Today was the turn of Albertville, a small town in the southern Alps, to host the départ of the Tour de France.
Brightly coloured vehicles from the promotional caravan arrived at the Olympic park on the outskirts of the town at around 9.30am, nearly four hours before the riders were due to roll out.
Crowds gathered in the ‘village’ and lined the barriered route on which the expensive convoy of team busses and liveried cars festooned with gleaming bicycles would form nearly three hours later.
The arrival of the teams raised the sense of anticipation among the thousands of people who had gathered to watch the riders step on to a podium and sign on for the day’s stage. The absence of Fabian Cancellara, winner of the prologue stage and yellow jersey holder for seven stages, did not dampen spirits (the Swiss star has left the race to be with is expectant wife).
David Millar emerged from the Garmin-Sharp team bus to give interviews in French and English, and told RoadCyclingUK that his depleted team was not beaten.
“It’s pretty clear it’s been a bit of a rough one for us,” he said of the Tour’s first week.
“Our objective had to change. We’ve had many crashes. It’s been a bit average so far for us, but we’re trying to adapt and change for the second half.”
Stage seven from Tomblaine to La Planche de Belles Filles saw Millar and Dave Zabriskie take long turns at the head of the peloton in a bid to set up an attack for Dan Martin.
“It was a show of defiance,” said Millar. “We had to do something for our heads and to show that we’re not down. Sometimes you have to do that. Sometimes it might not make total sense, but it does for us.”
Adjacent to the Garmin Sharp team bus was the motorhome of BMC Racing. Team leader, and defending champion, Cadel Evans, was one of the last riders to leave the bus to sign on.
British rider, Steve Cummings, had a long conversation with supporters from his home nation, while the appearance of veteran, George Hincapie, drew a large crowd of American fans.
The biggest crowd, almost inevitably, formed around the famed bus of Team Sky. Dave Brailsford stood calmly at the far end of the vehicle while supporters swamped the riders’ exit, cheering the emergence of Bradley Wiggins, who climbed aboard hi bike and rode immediately to sign on.
In April, Brailsford told RoadCyclingUK that Team Sky’s bid to win the Tour would depend on the efforts of its “engine room” of support riders. Ten stages into the Tour, and with Wiggins in yellow and Chris Froome third on GC, did he feel the same?
“Eddy, Christian, Richie, Mick; Froomey to a certain extent…” he replied, “without any of them, this doesn’t work.
“Bernie Eisel really was very, very good in the first week, so, yes, the engine room is important and so far it’s been ticking over nicely.”
The climb-laden stage ahead, one including the climbs of the Col de la Madeleine, the Col de Glandon, the Col de la Croix de Fer, the Col du Mollard, and the summit finish at La Toussuire, would be “a big test,” he conceded.
Spirits among the riders seemed high. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ-Big Mat), the youngest rider in the race and winner of stage eight, joked with directeur sportif, Marc Madiot. Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) halted his ride back from signing on to chat with fans.
The winner of yesterday’s stage, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) was one of the last to leave his team bus, weaving through the train of support cars that had begun to inch forward on his way to the registration area. Once there, he was all smiles, resplendent in the polka dot jersey of King of the Mountains leader.
Voockeler’s smile, and those of his colleagues in the peloton, had disappeared just 14.5km later on the lower slopes of the Madeleine, however. Rabobank’s Mark Renshaw fought back tears as he toiled on the first climb of the day, and later abandoned.