This morning I packed my gear and creaked my way down the grand staircase at the beautiful Domaine Du Chateau De La Neuville Hôtel. It sits on a lovely parcel of land complete with pond, geese, swans and sheep. Ironically its 400 metres from a nuclear power station and its giant cooling towers. Regardless of the weather, there will always be clouds over Tihange.
This was one of several nights during our Tour that I wasn't able to stay in the same hotel as the team... as my decision to join them was long after all the original accommodations had been booked. Wilfred Kruijf of the Cycling Dutchman, has done a fantastic job managing the logistics. He's outside now at first light organizing things in one of the support vans as I'm typing this. While I'm on the subject I owe a special debt to Melanie Vandermeer for her patience and good nature in making all my arrangements. Elle est une dame magnifique.
This was a day for the cobbles and after some 160km of busy roads, rain and punctures the sun shone on our peloton easing fears that the cobbles might be wet. Happily they were dry, but these sections will test the pros and should string out the race itself today. Our final kilometres felt like we were going in circles over the pave, left and right through small towns watched by the campers that were already taking their place along the route. The cobbles were also hard on the photo car. I got one section with the guys and then struggled to catch them. Each time I seemed to make progress a lumbering camper would cost me minutes. C'est la vie.
As you can see from this photo the team are putting the SKINS compression gear to good use immediately following the stage, and they're enjoying the white camo tights as modeled here by Jasper.
The boys were super strong again with a handful feeling good enough to accelerate over the cobbles in the last 40km. They rode these sections hard to the finish just outside the entrance to the Arenberg forest (looking ominous in the gathering shade). The last shot is a few metres into the trench. Apologies for the abbreviated story... I slept last night like I was hit by a truck and must hustle to get down to breakfast.