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The International succumbs to the battle of the bulge
By Rupert Guinness, Of The Australian
The 47km mark of Friday’s sixth stage will mean a lot more to six membersof the Tour entourage. Possibly more than what it will for those riderswho will race across it to contest the first of the day’s three intermediatesprints.Sure, the mark may see German Erik Zabel’s narrow lead in the sprinters’green jersey competition come under siege. Or it may be where the day’swinning break will escape.But when the Tour races towards the PMU banner in the town of Les Andelysin Normandy, the hearts of six among the media will be racing – hopefullynot at tachycardiac levels!One of the most picturesque towns of the Seine valley inhabited by 8400 people and nestled beneath the ruins of Chateau Gaillard, Les Andelys iswhere one of the least known but ugliest battles on two wheels traditionally finishes.The Grand Prix Paris-Les Andelys International was a 100km race betweentwo teams of cycling journalists held in 1994 and 1995 on the eve of theParis-Tours
World Cup. One team represented the French sports daily, L’Equipe,the other the English-speaking media with nothing else better to do theday before Paris-Tours than take up the challenge, tempted by promisesof a free lunch and drinks to those who won.For L’Equipe, there was its cycling editor Philippe Bouvet, aformer elite amateur with AS Corbeil-Essonnes, a rouleur he says, andson of 1956 Paris-Tours champion Albert Bouvet; bike race driver ChristianBiville, a former professional with the Fagor-Mercier and Kamome teamsin the late 1960s; and motorbike driver Jacques Garcia, a champion of allsorts, but only “in his mind” says Bouvet.The Anglo-Saxons were VeloNews photographer Graham Watson, whoonce rode for the same cycling club as Sean Yates “but not very well,”he says; English journalist William Fortheringham from The Guardiannewspaper with a bit of Garcia in him – still has, they say; andyours truly, Rupert Guinness – say no more.To say we were underdone for both editions of Paris-Les Andelys wasan understatement. The French, they had years of having tried to beat eachother up. All we had to bond us were lunches, dinners, and a few drinksbefore, during and after the ride.Against us too was every rule imaginable and made up from the momentwe arrived in Paris with bikes in hand and a smiling but very sinisterBouvet waiting to take us to our “team” hotel, to when we crossedthe finish line in a heap.Bouvet et al tried to ruin our every hope (not that we thoughtwe had one). At the pre-race dinner, glasses were plentifully filledwith beer, then wine and finally grappa. Then they were filled allover again … beer, wine and grappa.Little wonder we woke the next day with heads as heavy as a thick fallfog, wondering just what the hell we were doing. Little wonder eitherthat once the race began Bouvet, Biville and the rat-cunning Garcia wouldtake short cuts from the moment the race began – no matter that the oneand only rule laid down was that the neutralized zone went for 50km.That, we discovered, was only to lure us down the narrow, hilly and windblown Norman roads to the point of no return. That we still won therace – in 1994 and 1995 – left the French as red faced in embarrassmentas we were for our efforts. It also reminded us that we should quit whileahead.Sadly, the race has since returned to its origins as the Grand PrixParis-Les Andelys National – for the simple fact that us tight-wadAnglo-Saxons sensed our form would not last – if form is what youcould call the forces that helped us win.The French, they have never forgotten nor forgiven such a move. Theywere ready for a comeback, they said. They wanted the re-match, they demanded.To be honest, we reckon they just wanted a chance to strip us of everyfranc (now Euro) and pay up for those two very free and very drunken meals. If looks could kill, Bouvet, Biville and Garcia see the win they neverhad and never will get whenever they see us in the Tour press room today.Us? We see common sense.That alone should remind us to simply smile, refill our glasses andsay cheers when the French start chirping – as they will – about racingthe International one more time.