By Tim Maloney European Editor in Thiers
Jean-Francois Pescheux is not a man to be trifled with. Even by mother nature. Pescheux is the competition director of ASO, the organisation that runs races including the Tour de France and Paris-Nice. Normally, Pescheux's races are run like clockwork and generally considered the best in the world from a technical standpoint. Woe betide any in-race photographer who doesn't heed Pescheux's strident orders to "prenez-vos champs, monsieurs" (get the heck out of the way!) when the traffic clogs up at the front of his race.
Pescheux is a consummate professional, so when the carefully monitored weather reports from MeteoFrance told him that snow had fallen in Thiers early Tuesday morning, where Stage two of this year's frigid Paris-Nice was scheduled to finish eight hours later, he was ready. On Monday evening, ASO had already issued a communique about a possible change in the stage length due to lousy weather and so at 1100, Pescheux decided to put Plan B into action for Stage two.
Although Stage two was scheduled to start in the small French town of Le Chatre, home of romantic poet and mistress of Frederic Chopin, Aurore Dupin (aka George Sand), Pescheux had no romantic notions himself of making the riders do the full 191km. Not only were the temps just above zero centigrade, but the low grey sky looked like it might snow or rain at any minute.
You don't often see improvisation at a big race like Paris-Nice, but when the situation demanded it, Pescheux jumped right in with two feet. As team directors came to the sign-in for the pre-race huddle, Pescheux collared them one at a time or in groups to make sure everyone was on the same page. "Okay, here's what's happening... the riders will sign in, then we'll leave in a caravan just after noon and head along the main road to Montlucon. We'll get on the Autoroute for fifty kilometres until exit 12-1, then reassemble in Aigueperse and race the last 46km. The conditions should be good and there is a sprint, a KOM and the finish."
That was that; everybody nodded okay, all the busses, team cars, official race cars and media made their way to Aigueperse and bada bing, badda boom (or in French, maybe 'zut alors' or 'voila'), stage two (albeit a shortened version thereof) got underway at 1500CET. Pescheux got his race off and all was right with the Race To The Sun again.