Blazin' Saddles

Tour de Facade: Chapeau chateaux and the tractor factor

Blazin' Saddles

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Every Tour de France has at least one of those days - where the racing becomes the subplot to an afternoon of castle gazing and other aerial ocular fodder.

Without a cloud in the sky, an innocuous break up the road and the race rolling through the stunning Rhone and Loire regions of France, the TV director of the world's biggest bike race was given carte blanche to do to the French tourism industry what no other paid-for advertisement campaign comes remotely close to doing.

All over the world viewers tuned in to be wowed by a medley of geographical cinematography that gave the impression that every Frenchman lives in a huge kick-ass turreted castle with adjoining chapels and swimming pools in vine-enclosed ornamental gardens - much like viewers the world over watching the England football team are consistently led to believe the country is populated with odious, overpaid, atrociously tattooed underachievers with a penchant for profanities, not singing the National Anthem and discarding liberal quantities of saliva on all things green.

Stage 12 really was a bonanza for the castle-loving fan - starting early on with the ornate Chateau de la Chaize with its landscaped garden, vineyards and symmetrical splendour.

Moments later the helicopter hovered over the Chateau Montmelas, which has apparently housed the same family since 1566. They must be as old as the Addamses!

The owner of the blue car parked in front of this palatial bolt-hole will surely get a severe reprimand from the Tour organisers and local tourism officials for letting the side down and ruining the ostensible time travelling qualities of the aerial imagery.

And still they kept on coming...

In fact, it was while force-feeding the goose-like audience with more chateau-flavoured granular fodder that something actually happened during the race and the TV director was forced to actually report on a bicycle-related incident.

Spanish debutant David de la Cruz of NetApp-Endura had told reporters only the very same morning how happy he was to be on the race and how motivated he was now that the sun had come out and the mountains were on their way. De le Cruz was part of the five-man break but crashed out with a broken collarbone with 92km remaining.

This video shows the moment the latest piece of castle porn was interrupted with the money shot of De la Cruz's tyre slipping in the soft tarmac and the Spaniard plunging to the ground, taking out fellow escapee Sebastian Langeveld on the way.

But soon it was back to business with the racing taking a back foot and the castles breaking clear once again.

There was even the race's first streaker but the chopper cam was so preoccupied it couldn't get close enough to, well, capture the man's own chopper - so instead we had to continue looking at more phallic structures of admirable girth.

Fans of tractors and agriculture also had a field day with a number of expert displays supporting local livestock and produce.

Only in France is 'tractor choreographer' a valid job for the month of July... Although tractor stunt co-ordinators are clearly not superstitious fellows: both these lavish displays had 13 vehicles chugging around in circles.

For those of a more ecclesiastic or piscenic bent there were also churches and swimming pools galore - sometimes (gasp!) even together.

As the stage entered the final moments the TV director reluctantly shifted the focus back to the bike race - just in time to catch Simon Clarke attack Sebastian Langeveld while the Dutchman was taking a drink. Clarke himself then reached for the neutral water-carrying motorbike, clasped onto a bidon for a few seconds, then decided against the idea of a refill once he had benefited from a nice tug up the final part of the hill. A wily competitor, is our Clarkey.

With both the break and a counter-attack nullified the pace was high as the peloton roared towards Saint-Etienne, only to be severely disrupted by some difficult roundabouts and corners.

Inevitably, there was a crash near the finish, with German national champion Andre Greipel tangling with France's Sylvain Chavanel. Judging by Greipel's heated words with Chavanel once the pair had got back on their bikes, there was only one rider to blame for the incident - not that Chava would agree.

Greipel was not the only German to feel aggrieved - with John Degenkolb clearly impeded by Matteo Trentin in the bunch sprint finale. The Italian - who finished sixth - was later relegated from the sprint, but the damage was done: Degenkolb had already sat up, meaning no German finished in the top ten of a sprint stage (as rare as a successful Europcar break in this year's race).

And to conclude today's Tour de Farce/Facade there's really only one option, all things considered.

See you tomorrow for the mountains edition... where chateaux will be replaced by corniches and church spires by jagged Alpine peaks.

Felix Lowe - Twitter: @Saddleblaze

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