Contador was the star attraction at the Tour de France 2010 presentation (photo: Christine Kahane/Alberto Contador Notebook)
On Wednesday October 14, 2009 the Tour de France 2010 circuit was disclosed in the Parisian Palais des Congrès convention center. The 3800-seat capacity venue was full to overflowing like every year, proving that the Tour is really one of France’s major sports events. There was added spice this year with the pre-announced side-by-side presence of the two arch-rivals Alberto and Lance. Would they acknowledge each other's presence? No! Would Lance ungrit his teeth? No!
As always we arrived well ahead of time and in the large hall several cycling world personalities were already chatting. Egoi Martinez, who had posed with Skinny Lizzy in Cordoba, recognized us and said hello. Elegant Filippo Pozzatto was carryng his Vuitton suicase because he was going straight from the Palais des Congrès to the airport, and Erik Zabel came with wife Cordula and son Rik. Also glimpsed were Thor Hushovd, and French veterans Laurent Jalabert, Richard Virenque, Raymond Poulidor and Bernard Thévenet, who never miss a Tour presentation.
Lance arrived with Philippe Maertens and his cortège of body guards, and took his seat in the front row centre, next to Andy Schleck. He was straight away surrounded by so many photographers and media that one could hardly catch a glimpse of him.
Alberto (always accompanied by his brother Fran) was staying at the Concorde Lafayette hotel located in the same building as the Palais des Congrès. He arrived when everybody was already seated, and I was lucky enough to be right in his path when he came down the stairs towards the stage. He said “hola” with a kiss and posed for a photo for the Notebook. It was almost surrealistic to have these two seconds of intimacy with Alberto in the middle of all the photographers who were pushing so hard to get a shot of him. Alberto's seat was on the other side of Andy Schleck from LA, so he was the buffer!
I then spotted Johan Bruyneel accompanied by wife Eva. It’s the first time I have seen Eva in the flesh. She is so small and slim, that she made me think of a little girl. Next to Johan were Alain Gallopin, Dirk Demol, and Alain’s brother Joel who is the father of professional rider Tony Gallopin. They all waved “hello."
The ceremony proper was kicked off by Daniel Mangeas, the most famous Tour de France speaker (he has done it for over 30 years), with various speeches by ASO general manager, Jean-Etienne Amaury, followed by Ahmed Aboutaleb, the Rotterdam mayor who spoke excellent French because he is of Moroccan origin, and finally Tour de France Boss Christian Prudhomme.
At 12 noon the lights went out and the giant screen displayed first a breathtaking film on the Tour 2009 highlights, followed by an animated, stage-by-stage terrain-hugging look at the Tour de France 2010 route, a rather unusual one, after which Christian Prudhomme described in detail all the points of interest of each stage, emphasizing the expected impact of the cobblestones in the north and the tough mountain stages, especially in the Pyrenees.
At the end of the presentation Alberto, Andy and Lance went on stage and posed on both sides of the Tour 2010 map.
As has become our habit, Roger and I are already planning our program for next summer in order to be able to follow several stages in the field. Our experience has shown that you have to plan those things well in advance if you don't want to be left without a place to stay.
To help you in organizing a trip to the Tour de France 2010, read my tips in European Travel Tips for the Cycling Fan.
Fran Contador, Alberto's brother and manager (photo: Christine Kahane/Alberto Contador Notebook)
Jesús is a close friend as well as a colleague
by Christine Kahane
Belying his “advanced age” of 27 years, Jesús Alberto Hernández Blazquez has a baby face, with kind of curly black hair, a perpetually sleepy look except when his face breaks into a staggering smile, and the most biblical first name. That's surely the reason he is known by the nickname "Sweet Baby Jesus" within the Astana team.
I knew nothing about Jesús, a very close friend of quadruple Grand Tour winner Alberto Contador, until Alberto proposed the signing of this pure climber to Johan Bruyneel last year.
I met Jesús in the flesh for the first time during the Critérium du Dauphiné 2009 and was taken by his youthful charm. Since then, we have become friends and he granted me with a short inteview in Bourg-en-Bresse, just before the departure of Tour de l'Ain 2009.
Jesús was born on September 28, 1981 in Avila (42 miles North West of Madrid), capital of the Castilla y León province and renowned for its ancient city completely encircled by well-preserved 11th-century walls, which are among the most important medieval relics in Europe.
Avila's spirit and legend are most linked to St. Teresa, born there in 1515. It's also famous for its excellent roasts, as well as its wonderful cakes and pastries.
Jesús Hernández lives in Illescas, province of Castilla la Mancha, which is south of the Spanish capital, half way between Madrid and Toledo. His residence is a 32-kilometer ride from that of his best friend, Alberto Contador, which allows them to train together regularly.
(photo, right: Scenic Illescas)
It's Alberto Contador who is responsible for the two-year contract Jesús signed with Astana at the end of last year. His first race with Astana was the Tour Down Under in January 2009 in Australia. Since then he has taken part in several pro cycling races with Alberto.
And Jesús said to me, his right hand on his heart, that whatever happens, he will always stay with Alberto and follow him anywhere.
