Cadel est de deux ans de retard! (Cadel is two years late!)

 

by David Downer

 

The honeymoon was over. Literally. Well, almost.

Just a single day remained on our post-wedding European jaunt.

A stunningly blue Summer’s day on the Champs-Elysees would provide the final chapter.

Yeah, there were worse places to be.

We’d already spent a week in Paris. Activities were in stark contrast to my first visit here, a two day whistle-stop on a Contiki tour. This time around, there would be no gallivanting on stage with can-can girls at the La Nouvelle Eve cabaret show, accompanied by Wham’s irrepressible pop-classic I’m Your Man. At the time I won a free t-shirt for my troubles. It’s now a rag that wipes dog food bowls.

On our penultimate day, the good wife had free rein of the schedule. Shopping formed the centrepiece.

Venturing to the outskirts of town, we hunted down a supposedly renowned discount retail outlet called La Vallee Village. The extremely brief Lonely Planet reference was indeed mouth-watering, noting “Victoria Beckham once shopped here”. Wowee. As it turned out, La Vallee Village was more Moorabbin DFO with a touch of Coco Chanel and double the price-tags.

We then trekked cross-town to Porte De Clignancourt flea market – a ramshackle Caribbean market equivalent with a distinct Senegalese influence – and from what I could see, minus the Scoresby Rollerama. Every second stand sold Rastafarian clobber or Ghanaian Black Stars soccer jerseys.

There would also be a pit-stop at every music outlet in town, where the collected French works of Tina Arena would be feverishly sought. A touch to my chagrin, T.Arena was the first lady’s artist of choice.

With shopping misadventures disposed of, as luck would have it, the next day, our last in gay Paree, just happened to “coincide” with the final Sunday of the 2009 Tour De France.

That this could be described as a “coincidence”, is of course, a crock of merde.

It was actually the result of a cheekily prepared honeymoon itinerary, planned months in advance. The trip featured various blue-chip sporting events en route. Le Tour was the closing leg. I figured I’d “done enough” with the odd traditional romantic locale in between. Marriage is apparently all about “give and take” you know.

Thus far, the first three legs of our super sporting grand slam of love had failed to yield the desired on-field results.

At Royal Ascot, Takeover Target was scratched on the morning of the Golden Jubilee Stakes. At Wimbledon, we witnessed Jelena Dokic suffer an inglorious tantrum-riddled round one exit. And at the Lords Ashes Test, Andrew Flintoff monstered the Aussies, spearheading our first defeat at the hallowed ground for over 70 years.

The initial intentions for the Parisian leg were clear. To be front and centre (or at least, behind the barricades) on the Champs-Elysees, when Cadel Evans, with Arc De Triomphe in the background, graced the podium as the first Australian to win the Tour De France.

If we never made it back to the City of Light again, we could still forevermore say: “I was there when…”.

Cadel had finished runners-up the two years previous. Two of the closest margins in Tour history would haunt him, 23 seconds and 58 seconds. Maybe the Saints of ’09 and ’10 can relate to consecutive near misses and the subsequent pain. I know I can, and I’m just in the stands.

Naturally, Cadel was strongly fancied for the 2009 edition. But with yours truly hunting him down, the mozz was clearly on. Maybe the sporting gods, more likely the love gods, were paying me back for scheming such “boys own annual” skulduggery on my honeymoon.

Beset by injury concerns and team disharmony, Evans had an ordinary tour. The planets were not aligning. I’d been skimming results on the internet during our travels, and the mouse was scrolling too far to find Cadel’s name. Coming into Paris, he was placed about 30th. If you can’t even win the tour from second place on the final day, you certainly can’t win it from back there.

In second place at various stages was the Tour’s more popular story, the post-retirement return of “seven time winner” Lance Armstrong. Involved in team disharmony of his own, he battled for top-dog status with Alberto Contador. The Spaniard won that contest, and the tour also. Lance eventually finished third overall.

Arriving at the Champs Elysees around noon, we lobbed in what seemed to be “a good spot”. The good wife took residence away from the action in beautifully manicured parkland – despite the presence of pestering gypsies and the odd unnerving hobo. I stood to attention, one off the fence, holding the position. Thankfully some fellow Aussies were attracted to my Green and Gold shirt. With footy conversation soon flowing, the afternoon of wait passed more swiftly.

The first signs of life on the boulevard are greeted with wild applause. It’s the sponsors parade. There are a lot of sponsors. And the make a lot of noise. Continuously. They head up to the Arc, and as the cyclists will do, unfortunately they head back.

