The Tour de France has even invaded the Principality of Monaco. At 6.15pm, July 2nd, a quarter of an hour behind schedule and greeted by Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault on the specially built stage at Port Hercule, Prince Albert surrendered himself to the world of cycling. Greeting, thanking, celebrating, officiating. In two days' time the ninety-sixth Tour begins, but the Principality welcomed it two days beforehand, practically a week beforehand, and sentimentally a year ago when it participated in and promoted "le grand depart" during the race that started from Brest, in Brittany.
GRANDEUR - Monaco received, welcomed and hosted the Tour in style. The stage projected out over the port, and facing it was a stand holding 6,500 people, who leaped to attention when Merckx and Hinault arrived, and when Prince Albert arrived in a blue car with the number plate Monaco 1, they broke into applause. But there were people everywhere: on balconies, on terraces, on overbridges, on yachts moored at the quays. This was how Monte Carlo, with its mazes of skyscrapers, celebrated the two-wheelers, according them the glamour that seems the antithesis of the effort, the sacrifice, the sweat - of the road to be conquered with the power of the legs and heart. A peaceful invasion of bikes and jerseys, posters and displays, champions and glory.
AMBITIOUS PIPPO - Right down to the parade of the teams, who were introduced in heroic tones and an American style. The first team, obviously, was French: Bbox Bouygues Telecom. Then came Katusha, with the much-loved Pippo Pozzato, who is at home here both in terms of his place of residence and his vanity. "I want to win a stage," he declared, "to show my tri-colour jersey." In all, 20 teams, 180 riders, 40 team managers. A litany of brilliant careers, a list of victorious dreams, a collection of endless hopes. And the last was first: the last to be introduced was the winner of the 2008 Tour, the Spaniard Carlos Sastre.
TIME TRIAL TODAY - Between first and last, between last and first, there is room for the half-Tunisian Daid Haddou, the Basque Mikel Astarloza, the Sicilian Danilo Napolitano, the Etruscan Daniele Righi, for the favourite Alberto Contador, for the eternal Lance Armstrong. All stars - for a moment the most modest, for three weeks the strongest. Tomorrow the riders will be able to study the course for the first stage, a 15.5 km time trial. On Saturday it begins. And as is the case every time the Tour begins, so does summer, the party, the ritual of cycling.
Photo: Prince Albert, Felice Gimondi and Eddy Merckx, at the start of a charity ride in Monaco
Story by Marco Pastonesi. Stories, including cycling trip stories, for the Italian Cycling Journal welcome; contact email@example.com