Sweet and sour to whet the appetite
Historical moments pepper an eventful start to the fare
Strong crosswinds blow the peloton apart on the road to Zelande and several contenders - including Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana - are caught out and lose time on the race's first "proper" stage after Saturday's time trial. Fabian Cancellara is a popular wearer of the yellow jersey, but is destined to hold on to it for one stage before being forced to withdraw from the race after riding on with three broken lower vertebrae. Mark Cavendish and his lead-out train are unpopular losers of the sprint finish, with their team manager, Brian Holm, labelling it "a historical fuck-up". Oh dear.
The Tour enters Belgium, a cycling-mad country that has produced one Tour de France winner, Lucien van Impe, since Eddy Merckx won the last of his five titles in 1974. At the summit of Mur de Huy, where Joaquim Rodriguez beat Chris Froome to stage victory, Merckx chatted with another five-times winner, the Frenchman Bernard Hinault. The subject of their conversation? It's possible that Merckx was telling Hinault about the statue that had been unveiled in his honour that day shortly before the peloton passed through Merckx's home village of Meensel-Kiezegem, about an hour from Brussels. Philippe, the actual king of Belgium, was in Liege for the next day's stage, but prompted considerably less awe and adoration.
Stage four finishes in Cambrai, where tooth decay among the press pack is actively encouraged by the strategic placement of large bowls of the local boiled sweets, named Betises. The French word for "nonsense" or "stupid mistake", they are rumoured to have been invented accidentally by the son of a local confectioner. It's a sweet day for popular rider Tony Martin too. After three near misses in three days, he finally wears the yellow jersey for the first time in his career. His delight is short-lived, as he's forced out of the race with injury two days later.
Poignant reminders of the first world war are everywhere as the peloton pedals from Arras to Amiens, passing on their way memorials to and cemeteries for almost 600,000 fallen. The Lochnagar mine crater, the giant by-product of explosives laid by the British army underneath a German strongpoint in 1916, provides a grisly reminder of the explosion that, 99 years ago on July 1, marked the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. Preparations are under way to mark next year's centenary.
Ever wondered how they have the leaders' jerseys ready for the end of each stage? The Backie was taking the afternoon air outside the media centre in Le Havre when we saw a man acting suspiciously in an official Tour van. Closer inspection revealed that what looked like a sophisticated counterfeiting operation was actually a man printing the ceremonial yellow, green, polka dot and white jerseys with the required badges and sponsorship logos. Upon finishing, he folded them carefully, placed them in a satchel that he slung over his shoulder before cycling to the finish line to hand them over for the presentation ceremony.
A star is born. Daniel Teklehaimanot, one of two Eritreans in the MTN-Qhubeka team, becomes the first black African rider to wear one of the major leaders' jerseys in the Tour de France. The King of the Mountains, he can barely contain his delight as he realises his life's ambition by wearing the polka dot jersey at the start of the stage. He joins a five-man breakaway to win the only climbing point on offer and his manager later reveals that instead of dropping back to the bunch as he was supposed to, Teklehaimanot was so caught up in the occasion that he had to be summoned.
A man-made crater of a different kind. The tourist boards station staff extol the virtues of their locale to the visiting media and it is Mur-de-Bretagne in Brittany with which The Backie was most impressed. Created when a hydro-electric power plant was built, Lac de Guerledan is the biggest lake in the region and is completely empty so that work can be carried out. "Behold the exceptional marvel of the submerged valley and lunar landscape," says the guide, of a stunning non-water feature that is just one rusting shopping trolley short of perfection.
Sunday Indo Sport