During the sixteenth stage of the Tour de France Cyclingnews followed the day's action of the Quick Step cycling team. We don't know whether the Belgian squad was more motivated than normal due to our extra attention, but the team was ever present during the stage from Bagnères-de-Luchon to Pau, culminating with both Jurgen Van De Walle and Carlos Barredo infiltrating the decisive 10-man escape.
Barredo boldly attacked 44km from the finish, only to be brought back by his eight pursuers at the flamme rouge. Van De Walle - who stayed in the wheels during the finale - then tried to power away on a left hand corner, which came to naught. Barredo was too gassed to contest the sprint, leaving Van De Walle and seven others to fight for stage glory.
Pierrick Fedrigo (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) blasted away in front and won the stage, Van De Walle finished seventh and Barredo ninth. That was the Quick Step story of the day everybody had seen, now back to our view on things.
Our day kicked off that morning in the stage's start town of Bagnères-de-Luchon as we witnessed the daily routine of Quick Step's staff and riders. The team bus arrived at 10:15 a.m., bringing in the mechanics who were trying to create some space for the upcoming team cars. Due to the limited space at the start area there was not enough space to park the team cars, let alone to allow guests, press, riders and other teams to pass by.
At 10:36 a.m. the riders arrived in the team cars, together with sponsor Luc Maes from Innergetic, all the sport directors and team manager Patrick Lefevre. Somehow everybody kept cool under the hectic circumstances, although director Davide Bramati grew flustered when confronted with the latest news in the newspaper (see Procycling's daily Tour de France dispatch for the whole story).
Quick Step's Tour de France is going well, with two stage wins and stints in yellow by Sylvain Chavanel, but they don't have a rider high-up in the general classification so there's not too many members of the press trying to get interviews with team members. Still, some people in the team excel in sneaking away from the awaiting press, whereas others like Chavanel seem to love it and just continue saying hello to whoever shows up while handing out autographs.
Once Lefevre showed up he quickly gained attention from the French media who wanted to find out about the - now confirmed - contract news on French riders Jerôme Pineau and Sylvain Chavanel. An hour later all riders were ready to take the start whereas the team cars were packed with bikes, wheels, staff and guests. Suddenly it was time to start running back to our own car as well in order to make it smoothly out of the 'village départ'.
When arriving at the finish line Cyclingnews witnessed the tension within the Quick Step organization. Soigneur Dirk Nachtergaele and spokesman Alessandro Tegner continuously made time checks as well as fielded questions from various media inquiring about the chances of Barredo and Van De Walle.
With less than three kilometers to go Nachtergaele and Tegner were asked by the race organizers to head to the podium as Barredo would be guided away from the normal finish area to be awarded the stage's combativity prize.
When the break crossed the finish line most Anglophone media stormed after Lance Armstrong (RadioShack), whereas the Francophone media chased down Fedrigo. Van De Walle, a Belgian, told his story over and over again primarily to Flemish media.
Barredo, meanwhile, accompanied Tegner behind the podium to receive his combativity prize, along with stage winner Fedrigo and all riders leading an individual classification. After Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) received the white jersey for leading the young rider's classification, the man from Oviedo was allowed to go up on stage. Barredo received kisses from the Brandt promotion girls, a trophy, flowers and a minute of glory on the podium of the Tour de France, consolation for coming so close to pulling off a stage victory.
Other riders from the team began arriving at the finish line and soigneur Nachtergaele made sure he was there to hand them a drink and freshen them up. Whereas most teams had their bus in the area, the Quick Step team told their riders to ride to the hotel themselves, as it was only one block away from the finish line.
When Barredo arrived at the hotel, mechanics, directors and teammates gave the likeable Spaniard a shoulder to lean on. Also, former Quick Step rider Johan Museeuw was present near the hotel. The "Lion of Flanders" is at the Tour to guide his son Gianni around who takes 'the photo of the day' for Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws. Museeuw himself writes a column in the same paper.
After Barredo had taken a shower in his room, Cyclingnews caught up with the hero of stage 16 as the Spaniard was busy folding clothes and making sure his room was clean and neat, part of being a true professional. Walking a bit further up the corridor, we came across Chavanel receiving a massage while eating a piece of bread; other riders were still taking a shower or resting on their beds.
Everybody on the team seemed to be arranging their plans for the evening in Pau. Jerôme Pineau, for example, planned a family visit while others were challenging each other to a game of pool.
An amusing part of the evening was a fierce sprint from directeur sportif Wilfried Peeters up the street...to sneak ahead of a team mechanic at the local 'coiffeur'. A fresh look was all important, we were told, to make a good impression once arriving at the Champs Elysées in Paris; one doesn't want to hit Paris looking like someone who slept under a bridge near the Seine.
So after living a bohemian lifestyle for almost three weeks our Cyclingnews correspondent entered the press room with a fresh haircut, all set for Paris!