2012 Tour de France–Prologue/Day 1

Yesterday we woke up around 7AM to catch our 8AM train from Paris to Liege (in Belgium).  That’s the beauty of high speed trains – quick and efficient transport while relaxing at roughly 200 MPH (or about 300MPH).  Oh, and with both WiFi and power outlets.

Around 10AM we arrived in Liege station – which is a massive structure that you probably saw on TV 48 times over the past few days during TdF coverage.  Really impressive architecturally.

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A short five or so minute walk from there was the start and finish area of the prologue (as well as start area of Stage 1).  In case your already confused, the prologue is effectively Stage 0, and Stage 1 is…well…yeah, it’s odd.  This year the prologue was an individual time trial (ITT) – which is different from a TTT, or Team Time Trial.  In this stage, it was every man for himself (of course, there is still a team ranking aspect afterwards).  All six kilometers of it.  Yup, the stage was only 6K long, pretty short.  The top rider would finish it in 7 minutes.

Within the start area it was more like a village.  And within this area contained the team busses.  They were spread out in a pretty vast circle, roughly the size/length of two full-size 400m tracks if you put them together.

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As you walked around the team busses and vehicles you could get a fairly close look at most of the bikes.  I’m not a huge bike-spec person, but rather more of a technology person (as you would have guessed by now).  So I was on the lookout for things that may not have made it to market yet, or may be on the verge of it.  For example, I was surprised to see a bike outfitted with Polar/Look’s new Keo pedal-based power meter.  I knew some riders had been wearing them at various events, but still, interesting to see it on at least one bike (the rest of the team – Cofidis – didn’t seem to have them on).

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They were using the standard CS600x with them.

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Next at the Team Garmin-Sharp camp were two 3T aerobar attachment mounts.  The first was a modular unit that I’ve seen before, and is recently available out on the market today.

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The second one was a aerobar bridge that’s molded into the aerebar itself, and then a Garmin Edge unit mount is rubber banded onto it.

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It should be noted that on the second day (Stage 1), they were not using the new 3T ‘aerodynamic’ Garmin Edge holders.  Just the standard box-included rubber bands.  Below, a picture from Stage 1 on the road bikes.

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Speaking of Garmin items, don’t be confused/misled by the Garmin Vector branded pedals that you’ll see riders have on their bikes this Tour.

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They aren’t the Vector system, they’re just branded pedals.  The Team has been using them since roughly January (that’s about when it started) – though there’s no Vector pod (see my detailed Vector post on what’s all supposed to be there).  Personally, I think this is a bit misleading, since tons of folks seem to think they’re real and being used by the team, when in reality – they’re not being used in races.  It only furthers questions about “When it Vector being released?”, to which the answer currently is one of perpetual delay.

Moving onto trainers (about the only other unique thing that was visible to me) – it’s clear that Tacx trainers are easily the most popular when it comes to what the pro teams use pre-race near the busses.  The vast majority of team warm-up areas were using them.

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I did see one team using Elite Trainers:

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And one group (Team Garmin-Sharp) using LeMond Revolution trainers.  Others may have been using other trainer brands, but just didn’t have them out at the time I wandered through.

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Finally on the tech front, last but not least – I thought you might find the timing chip systems interesting, these are on all of the riders bikes (though not the bikes on the team cars for quick-swaps):

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Before get into the racing, here’s a handful more pics from around the team vans:

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After I was done touring the busses, we watched the “Caravan”, which is effectively a high speed parade.  I’ve got TONS of photos from this, and a super-long video of nearly the whole thing (I didn’t quite expect it to last almost an hour, so my battery died before the end).  But, I’m going to save that for later in the week as a standalone post.  Here’s a fun photo to tide you over:

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With that, race time!

The 6.4KM ITT course was an out and back of sorts, sorta like a lollipop.  This was great for spectators as we could hang-out in one spot and easily catch folks going both ways.  With starts spaced about every 60 seconds apart, it meant near-constant action.

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Where we first stood in the stage, we were within about 800 meters of the finish line – thus folks were pretty much pushing it as hard as possible.  However, it was interesting to note the aerodynamic differences in the riders.  For example, the next two folks (like a handful of others we saw) were some of the more tame examples of aero helmet tails stuck up in the area.

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Of course, the recent unveiling last week of the new tail-less Giro helmet, helps to remove this issue almost entirely.  You can see it below on Team Garmin-Sharp.  Note the lack of ‘tail’ to the helmet.

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Though, you wouldn’t be able to notice the difference from the front:

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But the lack of new-fangled helmets certainly didn’t stop others from holding good aero positions – like below:

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I thought it was ironic that two Team Rabobank riders (spaced a number of minutes apart), both with names that started with “T” (Tankink and Tjallingii), and both Dutch – came flying by with nearly identical expressions:

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Here, let me zoom in a bit more:

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And his team-mate (note the different name on the car behind him):

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After a bit of time we moved up closer to the 1KM left marker – which is always designated by a large inflatable structure spanning the roadway.

At this point, the riders were completing a relatively shallow turn onto the straight-away that I was taking photos of earlier.

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We wandered about the course some more, but ultimately found our last great spot at the finish area itself.  Had this been a regular non-ITT stage, this would have likely been a bit more packed with people waiting for the final sprint.  But with over 3 hours of ITT action, it was pretty easy to see here.

