Ronan McLaughlin of AnPost – Sean Kelly has spent the best part of his day in a four man break. Soaked to the skin after enduring the worst weather that the North West could muster, he happily accepts the stage’s combativity award, and steps down from the podium to hand his prize to his soigneur. The swanny gives Ronan and I a withering look.
“Oh, more cheese.”
The fridge of their team bus would now be packed to the hilt with giant artisan cheeses from Norfolk and Lancashire, courtesy of the breakaway exploits of Niels Wytinck and McLaughlin. No room for isotonic drinks and energy bars.
For the rest of the Tour, the boys would be fuelled purely by cheese, their food bags bulging with great lumps of the stuff… perhaps. Just as likely is that 6kg of Mrs. Kirkham’s Lancashire was deposited into a bin shaped like a happy dolphin, somewhere along the Blackpool seafront.
Awarding each stage’s most combative rider with a frankly impractical amount of local cheese was the brainchild of one Ian Cleverly. The staff at Rouleur Towers were rapturous in their adoration of the idea. In our enthusiasm, little thought was given to the consequences of ferrying over 30 kgs of cheese across the Great British mainland.
All became clear when I arrived at The Cheeseboard, one of London’s finest cheese shops, to collect our quarry. The problem with 30kg of cheese is two-fold. Firstly, 30kg is very heavy, and secondly, this particular selection of cheeses was very, very, smelly.
Throughout the week, our cargo got lighter and lighter as we dispensed the prizes to Bobridge, Basso et al. The aroma that was developing in and around our van was another matter entirely. The Law of Sod had dictated that the main olfactory offender would stay with us until the final stage finish in Guildford.
IG Sigma-Sport’s Simon Richardson collected the Combativity Award on the final day of his pro career on Stage 8, taking home a wicker basket of weapons-grade Hampshire Tunworth. Our coolbox still contains an aggressively pungent odour, and I fear is now only fit for the incinerator. Simon, I hope your fridge does not meet with a similar fate. If it does, blame Ian.
As I made my way back through the team’s car park to the Rouleur van, now blissfully empty but for the lingering scent of ripe fromage, I passed Samuel Sánchez, the Combativity Award winner from Stage 7.
Recognising the Rouleur logo on my t-shirt, he paused his post-race routine to thank me for the cheese. “It’s good!” he said. “We are having it on the bus now.” Glad to hear it. Should he pull on the rainbow jersey on Sunday, it’ll be all thanks to a sizable portion of Beenleigh Blue.