Randonnée du Centenaire
The peloton’s entry into Paris last night reignited the emotion of 2003.
The day started at 6am with 10,000 cyclists lining up for a unique ride around the route the cyclists had to negotiate later in the day. This was a special event to celebrate 100 years of Le Tour. People clapped, some shouted encouragement as I pedalled two circuits on a saddle that swivelled menacingly, and a chain that preferred to be free of the sprockets.
Nevertheless, my heart raced as I bounced over the cobblestones on the Champs Elysées and climbed the slope to the Arc de Triomphe. The increased cardiac activity was not the result of the unexpected slope, but the sheer emotion of riding this sacred stretch, where battles had been fought for stage honours by the cream of world cycling for decades.
At the finish line, hours later, armed with my accreditation, I stood in the privileged press enclosure. The main event entered the golden strip. The deafening roar from spectators left me with goosebumps. The colour, the sound, the speed, merged under a clear summer sky in the Mecca of cycling to create a moment that will remain with me forever.
The final lap – 200 metres to go - the tension rises. Two Aussies are fighting for the Sprinter’s Green Jersey; Baden Cooke and Robbie McEwen. A few points separate them. The finish, the final sprint will be the decider. Would McEwen take the Green as he did last year?
The French commentator is screaming, “McEwen … McEwen …” It’s over. I sprint from the media enclosure to where Robbie has stopped.
“Congratulations mate.” My mini cassette recorder is rolling.
Robbie looks down at the ground and remains silent.
Other press arrive. He ignores them.
Slowly he turns and rolls back to the finish line.
Baden Cooke took the sprint by a whisker and the Green Jersey.
Robbie went on to win the Green Jersey in 2004 and 2006. Australia’s most successful sprinter.