Alberto and Jesús met ten years ago, when they were respectively 16 and 17 years old, since Jesús is a year older, although it's hard to believe it because he is smaller in size and looks so young.
There is no sporting tradition in Jesús’ family, and he has just a 26-year old sister named Sonsoles.
Jesús Hernandez started biking in a club at age 9 and began his pro career in 2002 as a stagiaire with team Once. He became a full professional in 2004 with Liberty Seguros, where he made his racing debut and remained until 2005.
In 2006 he was hired by Team Relax for two years, but found himself without a contract for 2008 after that team folded. However, he maintained his training routine with Alberto on the roads around Pinto and Illescas. "If it were not for Alberto and Astana trainer Pepe Marti, maybe I would have left everything, but they encouraged me to continue."
Jesús speaks enough English to get about but is working on it seriously. It's a necessity within the Astana team where English is the lingua franca. He likes driving fast cars (he has a BMW) and going out with friends in the off season. He is still a bachelor but says he has a "novia.” (girlfriend)
The next race on his calendar is the Vuelta a España 2009.
The walled city of Avila, Jesús’ birthplace
Jesús at the Tour de L'Ain 2009
Sidebar photos: Jesús at the Tour de L'Ain 2009; Christine interviews Jesus; Christine and Jesús at the Dauphiné 2009 (All photos courtesy of Christine Kahane)
Sunday, July 16: Montereau-Fault-Yonne
This morning it was already very hot when we reached the very pretty little town of Montereau-Fault-Yonne, 93 kilometers south of Paris, overlooking two rivers: the Seine and the Yonne, departure of the final stage of Tour de France 2009.
As usual, the Astana bus was totally surrounded by a huge crowd, while there were very few fans around the other team buses. Fran Contador II, who followed the entire Tour de France at Alberto's side in order to protect his little brother, asked me, “Are you happy?” I thought I should have asked him the question, not the other way round! He introduced me to Macarena, Alberto's very pretty novia, and to his own wife Marta.
Alberto's brother and sister-in-law (photo by Kahane)
I had a conversation with Eki. We spoke about Ariana, his baby girl who was born just before he left for the Tour and who he has not seen for three weeks. We also spoke about Saint-Petersburg, his home town and where my mother was born too, and we both agreed that it is the most beautiful city in the world............. after Paris!
Eki (who I call Slava, the Russian diminutive for both Viatcheslav and Yaroslav), told me he has just started a website in Russian where he writes daily reports when he is on a race. We agreed that I would send him, for his website, all the pictures I took of him over the numerous years I have been following the US Postal, Discovery Channel and Astana teams.
Several members of the staff, will return home just after the last stage and skip the party, either because they are alone and homesick or because they are being met in Paris by their whole family and staying at another hotel. The others will celebrate Alberto's magnificent victory, Lance's third place and Andreas' 6th place. Three Astana riders in the first ten, and the Team first place!
Evening at hotel Meridien July 26, 2009
It has become a tradition. Every year, after the finale on the Champs Elysées and the various ceremonies, the cyclists ride on their bikes down the Avenue de la Grande Armée, just on the other side of the Place de l'Etoile, leading to their hotel, the Méridien Porte Maillot. For their last night, all the teams are gathered in the same hotel, and the regular fans know this. It's a real pleasure to see the riders arrive in their jerseys, and come out an hour or so later all dressed up accompanied by their girl friends, wives or children.
Sometimes it is a real exploit to recognize them because they look so different on a bike. Also, they seem to have an eye for beauty because I have to say that very rarely have I seen such a concentration of good-looking women as those accompanying the cyclists. So it's delightful to immortalise the couples on photo.
Pretty Macarena (photo by Kahane)
In many cases the girl on a rider's arm may not be the same one who was there last year, but the common feature of these women is that they all have film star looks.
After watching on TV the magnificent 6th sprint victory by Mark Cavendish we left for the Meridien hotel where faithful fans had already started to gather. It's always a pleasure to see them again.
Most people had witnessed live the show on the Champs Elysées and had come on foot.
When the first rider arrived the crowd was already very dense and some less well-informed people were asking for Lance, not knowing that he has his favourite hotel in a different prestigious location.
Soon the first team arrived, then the others, and finally Astana. Dima Borisov, Yaroslav Popovych's soigneur, had been waiting with the room keys in hand for over an hour in the hotel hall for distribution to the riders. I stayed with him for a long time and we spoke about his parents who we had visited in Ukraine, and ended up sending an SMS to his mother.
Yaroslav Popovych and Dima, among other Astana riders, will join Lance's new team RadioShack next year.
Mr. and Mrs. Hincapie and fan (photo by Kahane)
I spotted Melanie Hincapie, "Big George"'s beautiful and charming French wife, who we have known for several years. She, too, was a podium girl when between George and her it was love at first sight in 2003. Now they have two children, Julia and Enzo, and share their time, like most American riders, between Girona, Spain, and the US.
When Alberto reached the hotel he had to be protected from the excited crowd by several bodyguards. By pure chance, I happened to find myself in his path and, and although pressed from all sides, he smiled and waved to me. I could not believe it.
