My First Tour de France – Lionel Birnie

In the fourth and final part of our mini series, My First Tour, Lionel Birnie remembers the first Tour de France he covered in full, and the first time he followed La Grande Boucle in a camper van.

It was the 2006 Tour, which started with cycling’s biggest doping scandal since the Festina Affair eight years earlier. With the Tour entering a new era following Lance Armstrong’s (first) retirement, the Operacion Puerto investigation ruled pre-race favourites Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso out before the first rider had even rolled down the start ramp for the prologue.

For Lionel and his colleagues in the camper van – affectionately nicknamed the Broomwagon because it was always lagging so far behind the race – the doping scandals were only half of the story.

In this bumper episode, he recalls the offbeat assignments, such as asking Milram rider Christian Knees to pose for a photo with a huge piece of cheese, riding the route of one of the stages (only to get waylaid at a wine festival), being overtaken by Bjarne Riis on Alpe d’Huez, watching England get knocked out of the World Cup on penalties with Bradley Wiggins, and nervously cashing in a sizeable bet on winner* Floyd Landis…

Featuring extracts from the journal he kept at the time, this is an alternative look at one of the most astonishing Tours of recent years.

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