By Graham Jones
and Barry Boyce

CyclingRevealed Historians



Tour de France Champions Living and Dead







CyclingRevealed's First Impressions '07

Stage 10 - July 18th, Tallard to Marseille, 229.5 km

Ice-Cold in Alex

With the thermometer hovering around 100 degF (38degC) the peloton today was in for a baking hot ride under a merciless sun blazing down from a pristine blue sky. This second longest stage of the Tour is scripted as flat and thus ideally suited to the sprinters and ‘rouleurs'. Having survived the Alps , today's race will be dominated by riders who most recently have been spending their days in the ‘autobus'.

A long desert trek separates these WWII characters from a cold beer!

Sylvia Syms is doing little to cool down the overheated John Mills!

On a scorching hot day like today film buffs will be reminded of the 1958 British film classic “ Ice-Cold in Alex”. This famous World War II yarn tells the story of an ambulance crew separated from their unit in 1942 Libya . The small group of characters (including John Mills, Anthony Quayle and Sylvia Syms) are forced to cross the open desert in a dramatic attempt to reach the safety of British held Alexandria in Egypt . Anson (Mills character) is suffering from battle fatigue and motivates himself and the others by inviting his colleagues to a cold lager in Alexandria (‘Alex'). Under the desert sun the sweating, salt caked crew, are driven along by Anson who has them all dreaming of a beer "so ruddy cold there's a sort of dew on the outside of the glass".

Many of the riders today were probably dreaming of “Ice-Cold in Marseille” as they roasted under the sun. Their agony was amplified by the fact that today's “flat” stage in fact included two Cat 4 climbs and two Cat 3 climbs with lots of leg sapping rollers and sinuous roads in between.

In former Tour times such days created numerous colorful images of riders finding creative ways to beat the heat. Before the advent of Spandex and high tech wicking clothing, race shorts and shirts were made of heavy wool. The shorts were lined with real chamois leather and this stuff along with the rest of the outfit would retain sweat and any spilt fluids in a most disgusting clammy manner. Many riders, even the stars, often had to carry spare tires wrapped around their shoulders to add to the general discomfort. For a while cabbage leaves were a popular accessory tucked under the race cap to protect the back of the neck from direct sun. Bars, fountains, ponds, rivers and even the sea would see swarms of riders diving in to grab cold water and drinks. For small bars and restaurants throughout France it was actually an honor to have Tour riders rush in and simply grab what they could and then disappear without paying a cent.

Ice-Cold beer at the Tour

On hot days cabbage leaves were fashionable accessories in 1957

Vintage Tour; Desperate for cold water

As with so much else, technology has robbed us of such wonderfully human experiences. While the modern clothing does its part, it is cutting edge hydration fluids delivered by radio control from team cars and motor bikes that has taken the fun out of ‘happy hour'! All a rider needs do is to place their drinks order over their portable intercom unit with the team car behind them. However all of this does not mean that today's riders have it any easier under such extremely hot conditions than their predecessors. What is does mean however is that spontaneous road side stops for refreshment are a thing of the past with one obvious result being much higher average race speeds.

Early on in the stage T-Mobile were making all the headlines. With 50kms covered Marcus Burghart slipped the field and rode off into the sun drenched country side. For the fans this was particularly noticeable because it was Burghart who catapulted over his handlebars yesterday when he hit a dog in the road.

But was Burghart's effort a direct reaction of sheer frustration to the news released a little earlier in the day that his teammate Patrik Sinkewitz had tested positive for testosterone from a June 8th test. Now laying in hospital after a crash in the Alps on Sunday, Sinkewitz denies any wrong doing. In line with their rigid anti-doping policies, T-Mobile immediately suspended the rider from the team. Sadly German TV made good on their threat that if any other drug cases emerged during the Tour then they would pull the plug on their coverage. This is a policy that can be debated at length but for good guys like their own fellow countrymen Linus Gerdemann and Jens Voigt this is a PR catastrophe.

Long 11 rider breakaway started by Marcus Burghardt [ Image ©: A.S.O. Photo ]

Luckily for Burghart 10 riders joined him and at 85kms they had 2 minutes on the roasting peloton. Amongst the leaders was one of the bravest and most aggressive riders in the race, big Jens Voigt (CSC). For company he had classics man Juan Antonio Flecha along with Paolo Bossoni (Lampre), Patrice Halgand (Credit Agricole), Sandy Casar (Française Des Jeux), Staf Scheirlinckx (Cofidis), Michal Albasini and Aleksandre Kuschynski (Liquigas), Cédric Vasseur (Quick Step - Innergetic) and Andriy Grivko (Milram)

With 56kms to go the break had 10m 41s on the peloton and with 31kms to go Voigt started the attrition process with the first attack out of the leading group. Cut and thrust parrying eventually saw five riders pull away and with 25kms to go Voigt, Casar, Albasini, Vasseur and Halgand looked to be the final selection. Unconcerned, the peloton was working on its sun tan nearly 13 minutes back.

In this situation you have to be a good man to beat the never-say-die Voigt. True to his reputation Voigt worked hard to soften the legs of his companions. But as the oldest of the group he had his work cut out to contain the frisky youngsters. A clean run in to the finish on nice wide roads opened up to a dead straight final kilometer which was perfect for their cat and mouse tactics. A tight sprint saw Cédric Vasseur (Quick Step - Innergetic) claim the victory from Casar and Albasini.

French stage winner Cedric Vasseur
[ Image ©: AFP Photo ]

About 10 minutes later Vasseur's teammates drove the bunch at full speed to bring their team leader Tom Boonen to the line first in his campaign to retain the Green Jersey. On the line even though Boonen was squeezed out by Sylvan Chavanel, he was still ahead of those immediately behind him in the Green Points competition.

For the weary Tour riders a welcome cool drink will be their day's reward. But sensitive athletes cannot luxuriate in a beer “so ruddy cold there's a sort of dew on the outside of the glass" as made famous in the film “Ice-Cold in Alex”!



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