But that's Alberto and his simplicity. I hope success will never change him because he is unique!
By now the first riders and their spouses were already getting into the buses that would take them to their various parties. It's not always easy to recognize them because we are so used to seeing them in specific team outfits. What's striking is their common leanness after three weeks of very hard work.
The Astana riders came out last: Haimar Zubeldia with his wife and one-year-old baby girl Ané, Elvio Barcella with French girlfriend Alice, Alain Gallopin with wife Agnès and daughter Melina, Dirk Demol with wife Annie, Craig Geater and Sarah, and all the others. Before getting into the bus, Eki put his hand on my shoulder and told me he would send a picture of littlel Ariana, and I promised I would send him all the pictures I took of him over the years.
The bus, as well as the crowd and professional photographers, waited a good twenty minutes for Alberto. But as he did not show up, the bus left without him.
In fact, Alberto was stuck in one of the hotel lounges, giving several interviews to various Spanish and French TV stations. He would catch up with his teammates one hour later, accompanied by Fran, the big brother who looks so well after him. It was already 10PM when we left and Alberto's night was just starting.
Christine's outlaw good looks in her new Contador shirt have the Barcelona police on alert (photo by Kahane)
Friday, July 10: Barcelona
In the impressive setting of the Plaça de Espanya, the Tour de France Village gathered a lot of people who had taken the day off to welcome the departure of the key stage leading the peloton from the “Ciudad Condal” to Andorra-Arcalís, culminating in a mountain top arrival.
We are not used to seeing Barcelona covered by big grey clouds. But even under these mediocre atmospheric conditions, it's a pulsating and interesting city, featured by the incomparable architecturural works by Antoni Gaudi, who devoted his whole life to his art (for he remained single and did not have any descendents).
A lot of Americans were in town, many having travelled from the US specially to follow the Tour and it's certain that the presence of Lance brought a lot of tourists to Europe this year.
One can also witness the return of the yellow wristband cult. The LAF has organized things well, and the bracelets are sold at every stage departure and everybody wears them.
Contador Tour-mobile (photo by Kahane)
When the team buses arrived in the parking lot, Astana was straight away surrounded by the usual frantic crowd. Luc Meersman, who acts as one of Lance's bodyguards (the other one being Philippe Maertens) says the Lancemania has tripled compared to what it was in the Giro.
Here in Spain, they also have to protect Alberto from the crowd's effusion since he is the big favourite. One hears lot of people chanting “Contador.. Contador”.
On their way to the signature podium the riders had to open up their way through the crowd and we are really amazed every time by their ability to thread their way through so many obstacles.
In fact, the Barcelona security did not do their job properly and let a lot of people enter the reserved area where they had no right to be. This created huge congestion and problems for all the cyclists. Even Lance, when he passed by us, followed by Luc Meersman, Philippe Maertens, Liz Kreutz, and a horde of photographers and TV reporters, all running after him, had a “stag at bay” look. I suppose he felt he was about to be mobbed by the crowd.
We said goodbye to our Astana friends. I'll be awaiting them on July 26, in my hometown, on the most beautiful avenue in the world.
Thursday, July 9: Girona
All the hotels located near a Tour de France stage departure or arrival are generally fully booked up months ahead. This is not the case in Spain where we had no difficulty finding a lodging.
There also appears to be somewhat less Lancemania, although it is still very impressive and far outweighs the attention paid to anyone else, even a local hero like Alberto.
Ekimov and his son Slava (photo by Kahane)
In the morning, just outside the Astana hotel in Girona, we met Eki returning from his morning jogging. He waved hello and we opened the window of our car to shout "congratulations for the baby." Eki, who fathered a little girl named Ariana last week, arrived late for the Tour de France, accompanied by his 13-year old son Slava.
In the Girona four star hotel, Astana was sharing with Cofidis and Quick Step.
As we arrived very early, we saw almost all the riders in casual attire – tracksuits, shorts, T-shirts - leaving the breakfast room: Lance accompanied by his bodyguards, then Gregory Rast, Andreas Kloden, Haimar Zubeldia who told me that his wife and baby girl would be at the Andorra stage, Sergio, and Alberto who stopped by us.
He knelt on the floor to be able to write on the table we were sitting at, a few words for the editor of the Notebook on my postcards of Barcelona, with his usual care, under the wide-eyed gaze of the few onlookers. This time he did not ask (like in Nancy at the start of the Critérium du Dauphiné) if the editor’s name is spelled with one or two Cs. He remembered.
(photo by Kahane)
When Dimitri Muravyev passed by us, I asked him in French (he lived for many years in Belgium and speaks the language perfectly with a slight slavic accent) the name of his two little girls who we saw with their mother in Monaco. He answered: Catherine the eldest and Anna the little one.
Then Yaroslav arrived, in good mood as always, and when the elevator door opened we saw Tom Boonen rush inside after Yaroslav, and Levi running after them get in there too, shouting « wait Tom ». There is always a good, relaxed atmosphere when the riders from different teams find themselves together in the same hotel.
