!http://www.active.com/Assets/Cycling/RobKlingensmith.jpg|style=padding:10px;|align=left|src=http://www.active.com/Assets/Cycling/RobKlingensmith.jpg!I left my bike on the front porch of my rented apartment outside of Lourdes and drove into Pau for the start of todays stage. Admittedly, after learning of Rasmussens ejection late last night, I lacked my usual enthusiasm for immersing myself in the Tour. But, I needed a day to rest my legs and buy some souvenirs, and I was a bit curious to see how the ASO would deal with the latest scandal.
I arrived in Pau behind the train station, an area that is usually the underbelly of a city. Today, however, it was open industrial space had been transformed into the staging area for the Tours caravan. The brightly colored floats and vans were helter-skelter, their drivers smoking and chatting, waiting for their call to action.
A few hundred meters away, the official start village was operating in prime time, with no apparent worry of drug tests or scandals. Behind its 8-foot chain-link fence, the VIPs-of-the-day were nibbling on snacks, collecting sponsor freebies and enjoying the stares of those not so lucky to have a yellow credential hanging around their necks.
About an hour before the stage start, the space-age team buses lumbered in, followed closely by their garishly branded station wagons bristling with bikes and wheels. As the managers unloaded gear, athletes lazily stepped from the buses and waved to the crowd. Some posed for pictures or granted interviews, as others rode in groups of twos and threes to sign-in for todays stage.
The appearance of the cyclists was a great equalizer, as VIPs and general public alike pushed and shoved and craned their necks to get a glimpse of the stars. Wow, do we cycling fans have short memories...
There was some speculation that the entire Team Rabobank had withdrawn in shame, as Team Cofidis had done the day before, but their orange-and-blue-clad cyclists were seen rolling in. My heart skipped a beat when I thought that Team Discovery was absent-what controversy could have rocked them?-but it turned out that they had merely parked their bus in a different area.
Ive been to many start villages, but this one seemed flat. Everything looked normal but that bit of zing. With the Alps and Pyrenees behind them, the athletes had to be tired, and all that remained was a time trial to finalize the GC. But I wonder if they were also angry and depressed about their sport being, once again, undermined by scandal.
But this was the Tour de France, an event much greater than its athletes or teams. Locals call it a French thing, but I think cycling fans worldwide understand the sentiment. So, before returning to my flat for a suddenly inspired afternoon ride, I patiently waited in line for overpriced souvenirs that Ill wear proudly back home.
Do you have a Team Astana jersey in size large?
Rob Klingensmith is an avid recreational cyclist and an executive at Active.com. Rob will provide a unique perspective on what it's like to be inside some of the most decisive stages of the Tour.