It quickly descends into a corporate-style Moomba parade, with the ungodly addition of vapid euro-trash tunes blaring out of every truck. They all swerve up and down the road as though this creates an enhanced affect. Pouting models, both male and female gyrate and try to lift crowd spirits.

After an hour and a half, it generally just pissed everyone off.

“Where the frig are the bloody cyclists?”

After five hours of standing upright and with lactic acid building, the cyclists arrive, presumably sans-lactic at this leisurely pace. Just slow enough to pick a few out. At this tempo, I feel like I’m back in Mordialloc waiting to cross Beach Road with Cuba, as the weekend lycra-clad peloton sail past.

“There’s Lance!”

“There’s the yellow jersey – the Spanish bloke – we don’t like him do we?”

“Where’s Cadel? What colour is he? Number? Err….”

It then hit homes my detailed cycling research was somewhat lacking. And the finer technicalities of team tactics and scoring methods still confuse me. That I knew the tour was “won and lost in the mountains” (thanks P.Liggett) wouldn’t impress anyone.

The pace pours on over the next six laps. A psychedelic palette of jersey colours and the fast humming whirr of spokes flash by every five minutes or so. With the commentary on the big screen in French (probably fair enough), we struggled to understand what was transpiring. But the name “Cavendish” is repeated often.

From what I could deduce, the increasingly excitable race-call played out as:

“Cavendish! Le Club Sandwich! Cavendish! Le Club Sandwich! Cavendish! Cavendish! Sandwich! Cavendish. Cavendisssssssssssh”.

Indeed, Mark Cavendish won the actual stage.
“He’s the Aussie right? Or is he a Pom? Er….”

Just as at Lords, we were nutted by a Pom for stage honours itself. The Australian Mark Renshaw had finished second.

We retreated back to the hotel away from the maddening crowds. There was a hardware shop across the road. They sold cheap step-ladders. In hindsight, it’s the must-have accessory for seamless hassle-free Tour De France viewing.

Back home on the couch in 2011, my interest in the Tour perked considerably in the final week. The incredible postcard scenery one drawcard, Cadel’s tilt obviously more so. His mental and physical courage, particularly in the last two mountain stages where it could have unravelled was awe-inspiring.

The Schlecks, a modern-day two-wheel version of the brothers from cinematic classic Coolangatta Gold – with Colin Friels as Frank, the other bloke as Andy, were worthy adversaries.

And that Cadel’s previous frailties had been questioned, and now conquered so emphatically here adds to the significance. Standing up the challenges head on. Not to mention the additional burden of wearing a red, white and black jersey in tight grand final type situations.

I can perhaps relate to Cadel Evans, the elite champion athlete, on only one specific point – he’s my age. I now wonder if I took the wrong path as a 16 year old when I threw my hideously buckled Malvern Star Mongrel mountain bike in the bin after a frustrating trip up Mt.Dandenong and back*.

The good wife and I stayed up for the duration of the final stage. There was some jocular “ohh, that coulda been us ” reflection, but mainly pride for Cadel. We knocked off a fitting cheap bottle of plonk called Arrogant Frog. I also hoped that Gabriel Gate’s Taste Le Tour segment smashed Masterchef in the ratings.

The spine tingled when Cadel took to the podium. The names he joins are legendary – Armstrong, Indurain, LeMond, Merckx. And he’s an Aussie. One of us. Is this really happening?

The comic dagger is then somewhat plunged deeper when Tina Arena appears from thin air to sing the National Anthem. The good wife now identifying more readily with my “shoulda coulda woulda’s”.

On Monday night the ABC news features an Aussie crowd vox-pop on the Champs-Elysees:

“Yeah we’re here on our honeymoon. This is our first tour. We can’t believe our luck!”

Bastards!

We’ll get over it.

Tres bien’ Monsieur Evans. Magnifique.

 

*Stopping eighteen times before we even hit Sassafras. Wisely, I pulled the bike out of the bin before Dad got home.

 

Will this ever end

 

En route to the Champs

 

Is Cadel in there?

 

Who are these blokes?

Comments

  1. Great story, Dave. Did the Malvern Star Mongrel eventually find its way back to a bin?

  2. Beautifully told as always DD.

    Amongst other things, you’ve got me wondering whether “crock of merde” could make it into the footy vernacular? Perhaps something to be directed at Razor Ray?

    My “merde research” tells me that it is also a traditional wish of good luck for ballet dancers – a bit like “break a leg”. The results during your “super sporting grand slam of love” perhaps could have used a bit of “merde”.