Alain Gallopin stopped by us and we had a chat about his children: Melina, who is now in England, and Loic, who is starting a top Civil Engineering school.
Alain is happy in this team and says Johan is a great boss.
We waited outside the hotel, with two other couples, for the exit of the cyclists who were due to ride all the way on their bikes to the departure line, Lance leading the way since he spent four years in Girona and knows the city very well.
Levi came out first, followed by Lance, who stayed ten minutes next to us. There were no journalists nor any professional photographers, which is a very unusual situation during the Tour de France, and we could take as many photos as we wanted. Lance was followed by the other riders, and Alberto was the last to come out.
On our way to Barcelona it started pouring with rain and we had a thought for the poor riders who had to do their job in such unpleasant weather conditions.
Tuesday, July 7: Montpellier Team Time Trial
Before going to the Tour Village, we passed by the Astana hotel and could see the whole team leaving for a two-hour training ride. Almost every rider and sports director got interviewed by the various TV channels who were present. Our friend Vincent from Eurosport, who does the Planet Armstrong program, was there too.
When I say the whole team left the hotel to go for a ride, I mean everybody except Lance who, of course, had to time his exit to be totally separate from everybody else. He came out ten minutes later to get exclusive attention, and special interview with the media. Yaroslav waited for him and the two of them then went off on their training ride long after the others had already left.
The heat and the crowd were mad today in the team parking lot and we could hardly approach the riders.
There were a lot of policemen surrounding the Astana bus to prevent the fans from getting too close.
I could nevertheless have a little conversation with Fran. Both seem serene and Valentin, his soigneur, says Alberto is fine.
Fran says Alberto is confident in his qualities as a climber and is awaiting the mountain stages to show his talent.
Roger and I are more than a little tired (not to say pissed off) by all the hype and media frenzy created around Lance's image but this has, however, a positive aspect for it takes some of the race pressure off Alberto's shoulders.
With Lance's presence every stage departure is a Hollywood show. Today the team got a visit by Ben Stiller, and every Astana staff member wanted his photo taken with the actor.
We are leaving for Barcelone and will attend the departure of stage 7 Barcelone-Andorra-Arcalis on July 10.
Wednesday, July 1: Monaco
Team doctor Pedro Zelaya and Francisco Contador (photo by Kahane)
Team Astana arrived at their hotel, located near the Monte Carlo casino and overlooking the Mediterranean sea, on Wednesday July 1, around 3PM, coming from Montpellier where the whole team had spent the previous night after having ridden the TTT course. Apparently the heat in Montpellier was over 35° C and Monaco, with its 28°, seemed a great relief. Unfortunately, we missed the riders' arrival but could say hello to Dima, Richie, Elvio, Duffy, and Dr. Dag.
Monaco creates a striking impression on the newcomer. It's like a little New York built in the middle of the beautiful French Riviera, very close to the Italian border. Each hotel has its own casino, like the Las Vegas palaces.
As the principality is postage-stamp sized, even the top hotels have very a small parking lots. So the ASO organization decided to have all the team buses and trucks parked on one side of the main harbour, “ Port Hercule.” This means that the mechanics of all teams keep all the riders bikes at the port and take them back and forth to and from the hotel whenever the riders need them. It's not at all practical, specially since Monaco is built on a roller coaster terrain and the traffic is heavy.
Alberto and Sergio sharing a computer (photo by Kahane)
On Thursday July 2nd, we paid a visit to the Astana mechanics who were working hard under a baking sun. Craig was taking care of Levi's bike, Faustino of Alberto's, and Chris of Lance's. Lance has a new yellow road bike with the inscription: Never forget your beginner's start. A few people had already taken their seats in the stands erected to accommodate 6,500 people.
They were all facing the sun and the heat was unbearable. Lots of people were wearing the Livestrong outfit, cap, and wristband.
We selected a standing spot on the side, next to the presentation podium, so that we could take photos of the teams as they set out on their introduction ride.
After giving a speech, Christian Prud'homme of ASO and Prince Albert of Monaco took a seat in the stands next to Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault. The whole ceremony lasted almost two hours and Astana came next to last. The French announcer, who interwieved the riders, impressed us by his mastery of English, Spanish, Italian, and German which he spoke fluently and with a perfect accent, which is very unusual among the French.
Lance was next to Alberto on the podium and the announcer, standing between the two, interviewed them both, each in his mother tongue.
Then the Astana team departed for its presentation circuit around the city of Monte Carlo, led by Haimar and Yaroslav, before the star-struck eyes of the two adorable 6-year old twin boys of Alex Vinokourov who had followed the whole ceremony very quietly. Dimitry Murayev gave a kiss to his countryman's twins before he left, and Lance received a standing ovation.
I was told by friends, who watched the broadcast of the event on Eurosport France, that catcalls against Lance were heard on TV. We think they were fake and put in intentionally (why?) by the channel.
We were standing next to the podium and are adamant we did not hear a single whisle against Lance.
