We set out for the “Arrive” in Oyonnax at 8:15 a.m. after a quick VIP Spectator Team photo. We said so long to the couple of dozen Thomson Tour cyclists who were heading out for a full day of climbing. God bless them.
It took several hours to drive to the plastic and comb capitol of France. Oyonnax is not picturesque. It looks like the kind of planned, sterile manufacturing towns that sprang up in the 1960s and 70s. We had a good lunch and then focused on le Tour. We walked to the VIP area near the finish line. Gone are the clouds, rain and cool temperatures of the first 10 stages. Today felt like I was home in Davis, California: hot, very hot.
Our zany tour guide Jacinta arranged for a “behind the scenes” tour with Valentina. She allowed us to walk out and take photos on the finish line. We bumped into Greg LeMond and James from Minneapolis had a good conversation with him. She also made sure we got photos from the official VIP photographer and champagne in the viewing area.
One of my goals was to find out more about the sponsor liaisons or podium girls. Today was a relatively quiet finish (far fewer spectators) so access to the sponsor liaisons was relatively easy. One of the PMU green jersey sponsor liaisons, Lisa, spoke English and answered my questions. I asked if it is competitive to become a liaison. She said no, she just applied and had an interview. Later on the bus Kris and Tony joked that they will apply and I added, you also need to be devastatingly beautiful. Tony and Kris laughed and admitted that this took them out of the competition. (Then there is the gender difference.) Did I mention that they are all very tall?
Lisa’s colleague is a model but she is not. She started with the Tour when it came to France. She only represents PMU and the green jersey. There are other PMU liaisons because in the 7 stages in France she has only cheek-kissed Peter Sagan twice. (Sagan has held the green jersey since England.) Two of her other colleagues presented the jersey today and rocked the Star Trek inspired dresses. My favorite costumes are definitely the King of the Mountain sponsor Carrefour (French grocery stores)—those infamous red polka dots.
I always wondered how the podium girls worked. Was it like the Pasadena Rose Parade court? Or were they local girls? In George Hincapie’s new book, The Loyal Lieuntenant, he describes meeting his wife on the podium. He felt an electric shock when she kissed his cheek and pursued her in spite of the sponsor’s frowning on relationships between liaisons and riders. She described her experience in his book: “I had done the Tour (and Paris-Nice too) in 2002, and the custom was you got on year as a sponsor liaison and then moved on. (The casting process was quite intense, starting with over eighty girls who were eventually whittled down to only four.) But two weeks before the 2003 Tour, the head of Credit Lyonnais called and said that a couple of the main sponsors had asked if I could come back and take part in another year. It was just fate that I was on that stage…”
I also enjoyed watching the press zone after the race. They created a kind of cattle chute for the riders to walk through and pause for interviews and photos before heading into the trailer studio for video interviews. No chance for getting signatures.
The inspirational story of the day was Andrew Talansky of Miami, Florida. He deserves a dedicated post.