    That is all
    Arma

  3. David Downer says:

    Thanks boys,
     
    Arma, “Crock of merde” could take off – from the players at least. They aren’t harnessing the full advantage of using foreign expletives. Better you let fly in French, Latin or Flemish and get away with it, than get pinged for 50 in English.
     
    Gigs, the Malvern Star Mongrel was a star attraction at the Downer family garage sale circa 1998. It went for $10. Character-enhancing buckles were still intact.

    DD

  4. DD – wonderful tale. I knew someone was to blame for Cadel’s lousy 2009 Tour – it was you!

    I remember my stay in Paris – it was 1987. I was an indestructible 23 year old. Got kicked out of the pension I was staying in for making a racket, but the people having the party in my room got to stay! Bloody unfair I thought.

  5. John Butler says:

    Dips

    I was in Paris in 1987. Spooky.

    Can’t believe we didn’t bump into each other.

    DD, what’s your favourite T. Arena song?

  6. Indonesian has a few explosive expletives – ‘Bangsat’ and ‘Madipantat’ always sound good in the heat of the moment. (Apologies to the delicate Indonesian language afficionados out there!)

  7. David Downer says:

    Makes for a much better story now though Dips doesn’t it!
     
    Well JB, I can tell you a few that aren’t my favourite …”I’m In Chains”, “I Need Your Body”, “Sorrento Moon” etc. But in case the wife ever reads this post, I better redeem by giving an answer – “Les Trois Cloches” that was played at our wedding – brownie points in the bank for actually remembering that (with thanks to Wikipedia and a lyric search on Google).
     
    I remember watching a T.Arena studio audience doco thing with a number of celebrities on hand taking turns with stage-managed pre-prepared questions. Tina’s response to an A.Koutafides question delved into all manner of self-righteous long-winded introspective. It also included the word “juxtaposition”. The camera flashed back to Kouta who visibly had absolutely no comprehension of anything she just uttered. Dare say, probably not the answer the Carlton champ was looking for.

  8. Did Tina Arean sing “You are the wings beneath my wind” ?

  9. Davey I must admit that your good self on said Mongrel never stood a chance against yellow Trailbreaker 3 with a slightly hyperactive navigator. What the he’ll was I thinking riding to Mt Dandy and more puzzling how did I convince you to go. I fear I may of broken your riding spirit.

  10. johnharms says:

    Super stuff DD. Very entertaining. You and Justin Langer (insofar as sports equipment and performance are concerned).

    My first sighting of the Champs-Elysees was in far less glamorous circumstances. There was a lurk in 1993 of getting to Paris cheaply on a weekend tour from London. Run by a small travle company (I suspect they had one bus). It gave you two night’s accommodation as well. We get to Paris and are driving up the CE with our tour guide giving us commentary – nothing about the avenue, nothing about the Tour de France, nothing about the buildings and monuments. He was like Sid James and just kept pointing out bad parking technique from French drivers, possible hookers, and the site of a perfume outle just round the corner. And “the bloody French.”

  11. Neil Belford says:

    Dont know if I was just high as a kite on Cadel inspired endorphins, or delusional through lack of sleep, but that was the greatest version of our National Anthem I have ever heard. I liked the actual song not just the fact that it was being sung (wich was a first).

  12. Very nice work Dave!!

  13. Dave, a wonderful article as always.

    I remember the planning around the “coincidental” events during the honeymoon. I am still amazed that the lovely better half let you get away with all those events. I still can’t believe you weren’t hauled into immigration on your return and warned by the AFP never to go overseas to a sporting event again!

    Cadel’s victory will have so many memories. His standing on the podium with the architectually designed long yellow winding road leading to the Arc De Triomphe, the lovely Tina Arena’s rendition of the national anthem, a wistful zephyr billowing the flag draped around Cadel’s neck: it was a pity it wasn’t 2009 for you but it was a great day to be an Aussie.

  14. Now that you have mastered the ‘coincidental honeymoon’ technique, the next phase in your quest is the naming of the children. A friend in FNQ upon finding his wife was due to bear twins and that they were a boy and a girl, with his love for cricket in mind, suggested they be named Brian and Lara. The mistake he made was in making his play to early when the pregnancy hormones had not completely addled his wife’s brain.

    I succeeded with my first born (1/10/2003) being named after Simon Black, the winner of the Norm Smith Medal in the Lions win over Collingwood. At this early stage, despite being the tall genes, he is showing a fair bit of talent for the in and under. What’s in a name?

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