend their last night together in Paris. There I met three other faithful DSC fans whom I regularly see at other races. We generally share our photos and our information on the team.
We waited a long time for the riders to arrive. Some came from the Champs Elysées on their bikes, others on the team bus. All of them looked tired and happy at the same time. The DSC arrived on the team bus driven by Valentin, who the same evening was returning to Brussels, where the depot for all the DSC buses and cars is located, because the following morning he was returning to San Sebastian where he lives for a 6-day rest before the Tour of Germany.
José came out of the bus first followed by his wife Sonia and his little girl Mariana, then came Egoi, George and Melanie, Yaroslav, Eki, Pavel, and Chechu who waited for Laura who was last.
I managed to take a few photos of all the riders, and Chechu and Laura even posed for me. Both of them seemed very happy. Some people approached Chechu for autographs and Laura moved away so as not to disturb them.
Then all the riders went up to their rooms to change for the celebration party which was scheduled elsewhere in Paris.
We waited about an hour among the crowd which was starting to leave. It was almost 9 PM when the DSC riders came out: first Egoi with his girlfriend (or wife?), then Pavel alone, Eki alone but surrounded by fans since he was the king of the day, then George and Melanie who looked beautiful – they form a striking couple - then Yaroslav and his lovely wife, who seems to be expecting a baby, Chechu and Laura, always smiling, and José carrying little Mariana (who will be 5 in August) with his wife.
They had to wait for a bus which would take them to the meeting point in Paris, so I had time to take more photographs. They all looked happy and relieved.
George was the only one who looked rather sad. I remember that last year at the same hotel George was surrounded by so many fans that he was looking for an escape route and could not find one, so he had to sign many autographs before the crowd would let him go. This year Melanie and George were all alone. Nobody spoke to them, very few people took their photo, and two persons even asked me “what’s the name of this rider who has such a beautiful wife?”. Contrary to the Lance years, the DSC riders were anonymous and I felt sad for them.
I spoke for a while with Melanie, since she is French. She told me she had left their daughter Julia, 21 months, who for the moment speaks better French than English, with her mother in Dijon where they would all three spend a week. George is due to ride in a criterium (one-day race) in that city by the middle of this week, and then they would return to Girona, Spain, their European residence. She spoke to me about life in the US. Although she misses her country of origin, she finds the Americans much friendlier than the French. She also said George is a marvellous father.
Melanie was a model, and two years in a row a podium girl on the Tour de France where she met George in 2003.
I spoke a little with Laura who I had not expected to be so tall. She is about the same height (with heels) as Chechu and they form a very handsome couple. I told her she was very lucky to have such a lovely husband and she said she was aware of it and that’s why she would never let him go!
I explained to Laura that I was taking photos for the new English language website and she posed very gracefully. Chechu said he had no time to look at the site nor at his e-mails since the beginning of the Tour de France but that he would do so as soon as he returns home.
José, with little Mariana always clinging to her daddy’s arms, and Sonia also posed for me and were very nice.
When the bus arrived all the riders said good-bye and once on the bus even waved at us as they were leaving. It was very emotional since we knew we would not see them before the next Paris-Nice race, ie. in March 2007.
I started to follow the DSC team in 1999 with the reign of Lance because I am a cancer survivor, but over the years I have become very attached to the whole team and it’s always a wrench to say goodbye.
Sunday July 9: arrival of the riders in Bordeaux
We went straight to hotel where we knew the DSC team would be staying. The riders were still riding the stage to Lorient, where they would be transferred by special plane to Bordeaux later on. Three planes were chartered to transfer all of the 20 teams and their staff.
Mid afternoon (3.30pm) and the buses of the three teams (AG2R, Quickstep, and DSC) staying at the hotel were already in the parking lot. The two DSC buses, driven by Richie and Valentin, had arrived after a 6-hour drive.
Chris Brewer of the Paceline and Liz Kreutz, together with her younger brother Nathan who chauffeurs her through the Tour de France, were already working on their PCs in the hotel lobby.
The riders of the three teams arrived together just after 8pm. The final of the Football World Cup had just started, there was a very excited atmosphere in the hotel reception area among the journalists, families of riders, friends and fans. We thought of Paolo Savoldelli and Elvio, the Italian soigneur of DSC, who were, with a few Italian riders, a minority in favor of an Italian victory.
Eki, whom I call Slava since it’s the nickname for Wiacheslav in Russian (my mother was born in St. Petersburg and I speak a little Russian), greeted me with a kiss as he entered the hotel lobby, and so did Chechu. Even Johan Bruyneel said “bonjour” with a smile as he came in.
We also took photos of Tom Boonen, a handsome, talented and nice rider, Sylvain Calzati with his little daughter, and Christophe Moreau.
The DSC riders all appeared to be in good spirits, an impression that was confirmed the following day.
Monday July 10: rest day in Bordeaux
We went over to hotel at 9.30am. All the DSC mechanics were already busy taking advantage of the rest day to give the bikes a thorough overhaul. The riders were expected to go out for their training spin between 10 and 10.30am, but they only appeared after 11am, the first one being Eki and the last, as always, being Chechu in a very good mood, who spoke a few words into our MP3 recorder for the fan club.
All of the DSC riders looked well rested and relaxed, posed for photos, and willingly signed autographs and answered questions casually. The riders then went for a two-hour ride, followed by Liz who took photos.
Tuesday July 11: 9th stage Bordeaux to Dax
In the morning we spent two hours in the Village, where the “jet set” of the Tour de France world (past champions, TV and other media) congregate, and chatted with Tony McCrossan of Cycling.TV, who believes that the Tour might well be won by Andreas Klöden or Cadel Evans, or possibly Paolo Savoldelli if the DSC manage to get their act together after their disappointing individual time trial performance.
The team buses carrying all the riders started arriving at 11.45am at the departure point and the riders all went to the podium where the teams were presented to the crowd and where the riders signed the official registry.
I wished buena suerte to Chechu, José and Benjamin.
George Hincapie is clearly the crowd’s favorite of Team Discovery and he makes lots of efforts to respond to the public’s demands. People perhaps know that his wife Melanie is French (from Dijon, Burgundy) and that his daughter, Julia, is raised in the two languages (so George himself told me).
All photographs by Christine Kahane