A TdF 2004 Special

By Kirsten Begg
Cycling Historian









A CR/OLN/CCB Tour de France Exclusive


Hotel: #1

July 2, 2004 

Odometer: 600 km

Liege, Belgium

TDF riders seen: 0

Day: 5

Stage: (-1)

After many months of preparation OLN is finally here in Belgium putting the final touches on our TV trucks and getting ready for tomorrow’s prologue. Most of us arrived here early Tuesday morning and we’ve been pretty busy since then. Yesterday we recorded the last in the weekly series “Road to the Tour” that’s followed Lance and 5 other contenders since April and today we switch to our real Tour trucks to tape tonight’s Preview Show.

Having a couple of shows to do before the race starts is a good way to get up and running and ready for when the race starts.

There are plenty of new things this year. Each year we are a year wiser in all things Tour-related – whether it’s beefing up the programming schedule (we have a lot more programming this year), hiring new talent (Al Trautwig, Paul Hochman, Hans Rey, Craig Hummer and the Cutters are all added) or getting your PC hooked up for WiFi so that you don’t have to arm-wrestle someone for the only available Ethernet cable. The viewers get better programming and we hopefully get a small break that makes the difference when you’re on the road for a month.

It’s my 5th Tour and personally it started well: I got upgraded to business class on our Air France flight. Then I got to Paris.

Skoda, the official car provider for the Tour, is also providing our “rental” cars, only thing was they were at a garage in Paris so we all had to schlep into Paris in cabs through the rush hour jam and around the peripherique to a Skoda dealer. When we got our cars we then had to drive back right past the airport and 4 hours up the road to just outside Liege were we have been camped out since Tuesday night. Improvement this year on cars: we have GPS units – “Silicon Susie” we have called ours – which help to ease the navigation nightmare as we drive around France at all hours of the day and night.

I say camped but we are actually at a great hotel (Le Butte aux Bois) in a village called Lanaken right on the border with the Netherlands. It has got to be the nicest hotel we have been in in the history of OLN at the Tour, the food is great and the setting is very relaxing. Not sure if that’s a good thing as once the Tour gets going and we are changing hotels every day it might come as a bit of a shock. Anyway we are enjoying it while it lasts – today is the last day – tomorrow the slog around France begins.

The crew is huge this year – 83 of us, divided between those that go to the start line (Frankie Andreu and his crew), those who are out on the road (Kirsten Gum, Hans Rey and the Cutters etc) and then the majority of us who go directly to the finish line of each stage to hole up in one of the 3 TV trucks we have and produce the shows. My first Tour with OLN, in 2002, we had a crew of 35. Last year, with the addition of the Pre-Race Show we grew to 50. This year the new Roadside Tour show has increased our numbers by another 33 – almost double the crew from 2 years ago. I think we’ve really got the mix of talent (hosts) right this year and the Roadside Tour show has great potential to be funny and delve into aspects of being in France in July that haven't been covered before. Paul Hochman for one is a hoot – always get a good laugh from him.

Today was the first day in the trucks we will use for the next 3 weeks – including the swanky new set truck where the set lifts hydraulically up out of the truck bed to a height of about 20 ft above the TV compound - so while preparing for tonight’s show everyone has been settling in and making sure they have what they need.

\I spent most of the morning working on the script for the Preview Show and then the big challenge – getting the printer to work. That’s all that matters really – getting the scripts printed and getting the show done. More minor things like getting Internet access will come once the crucial stuff is in place.

So far we’ve only had 2 people put diesel in their gas-powered cars (Al T. and Brian P.) or vice versa and only had 2 vehicles broken into. The Roadside Tour crew got hit last night. Kirsten Gum’s car got broken into and the edit truck for the Cutters was raided and all the laptops were stolen. Cathy Cooper, the Cutters producer, lost her laptop – her Tour is not getting off to a good start as she is still waiting for her luggage to arrive. She is wearing borrowed clothes and heading to the Mall for some undies. Now her laptop has gone AWOL so she needs a break in her luck.

It’s all kind of par for the course – you really have to just go with the flow over here. There’s always challenges to getting the work done – which in a way is part of the “enjoyment” – mixed in amongst some great experiences, some long days and greater laughs.

That’s all for now.
More later


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Kirsten Begg (L), Kirsten Gum (R) in the office. Click picture for larger version.