Tour de France war stories. Attack of the caravan horse.
Every writer or photographer has dozens of crazy tour stories to tell. Announce that you’re on your first tour and they launch into the disasters, amusing incidents and bizarre occurrences that are unique to covering the tour.
It’s one of the things that makes the race so addictive and memorable — besides, you know, the race, the one with Armstrong and Contador and Schleck.
Here’s one classic I heard from Dale Robertson who writes for the Houston Chronicle. He and Bonny Ford — yes, the ESPN writer who did the initial Landis piece — were on the mythical Mont Ventoux last year.
They were slowly snaking up the mountain, through the trillions of fans when the road narrowed so tightly they could barely pass. Gendarmes stopped them and in that moment the race caravan comes up the road.
Dale said it was a 300 foot drop straight down the mountain, of the edge of the road. Not an inch left to keep the car from tumbling into the abyss. Flaming car wreck, certain death, great tour story, except for Dale and Bonny earning that DNF for life.
The caravan is barreling up Mont Ventoux. It’s a promotional circus on wheels including the French PMU vehicle with three life-size race horses on the roof. Like the US mail, the advertising machines must go through! Now, the rest of the caravan manages to just wedge past but the horses are a problem. They stick out too far and can’t be reigned in.
The right metal hooves of the horse scrap the rental car along the entire length of the vehicle. A few thousand dollars in damage. Not to the horse, the rental car.
Imagine dropping the car in Paris, a skeptical French rental agent listening to your best terrible French as you explain how a roof rack horse and jockey trashed your car. There’s no checkbox on the liability contract for that one. PMU is a French betting company but even they couldn’t work out the odds of that happening.
On Mont Ventoux Dale and Bonny just shook their heads — “It’s the tour.” There were some major stories on Ventoux that year with Schleck trying desperately to drop COntador and Armstrong keeping Wiggins from stealing his third place.
The horse story might be almost as good. A win, place or show deal.