Fran, Christine, Phil Maertens, and two fans (photo by Kahane)
Friday, July 3: Monaco
On Friday July 3rd, for the third time in three days, we took the train from Menton to Monaco: a ten-minute ride along the coast with a beautiful view of the principalty overlooking the big blue Mediterrannean. The road traffic is heavy in Monaco and it's impossible to park.
On our way we saw two anonymous cyclists accomplishing casually a short morning ride along the Monaco steep streets, who we recognized as being the great Eddy Merckx accompanied by several times Tour de France green sprinter jersey winner Robbie McEwen.
Going straight to the team hotel, we came across Alberto accompanied by his brother Fran, who manages his affairs as well as his official website, and Jacinto, his public relations man. Fran and Alberto look so much alike that it's amazing. Fran is a little older, taller, less slim, and wears glasses. Jacinto told us Alberto's planning for after the Tour was not decided yet. When I asked if Alberto had to keep a strict diet for keeping his figure so fit, Jacinto said no, that Alberto could eat anything he wanted without putting on weight. Alberto, Fran, and Jacinto posed for a few photos for the Albertocontadornotebook.info website.
Dimitri Borisov (Yaroslav Popovych's soigneur), who was excited to see our five-year old Franco-German grand-daughter (also called Rebecca), wanted us to pose with him in front the big window bay with a beautiful cruise ship in the back ground.
We then met Liz Kreutz, accompanied by her brother Matt (who had already been with her at the Giro). Matt's main activity is composing advertising jingles. Liz had just purchased, in one of the official Tour de France boutiques, a yellow Tour de France baby outfit for Max (Lance's one-month old new son) and Christian (Johan's three-month baby boy).
A good start! Our next encounters with the Tour de France riders will be in Montpellier and Barcelona.
MORE PHOTOS AT TWITPIC GALLERY
Alberto and Christine on Saturday at Nancy (photo by Kahane)
The Alberto Contador Notebook's fan reporter Christine Kahane was on the scene at the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, June 7-14.
If you've read Christine's reports at CHECHURUBIERA.INFO, you know that her circle of friends includes many cyclists, directors, soigneurs, mechanics and all the other types of people required to produce a bike race.
Enjoy her daily column and fab photos from the race, where she visited the troops behind the lines.
Sunday, June 14: Faverges-Grenoble – Eighth Stage Critérium du Dauphiné 2009
Tomas and Haimar line up next to Valverde to start Stage 8 (photoKahane)
Faverges, a pretty Alpine town surrounded by majestuous summits is hosting the departure of the last stage. It's a “jour de fête”.
Dirk Demol said good-bye last night. He had to head off to Switzerland because Sean Yates, who was to manage Tour of Switzerland, has been taken ill.
Sergio is the only rider who has to be taken to Geneva, after the finish, to catch his plane back to Portugal. Elvio was looking for another team car who could take him there. Otherwise Elvio had to make a special trip, which takes him quite far out of his way.
One by one the riders came out of the bus, picked up their bikes and headed off to the signature podium before getting in line for the departure.
We said goodbye to each one in his own language: “goodbye, adios, desvidania”. We congratulated the whole team for its first place in the team GC, Haimar for his 8th place, and a special “hasta luego” to Alberto, 3rd on the GC, telling him we would be back in three weeks in Monaco. Alberto said several times thank you “muchas gracias por su apoyo”. He is very well mannered.
Before he left he still took time to sign autographs, pose for photos, and give an interview to a French journalist of France Info.
“Hasta pronto, Alberto, en poco mas de un par de semanas, estaremos a tu lado para animarte”.
We saw the peloton pass in front of us followed by the team cars. Alain Gallopin, driving the first car honked when he saw us, and Craig on the steering wheel of the second car waved goodbye.
The last stage is known as the fastest because everybody is in a big hurry to get home and afraid to miss their plane.
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Saturday, June 13: Briançon—Saint-François-Longchamp – Seventh Stage Critérium du Dauphiné 2009
The Galibier pass (photoKahane)
As far as the race was concerned we only did the mountaintop finish, but had a fabulous drive from Briançon to Saint-François Longchamp, over the Lautaret and Galibier passes, with glimpses of marmots, flocks of sheep and goats, and beautiful Alpine landscapes with snow-capped mountains, winding perspectives, rushing torrents, waterfalls, and lakes with pristine turquoise water, a natural paradise.
Today, the end of the stage was quite amusing: Valverde and Contador played cat and mouse with Cadel Evans on the final climb of the Madeleine pass leading to the Alpine village of Saint-Francois-Longchamp. Evans tried a dozen times to sprint away from the two Spaniards but every time Contador and Valverde were immediately on his tail, looking very comfortable.
It seems to us that Alberto did not have any personal ambitions for the stage nor for the overall GC of the race, so once he had made sure that Valverde's yellow jersey was safe, and his own third place secured, he let the Australian and his fellow countryman get away on the last hundred meters to the line.
The race is almost over for us. We'll say good bye to everybody at tomorrow's last departure stage in Faverges. From there we'll head back to Paris, while the riders will take the direction of Grenoble, headquarters of the organiser of the race, the Dauphiné Libéré daily newspaper.
