This is a guest post by Mr.Q, a quizmaster by profession and a passionate traveller…
Monaco turns yellow!!
Since finding a place to stay was being very expensive ( had visions of coming back home after 2 days if we were to stay at a reasonable Hotel in the city!!!), we had found a place at Nice to stay. Nice to Monaco is just around 20 minutes by train. And when we reached the station in the morning is when we found that the entire France & the Tour fans like us had all thought the same way!! So with over 20,000 people trying to get into Monaco on trains – it was just like Mumbai sub-urban days. And though there is no pushing & shoving, it was just like rush hour at Churchgate.
Once in Monte Carlo, the size of the city / country makes you wonder how, such a small place – in terms of area, can have such a high priced economy. The City of the Tax Avoiders, celebrities & high income earners in Europe – who plan to avoid paying taxes in their country (some would call it Tax planning!!) make this city their home and the Jetset lifestyle is there for all to see as the showrooms of Maybach, Rolls Royce, Ferrari, Ferretti, …etc all vie for space on the main street.
The Tour organizers had ensured perfect arrangements for the Grand Departure of the cyclists. With volunteers standing at all junctions and route maps being handed out, it was very good crowd arrangements. The Grand stand, the Departure stage & the AV arrangements to see the Race LIVE on giant screens were impeccable.
For the tour fan in me – it was sheer delight to meet DIETER “DIDI” SENFT, the Tour Devil or “El Diablo” in real life. This German speaking guy is the same chap who has been chasing cyclists since 1993 on the roads. Though I tried my best to get him to say a word in English, he maintained that he does not understand any other language except German!!
Didi, is a Guinness world record holder for the biggest cycle which he built for himself. He was a cyclist who tried to make it big, but couldn’t and for the last 19 years, he dresses up as the devil with his fork in his hand and cheers the cyclists by madly running & shouting at them as they go by. To some he is crazy, to some he is rude, to some he is the limelight seeker, but trust me – he is a Celebrity and a much photographed entity on the tour.
After spending 10 minutes with him, while I was crossing the street, I had a group walking with me who were recounting how Didi was sent to jail in Switzerland for painting his fork on the road.
As we were scouting for a place to stand and watch the race, we were walking up the hill from the stating point around three hours before the start when we heard chants of allez, allez…and who do we see coming up the road – the one and only Lance Armstrong in his Astana team jersey with just a single police escort doing a trail run. Watching him cycle past, standing up and beginning his campaign is a moment frozen in my all time lists.
The commercial aspects of the tour are apparent to all the moment one steps out of the station. Its branding & fight for space all over. With over 34 brands associated Officially, its one huge marketing exercise.
The Race began on time and the 1st stage was the time trail where all riders are on their own. The course was 15kms and with several uphill climbs & run on the same route where the F1 race is run. For the record, Fabian Cancellara of Saxo bank team won the Stage, and became the first wearer of the Yellow Jersey. Lance Armstrong, came in 10th – a fantastic result for him, coming back after 3 years of retirement. Team Astana looks really strong with 4 top 10 spots.
And finally, 20 teams have lined up at the start with 180 riders searching for their spot of glory, unlike the 21 teams with 189 riders which traditionally starts of every year.
The Race departs from Monaco for Brignoles a distance of 182 kms in stage II. Tomorrow, the teams will start to show their might…