Which, reminds me – all of these photos were taken as a regular spectator.  No media/press or VIP pass.  Just me on the sidelines.

And, while I’m at it, I want to send out a huge thanks to Nikon (camera folks).  They sent me a massive package of gear to try out for this weekend.  A new Nikon D4 DSLR, along with three lenses; a 14-24mm, 24-70mm and a 70-200mm.  Almost all of the above shots were from those cameras, especially most of the on-course ones.  Like I often do, I was switching camera-bodies a bit to allow me to quickly change focal length.  But all of the really sweet ITT ones above are from the Nikon unit.

From a camera perspective, I loved what I was getting out of the combo between the lenses and the camera.  Obviously having only had it a few days and coming from a Canon background, I’m still in a bit of a learning curve on it.  I was literally on the side of the course at the end of the caravan/parade with my phone pulling up the PDF manual to figure out how to get certain settings.  But once I got each one – I was in business.  I’m looking forward to playing with the built-in Ethernet (network) connection over the coming days for a few product review shots, but don’t otherwise expect a review of it or the camera, primarily since it’s really out of my area of focus (it would be like me reviewing fridges, I love the food that comes out of them, but know nothing about them).

Anyway, back to the finish line area – here, at the 25 meter marker:

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And here, at about the -2.5 meter marker.

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However, what was probably even cooler was about a 100 or so meters later, after the riders had finished and slowed down: A long corridor of fans that the riders and team vehicles would slowly navigate:

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This allowed tons of up-close photos:

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In fact, many of these photos here were taken by The Girl (that’s her above).  Cool stuff.

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(No, nobody around us was clear on why he’s was still in aero some minutes after his finish – but hey, perhaps he just likes aero position)

In some cases, the riders would go ahead and stop a bit to talk to the media:

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With that, we finished up our day as well and headed to the train to catch a ride to a nearby town for the night (much cheaper!).  Of course, first, we stopped along the way to get a waffle.  While more generally this would be a Belgian Waffle, this technically is a Luikse waffle, which is specifically from Liege (the town were the race was).

It may look burnt, but that’s actually caramelized sugar which is hardened on there.  It’s really rather brilliant.  I’m considering adding it to other food groups I consume – you know, like pasta, apples and scrambled eggs.  I see no reason to limit it to Luikse.

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And now – onwards to Day 2 (Stage 1), more tomorrow!

13 Comments

  1. LL

    Great pictures, Ray! Pretty cool that you got there just in time to enjoy the TDF.

    And those waffles...I guess we'll have to make due with Stingers over here.

    Reply
  2. It's funny to see you mixing Luik and Liège.
    Luik is the Dutch (Flemish if you want) name for Liège.
    So actually you had "Luikse wafels" or "gaufres de Liège".
    Also, there is something like "Brusselse wafels" or "gaufres de Bruxelles".
    And if The Girl feels like some experimenting: link to gaufresbelges.com
    It's in French and uses the metric system, so a nice and delicious way to learn a new language/measuring system!

    Reply
  3. Anonymous

    Great coverage, no special report on the Liege's night life ;-)
    This is a real chance for Liege to host stages 0 & 1. And the start of stage 2 will be close by, in Visé.
    I have never seen the downtown so crowded. The atmosphere was really great, and according to Spartacus (Fabio Cancellara), he said: “it’s like racing on a velodrome, the public was so noisy”
    Yesterday, along stage 1, a massive public all the way long.
    For your checklist, in Liege area, do no miss Liege-Bastogne-Liege in April.

    Reply
  4. thanks ray!

    and can you please please please send me some of those waffles???

    Reply
  5. Awesome Pics Ray! Looks like you guys are immediately immersing yourselves into the culture there. Some great fun there.

    Reply
  6. ken

    It is great to have a buddy front and center at the tour. Keep up the good reporting.

    Reply
  7. DC nice to see some pics on the Tour, good photograps, thanks !!

    Reply
  8. Great photos. Can you say a little about what it is like to see racing at this level? I've observed a pro/1/2 race that was a mix of stateside pros, a few international ones and strong amateurs. It was eye opening to witness just how hard they threw it down and the pro-tour level is a notch higher.

    Curious if it was a bit awe inspiring and if it was different than you might have imagined.

    Reply
  9. Great report and terrific pics, Ray. Your tech report is so much better than any info Liggett and Co. provide to us stateside viewers. And having viewed a couple of stages of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge last year and probably this, it's great to read a report from a "non-professional" observer. Much more interesting — and valuable — than the NBC sponsor shills.

    Looking forward to reading more of your TDF coverage.

    Reply
  10. Great pictures and coverage Ray! Those two Rabo guys totally look like they're doing a Venom (from Spiderman) impression.

    Reply
  11. MMMMM....those waffles. I'm guessing regular waffles + sugar (as mentioned) + broiler = yums?

    Reply
  12. Jos

    Great to read your Tour review! I just wanted to say that this guy Tjallingii (dutch guy) broke his hip yesterday, but did finish the stage anyway. after that they found he broke his hip!

    Keep up the good work and always great to read your blog! Wish you the best in Paris!

    Reply
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    Reply

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