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Friday, June 12: Gap-Briançon – Sixth Stage Critérium du Dauphiné 2009
Three leaders stick to each other like flypaper (photoKahane)
In Gap, southern part of the Alps chain of mountains, we attended the departure of the stage and saw all the riders sign one by one on the podium.
I congratulated Haimar Zubeldia for his fine third place on Mont Ventoux, and gave my daily kiss to Tomas.
Along the road leading from Gap to Briançon we were stopped several times by the police to let the peloton cross our road here and there.
The scenery of the French Alps surrouding the city of Briançon is breathtaking, and that's where we attended the uphill arrival of the riders. The victory of a French rider was of course appreciated by the crowd, and we managed to take a shot of the first three riders in the GC when the trio crossed the finish line together and were given the same time.
After the victory and jersey ceremony we saw Elvio (who is soigneur for Jesus and Alex) and James Collignon (soigneur for Tomas and Sergio) who were waiting for Alex Dyachenko. He was the last Astana rider to reach the line today. Jesus was also delayed but because he had been selected for an anti-doping test.
On the way to our hotel, we passed Astana's, only five kilometers from ours. After cheking in, and leaving our bags in our room, we decided to go say hello to Craig who we had only seen for a very short time in the morning. We know Craig quite well because he has spent some time at our place, when he visited all famous Paris landmarks last year, and he has become a personal friend. Craig follows the riders every day with the second Astana car, the first one being the two sports directors'. Because the landscape is magnificent, Craig from time to time slows his car down in order to take a picture, and he gets hooted by the other cars attending the race.
Craig was just done with his day's work when we reached his hotel and we had a drink together on the hotel terrace. Soon we were joined by Dirk, wearing Tomas Vaitus' Lithuanian national champion jersey. Dirk was just returning from a 60-kilometer ride to the Lautaret pass, a mountain the riders will climb tomorrow.
Then along came Elvio and Alain Gallopin. We stayed together, admiring the beautiful landscape in front of us, until 8PM when it was dinnertime for them.
Tomorrow is a the so-called “queen” stage, with two HC climbs, the Galibier and the Croix de Fer, and ending with a Cat. 1 mountaintop finish.
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Thursday, June 11: Mont Ventoux, Fifth Stage Critérium du Dauphiné 2009
Christine got a great position for photographing Alberto's arrival
We are staying overnight in a chambre d'hote (bed and breakfast) in a beautiful setting that overlooks a Provence lavender field, and are just back from an eventful and interesting day that started rather badly.
Attending exceptional events, such as the arrival of a big race stage on top of a mythical mountain, requires a lot of will power, patience and stubbornness.
After a long drive, and getting halfway up the Mont Ventoux, but not on the race-course side, we found out that the access leading to the summit had been blocked by order of the Gendarmerie (local police) five minutes earlier, and the policeman on duty was strictly diverting all traffic back down the mountain.
Luckily, we had with us the Dauphiné road book with the phone number of all the race officials.
It took us at least half an hour and ten phone calls, with very bad connection, to reach someone at last who could unlock the situation and tell the police to let us through. We must have been the last ones to be allowed to pass.
We were rewarded for all the annoyance once at the top of Mont Ventoux. What a magnificent sight, both scenic, and from a cycling fan point of view: all the massed spectators and media.
We found a spot just next to the arrival point and were able to witness live, a few steps from the end, the agreement between Alejandro Valverde and Sylvester Szmyd (of Liquigas) by which the first would let the other win the stage, having secured for himself the yellow jersey.
We saw with great satisfaction Haimar Zubeldia cross the finish line in third position, then a group with Cadel Evans and Alberto, and a very short while after, Jesus Hernandez followed soon by Sergio Paulinho.Our position allowed us to take great photos of each of them to immortalize their arrival at the summit of this fabled mountain.
As we'll be staying at small villages in the Alps for the next two stages, where I don't think we can get the internet, my next three reports will probably be sent from Paris upon our return on Sunday.
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Wednesday, June 10: In Valence, Fourth Stage (ITT) Critérium du Dauphiné 2009
Thinking about today's TT...and the Tour (photoKahane)
We woke up to a beautiful sunshine. It's so nice to be able to wear lighter clothes!
When we reached the Astana hotel this morning everybody was already working hard around the bus. We chatted a while with James Collignon, a French soigneur (the only other froggy in the team together with Alain Gallopin) who has his own chiropractor practice in the Alps, beteween Annecy and Aix-les-Bains.
James saw our son Raphael, who is a business anchor with France 24, on TV last night and told us that his 13 year old son also wants to become a journalist.
Soon Haimar Zubeldia came out of the hotel all kitted up for a morning training ride. We chatted shortly and he told me he has a one year old little girl called Ané who is just starting to walk. Ané is a Basque name and Haimar said she was born during last year's Tour of Cataluña.
He got in a car together with Sergio and Alberto, as always pursued by fans requesting autographs for their whole family. Some people ask him to sign as many as ten items! While entering the car driven by Alain Gallopin, Alberto spotted Roger and waved hello.
