Sylvain Chavanel is the first rider on the bus. His tricolour jersey half unzipped he sits down, picking up his racing shoes as he does, and begins to adjust the cleats.
“They’re not right,” he says, without looking up as the team press officer asks if he’s okay. The blunt answer is all ‘Ales’ needs to know. Chavanel is in race mode and shouldn’t be disturbed.
In the tranquillity and sanctity of a team bus nothing is more precious than the time to concentrate and even though the doors are open, the gentle Pau breeze is the only break in the full-on concentration Chavanel is giving to his cleat.
Once he’s finished he taps both shoes together, squints through one eye to make sure they’re in line and then looks up, a huge exhale as if to suggest, ‘I’m done.’
And it’s good timing too. Teammate Jérôme Pineau has entered the bus and taking his seat. He sits opposite and begins to pin his number to the back of his jersey. Unlike Chavanel, his concentration levels aren’t off the scale and it takes several minutes before he attempts to lift his jersey from his lap, realising he’s pinned it to his shorts as well.
Chavanel smiles as Pineau undoes his clumsy work and the two then look up as the bus begins to fill with more and more riders.
Gerard Ciolek, the German sprinter is there. It looks like he’s slept here too. Hair matted, eyes barely open he casually flicks through the race manual but it looks like he’d rather be any other place than here.
Across from him Addy Engels taps away on his phone. Unlike Ciolek he doesn’t look like he’s slept in a bin – in fact he looks like he’s about to step onto a Milan catwalk, his hair coiffed, jersey half cut, all he needs is a match stick hanging from his bottom lip to complete the James Dean look he’s clearly going for.
More and more riders fill the bus before the team’s remaining seven are all accounted for. Wilfried Peeters takes it as his cue to stand up at the front of the bus.
“Listen up, guys,” he grunts out and half the riders look up. Some already know what he’s going to stay: “Keep at the front, we need to get in a break, keep Kevin safe, today is a good day for the break to stay away. Addy, stay with Kevin all day.”
The team has just lost Gert Steegmans to injury. He’s on the bus but off to hospital. He listens in on Peeters’ talk and as the Belgian finishes with "the Tour ends in Paris," Steegmans chips in. “Guys you’d better win today or I’ll break some legs."
With that the team stand up, one by one. Pineau, now properly dressed, leads then down the steps and into the sunshine where Patrick Lefereve is waxing lyrical with the Belgian press. He offers his riders a faint smile mid-sentence but that’s it, the riders are ready.