I hope you too enjoyed the fourth of July, because we had a cracker of a day in Rotterdam.
We turned out in our hundreds of thousands, just hoping to glimpse you for a second. I know you were probably looking out for me, but if you did spot me across a crowded street, forgive me if I didn’t return your cheery wave. It was bedlam out there.
There was plenty of pre-match entertainment to keep us amused. You probably never see that, because you’re always in the team bus doing stretching exercises, getting massages and avoiding questions from the media, but if you sneak out in disguise one morning and have a wander around, I think you’ll enjoy what’s going on.
The cavalcade of advertisers’ vehicles began at 10am. There were lots of enthusiastic young ladies throwing things into the crowd. I think they’ll be more tired and grumpy by the time they get to the Alps, and the free merchandise may have run out by then, but we enjoyed it today.
In the People’s Park by the harbourfront, I had the chance to buy an official Tour de France package of ten items – cap, t-shirt, playing cards…excellent value at 20 euros the lot. However, the Rotterdam council was handing out free tour caps, so instead I joined the Dutch cheapskates queuing up for them.
There was then a slight lull in proceedings for an hour and a half while we waited for the race proper to start. I strolled the streets of Rotterdam, and imagine my joy to discover a Walk of Fame near the Maritime Museum. Your handprint wasn’t there on the pavement yet, Lance, but your time will come, I’m sure. Some of my favourite celebrities were there already, including Johan Cruyff (a footballer), Shirley Bassey (a singer) and Tina Turner (another singer). And also this one who I’m sure needs no further explanation…
Then the helicopters appeared overhead and we knew it was time to start jostling for vantage points by the rails. I managed to get a spot on a bridge as you passed underneath.
Then I rushed across the road to see you pass again when the peloton looped back and reappeared.
The course was rather narrow, so I got up really close to the riders this time…
Five seconds later it was all over. Your spare bikes got a round of applause as they were driven past on the roof of a support vehicle, but the fire had gone out of the Rotterdammers’ bellies by then. Their tour was over. I walked sadly back to the station, to take the train back to Amsterdam, where a TV set was waiting.
STOP PRESS: Alessandro Petacchi wins sprint finish in Brussels. No change in general classification – Cancellara in the yellow jersey, Armstrong still fourth. Cavendish is held up by a fall and can’t contest the sprint.