We then drove to the Dauphiné Village where I had the very nice surprise to meet my old friend Henry Anglade, an ex pro rider, who was twice champion of France and won the Dauphiné in 1959, exactly 50 years ago. Henry used to know very well my uncle, who was a sports journalist and covered the Tour de France and other major races for more than 20 years for French national TV.
On our way to the team bus parking area we saw Vincent Lavenu, sports director of AG2R, and I asked him for a photo to post on the website since I wrote about him and his Little Women the day before yesterday.
In front of the Astana buses, the first riders to go were already warming up and I could take some nice pictures of Tomas Vaikus.
Alberto was, of course, the last to go and he used his new time trial bike, a prototype for the Tour de France, for warming up. Everybody wanted to take a picture of that new bike.
We then went to the departure point to see Alberto take off, and grab a few more photos, before heading for our hotel to try and catch the end of the stage on TV (unfortunately the race organizers hadn't set up any race reporting facility at the departure site!).
Tomorrow we have an appointment with the triplets (the three sisters who operate Yaroslav Popovych's website) to go together to the summit of Mont Ventoux, which is always a great experience.
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Contdor warms up before the Stage 4 TT (photoKahane)
Alberto stops for a good-morning photo (photoKahane)
Tuesday, June 9: In Dijon and Tournus, Third Stage Critérium du Dauphiné 2009
In my yesterday's report I forgot to recount my chat with Vincent Lavenu, the very nice manager of the Savoie region team AG2R.
We met Vincent Lavenu three years ago at the departure of the Critérium du Dauphiné 2006 in Annecy. He was pushing a pram with a three-week old very cute baby called Nina. Liz Kreutz was bewitched with that baby, and I took a nice picture of Liz holding tiny Nina.
Vincent told me he fathered a second one-year old girl called Victoria, by his second wife.
Both girls are tomboys and not easy to deal with. As a matter of fact, little Victoria is not N°2 but N°4 because Vincent has two big girls by his first wife, but nevertheless seems tremendously happy with his four “little women”.
This morning we saw a bit of blue sky and sunshine. Although our hotel was very close to Astana's, we kept losing our way, and it took us more time than normal to get there. Roger keeps disagreeing with Jane, the English voice of his GPS who, he says, is very dumb!
Most riders of the five teams staying at the same hotel were still at breakfast when we got there. We spotted Cadel Evans at the front door and I asked him for a photo, but when he saw the “Contador” inscription on my white T-shirt he said “Hum! Contador” and that didn't bring a smile to his lips, though he accepted grudgingly to pose!
Alberto, as always with his faithful roommate Jesus in tow, posed for a morning photo and said “hasta luego” because he knows we'll follow the whole Dauphiné (if we are not too tired, for this takes a lot of energy and we are not so young anymore!)
We attended the signature podium in Tournus, departure of the 3rd stage leading to Saint-Etienne, and then headed for Valence where the teams are settling for two days. Staying for two consecutive nights in the same hotel is a luxury and the riders and staff appreciate it for it saves them from the painstaking job of packing and unpacking.
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Hum! Cadel Evans makes time to pose with a Contador fan (photoKahane)
Monday, June 8: Third day in Nancy, Second Stage Critérium du Dauphiné 2009
Another day of very unsettled weather was starting when we reached the Astana hotel. The Boys were just finishing breakfast and we could chat a few minutes with adorable Dr. Pedro. He is a real father to all the riders and takes very good care of them.
We spotted Alberto on the way back to his room, which he shares with Baby Jesus, while he was thanking the hotel staff for their good care of the team. He stopped by us, said: “que tal” and very graciously signed some postards of Nancy I had prepared for some friends of the Alberto Contador Notebook.
Alberto is very relaxed, cool and smiling, happy with yesterday's second place in the time trial. I noticed that he always takes his time when he signs, and writes with great attention and care. One can see he is a perfectionist.
Roger and I then drove to the departure site in the center of Nancy. At 9:30 AM, the first teams started arriving and the riders rode their bikes to the signature podium. We could take some great photos of Cadel Evans in yellow, Alejandro Valverde, Ivan Basso, Tom Boonen and of all the Astana boys. The crowd was not too big because it was a workday.
Among the Astana riders, Tomas Vaitkus is always first everywhere: to the breakfast table in the morning as well as to the signature podium, a trait we have noticed several times over the years. So Tomas arrived before his teammates. I have a soft spot for him because he reminds me of my own son who looks like him physically and is also a bit of a loner.
A few minutes later Alberto arrived with his other teammates, except for one who had transit problems and had to remain in the bus until the departure time.
Alberto looked very handsome wearing the green jersey, and I told him so. He took the time to pose for many fans and to sign a lot of autographs. At that point I remembered that although I made him often sign for my friends, I don't have a single autograph by Alberto!
Some people could not believe they were allowed to approach so closely many very famous riders. The Dauphiné is a Tour de France rehearsal without the stress of a grand tour, but with all the celebrities. This is why it is our favourite race.
Alberto and Tomas were standing next to each other on the presentation/signature podium, each wearing his specific jersey: Alberto “muy guapo en verde”, and Tomas very handsome too, in his national Lituanian road champion outfit.
