Rest day semi-journalistic madness.

Yeah, a photo. It actually uploaded.

Like many things in Le Grand Shindig, the concept of a rest day is a jeu de mot. It’s an ironic expression that describes a reduction in torture but not the end of said physical abuse. Not 50 lashes of the whip, just 20 with less intensity. For the riders, that feels like salvation and for the media, it feels like, I don’t know, thumb screw?

My limited experience is that rest days for people covering the Tour de France are a relative contradiction in terms. Yes, it’s not a fire fight from morning till night but it’s not a day off.

They are still chasing the race – driving from hotel to hotel trying to get riders and director sportifs to bring some level of perspective to the race. Not an easy job and let’s remind ourselves that the team with by far the most massive budget in the sport, Team Sky, just can’t somehow manage to get it together for a rest day press conference.

No budget for that? Is that a line item that Sir David Brailsford just crossed off while he was busy dealing with all those allegations about British Cycling and the mystery packet for Bradley Wiggins? Can’t ask those questions: no presser for Sky. The closest analogue we can find is President Trump’s desire to do away with the press briefing. Which is not the comparison Sky is hoping for, right?

Anyway, faux Rest day How about Drive day? The riders left the finish town in Chambery after a horrific stage and generally, hopefully, chilled as their buses hit the road toward the other side of France. We don’t have the race manual so we don’t know where exactly they’re staying but generally they are way farther down the road than the journos.

Once those Forcats de la Route get out of the Salle de Presse in Chambery around 6 or 7 PM, wisdom feed into the internet for a howling audience, your media folks mainline some heroin and curl up in ball in the Place des Elephants in Chambery and hope the police find a padded cell with, of course, good croissants.

Or, like me, they started driving first thing in the morning because that’s a 5 hour jaunt and more likely a 6+ hour jaunt to somewhere near Perigueux. That’s a freaking haul because I spent from 10:30 to 5:30 doing that cannonball ride. I had my Garmin GPS loaded with brand new maps of France ($70 upgrade) but that forethought didn’t save me from a wasted hour on the ring roads of Lyon where the Garmin had me on the roundabout from Hell. I basically went round and round until I was ready to scream after burning an hour making mistakes.

At a certain point of desperation (solo act, gnarly) I was basically ready to give up. I even fired up the iPhone and google maps knowing it would eat into my data plan fast. Finally, I took a wild guess and went under the roundabout (because there WAS no road on GPS) and found my way. Right then the Garmin flashed me some bizarre message like “You are driving on a dirt road.” Fuck yeah because my high-priced downloaded map could not distinguish between actual highways and those in the process of being finished. It was, in a word, Hell.

Finally, I sorted that out (hooray, rest day!!!!!) and rolled another 80k down the road before a sudden hail storm hit when everybody was going 120k an hour. That was crazy dangerous. I pulled over and waited 10 minutes, cursing the VW that had such slow windshield wiper speeds.

Long story short, yeah, finally hit my destination: Brive La Gaillard, a town about 45 minutes short of the start town for tomorrow. Just kinda picked it on the fly knowing it was already a long drive and I’d googled the pictures – hey, nice town.

Well, guess what? It is a beautiful town with a ring road that goes all the way around the ancient ville, the old city centre ville. I had picked a budget hotel that looked like it had fallen on hard times and was a few weeks from closing permanently. That said, the welcome was warm, the price was right and I was three minute’s walk to stunning architecture, great restos and killer bars.

Killer cod

Ahh, the Tour is so crazy even if you’re just tagging along without a press credential (more on that later.) I went to my sad little room and started the research on restaurants. And here begins a long, could be longer, screed on Wi-Fi in France. Shitty. Useless. Bullshit. When you book a hotel on Booking.com as I always do, you look for the hotels that announce their Wi-Fi prowess.

So check that box, Wi-Fi, in room, all good, write all you want, upload whatever photos you want. Except that it’s fake Wi-Fi. Already, at the first two places I’ve been to, the Wi-Fi has been as fast as phone dial-up twenty years ago. It’s Wi-Fi in theory but it sucks so, so bad.

How bad? I could not load a single page about Brive La Gaillard on my Apple laptop unless I took a shower, got dressed and took a 20 minute nap. That for one page to load. So I had to go to cellular, thus burning through my 300 MB international plan limit in about 4 days. This is why the TDF and ASO and Orange rob the media by selling them exorbitant Wi-Fi packages. There’s just no other way out because unless you’re staying at the Four Seasons, Petite Village, France, you’re screwed.

It’s just another lame reminder of how messed up, stupid and juvenile this sport is. You can’t even cover it with any degree of tech certainty unless you spend a fortune on your set-up. That’s probably not so much of an issue for euro journos but the rest of us are well and truly fucked. Sort of like poor old Richie Porte’s entire body.

But what about dinner? It’s a sad reality that except for the rest days, the press, in the culinary heaven of France, generally doesn’t eat well. If they’re lucky — say a cut and dried sprint stage, they can get to a hotel in a decent hour and have an actual good dinner. I know from experience in three tours that often, rolling into some small town at 10 PM, there’s no option but pizza. Pizza, in France!!! Seriously, that’s just horrific. Like Hague tribunal war crimes awful.

However, after my long drive and roundabout detours and hails storms, I did get to Brive around 6. Enough time to take in my pathetic and affordable little hotel room and make my dinner plans. I narrowed it down to three places and did the walking tour. I settled on The Living, despite my misgivings about being in France and eating in a place with an English name – see pizza outrage above.

That said, my God, it was good. Cool little ambiance, friendly bartender, great opening drink – a Lillet rosé mixed with a bubbly lemon soda. I bet Romain Bardet would dig that little refresher. Killer summer boisson. Then I had a fab salad and a beautifully prepared cod, followed by a blue cheese selection and dessert. The bartender threw in a prune-based aperitif gratis before I had to stagger out the door. Vive le Tour, Screw wifi. I’d upload some great photos of my day but that would be nearly impossible.

 

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