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If you’re a journalist working on the Tour de France and ask nicely, you are allowed the immense privilege of seeing the race from the vantage point of the back of a motorbike embedded within the race convoy.
I don’t need to tell you how incredible an experience this is, being so close to the riders that, in the pre-COVID days, you could reach out and lick them (OK, even pre-COVID you still probably couldn’t do that).
But this isn’t another piece documenting ‘what a day on the motorbike at the Tour de France is like’. For one, both Sophie Smith and Kate Wagner have written excellent articles on the subject already.
Instead, I will share one anecdote, something you almost definitely didn’t see in the television coverage of stage 7 from Tomblaine to La Super Planche des Belles Filles.
Before I got on the motorbike in the morning, my editor Caley gave me the idea to try and follow a rider doing one simple yet objectively remarkable thing, like collecting bottles from the team car or returning to the bunch after a mechanical, and write about it in such excruciating detail that no one ever need write about it again.
Unfortunately, the Tour de France as viewed from the road doesn’t work like that. The sheer mayhem and number of vehicles competing for space on the road means instances of action are viewed in the blink of an eye. You receive a snapshot of a moment before hopefully learning later on how that particular thread of today’s story unfolded.
However, as we were skulking around the back of the peloton, trying to find something extraordinarily ordinary going on, things suddenly came juddering to a halt. I half-fell into the back of my motorbike driver who, during a break by the side of the road, informed me very matter-of-factly that, for the other 11 months of the year not spent driving journalists around France, he is a member of the riot police somewhere south of Paris.
Things came to a stop for us because they’d come to a stop for those ahead. More slowly than the breakneck speeds we’d been travelling at previously, we continued on our way. An EF rider was off his bike, stopped by the team car accepting a new machine. Next, a UAE car with two riders bent double, bikes laid down. “What’s happened there?” I wondered. “A big crash? How will this affect Pogačar’s GC tilt?”
Instead, I very quickly realised I’d mistaken their injury for voluntary incontinence, as the road ahead emptied of vehicles. Suddenly we were making our way through a section of the course lined with riders of the Tour de France merrily pissing up a storm into the ditches of the French countryside.
What I’d mistaken for UAE Team Emirates riders crouched in pain was simply the position one has to take while trying to pull down their bib shorts in order to take a leak. All around us, riders were bent double, hurriedly pissing away the fluids they’d forced into their system during a relentless first hour of racing.
Riders of all shapes, sizes, nationalities and abilities partook, taking advantage of the fact that the yellow jersey himself had paused to relieve himself, as the peloton would never distance the leader of the race in such a manner.
What I will say about Pogačar is that while he may indeed emit excellence on a bike, as it were, he also emits excellently. Never have I seen such a strong stream in all of my life.
Ah, all I know is that maybe when the Tour organisers ASO see this, stage 7 of the 2022 Tour de France may have been my first and my last time watching the race from the motorbike.