We left Nancy at the same time as the peloton and followed all the team buses on the highway leading to Dijon, where it was raining cats and dogs once more. We always think of the poor riders who must bear such hostile weather conditions.
After watching the end of the stage on TV, we drove to Astana's Dijon hotel, also housing Silence Lotto, Quick Step and others. There we came across Alberto, all by himself, rolling his suitcase. He looked perfectly dry and clean in his Astana outfit and said “Hola, que tal, llueve mucho!”(Hi, how are you doing, it's really raining!). But this did not seem to bother him. He was in as good a mood as ever. Valentin was already waiting for him for a one-hour long good massage.
Finally, as we were leaving the hotel we bumped into Cadel Evans who was keeping his yellow jersey dry under a Kway.
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Christine thinks green suits Contador. (photoKahane)
Sunday, June 7: Second day in Nancy, First Stage Critérium du Dauphiné 2009
Alberto on the rollers before the prologue (photoKahane)
We woke up to another morning of drenching rain, and our first thought was for the poor riders who would have to perform their individual time trial on a slippery and dangerous inner-city circuit.
After a short stop at the Astana hotel to say hello to everybody, we drove to the center of town to pick up a copy of the Road Book, and the various riders' departure times, from the Dauphiné Press Room set up on the premises of Nancy University.
We took advantage of the free time ahead of us to visit Nancy's beautiful old town and take some photos.
Contrary to most provincial French towns, Nancy was very lively this Sunday, because of the European elections taking place, as well as the departure of the Critérium du Dauphiné, an important seven-day race considered as a prologue to the Tour de France.
At midday we went to the Dauphiné Village where Thierry Cazeneuve, manager of the Critérium, gave his usual speech.
Just before 3 p.m the team buses arrived and the group of Astana riders, led by their leader, went on a reconnaissance of the 12 km long time-trial circuit.
The rain had stopped by then, and there was even a bit of sunshine when the riders started to train on the rollers.
We kept running from the team bus, to the departure ramp, to the time-trial circuit, and managed to take some nice pictures.
Of course you only get a fleeting glimpse of the riders during their trial, but Alberto appeared very fit and focused, as usual, but so too did Cadel Evans, who beat him by 7 seconds. Haimar Zubeldia and Sergio Paulinho deserve a mention as well.
Alberto, and the whole team, are happy with his second place (as well as with Roger Federer's victory at the French Open. They were all watching the finals in the bus while waiting for their turn to go on the departure ramp. Roland Garros is located at a ten-minute walk from where we live.)
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Alberto lets fly in Nancy (photoKahane)
Saturday, June 6: First day in Nancy, departure of the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré 2009
Alberto, Christine and Jesús (photoKahane)
It was pouring rain and chilly when we reached Team Astana's hotel in Nancy. We were told by Craig that Alberto and Baby Jesus (nickname of Jesús Hernandez) were the only riders who were already there, having arrived the night before. The other riders were due in the afternoon. They all transited through Paris where the Astana bus was to collect them. It's a four-hour trip from Paris to Nancy.
At lunch time, Alberto and Jesús came out and I could take some nice pictures. I had a few words with Alberto, explaining we would accompany the team for several days to report for the Alberto Contador Notebook. Then I introduced the website to Jesús Hernandez, who said he and Alberto were neighbours, and that they train together. Jesús is 27, not married, but has a novia (girlfriend).
Presently Alejandro Valverde came out of a Caisse d'Epargne car, rolling his suitcase to the lobby where he met with his two fellow Spanish riders and they had a friendly chat together.
Four teams are staying in the same hotel.
Then Dirk Demol arrived by car from Bruges, and later on the big Astana bus, driven by Valentin, reached Nancy with Tomas Vaitkus on board looking very handsome (he has just become an uncle for the first time, his young sister having given birth two months ago to a baby girl), Benjamin Noval, who explained that Benjamin Junior (who will turn one in September) got his first name following in the footsteps of five generations of Benjamins, and Haimar Zubeldia, who finished the Tour of Cataluña in a very good position and looked happy.
A little while later, a car driven by Elvio brought the two Kazakhs (Sergey Renev and Alexandr Dyachenko) and Sergio Paulinho.
Less than half an hour later, an Astana group, led by Alberto, left for a training ride on the roads around Nancy, taking advantage of the fact that the rain had stopped.
But Tomas Vaitkus and Sergey Rebev chose to practise on the rollers instead, as did Alejandro Valverde (all on his own) in front of the Caisse d'Epargne bus. Alejandro told me his twin boys who are a year and a half old are very well and both walking.
I noticed that whenever you ask a rider about his family, you make him happy.
Meanwhile we had a chat with Craig, whose quasi-bald head, the result of a close encounter with some badly adjusted hair clippers, is starting to recover some fuzz, and to Valentin who lost weight because of a cerveza helada that kept him three days in bed.
A few moments later it started pouring rain again and we had a thought for our Boys who were getting drenched to the skin training on the road. Professional cycling is a very tough job.
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Olympic silver medalist Sergio Paulinho is a super-gregario (photoKahane)