First encountered “El Diablo” at the 1998 Tour de France on the Friday of the first week as i was riding the etappe La Chatre to Brive . I was being accompanied by the TF3 broadcast crew who were recording my activities that day. I had passed him on previous days and seen some of those activities that you see on TV. Normally as I ride the route several hours in front of the race I will find him around 25km before the finish . He will be meeting and greeting the public and “Sponsors’ Personnel” as they pass along the race route. Generally he is bare-chested whilst hanging around his van and trailor if he is towing one of his “bikes”, although he will put on the shirt and skullcap to oblige those looking for photos.
Some Sponsors drop off food and drinks as well as “gadgets”. So I have come to expect that he will oblige when I arrive in need a cold “coke or other fizz drink” as I pass. I recall on the Giro in the earlier years arriving at the bottom of a climb a few kilometres before the hill town finish, that I was about done energy wise. He gave me a “power bar gel” and after a chat i not only rode the bike up the hill but then continued along the following circuit as well. Coming onto the climb for the second time I was caught by the Peleton so had to get off the bike and watch as the first racers went by. The people there had a BBQ going outside their Wine shop so I was invited to join in and a couple of the racers commented on my luck as they passed. In fact I then started passing out water as some of the back markers passed.
The 2009 Tirreno-Adriatico Time Trial route passed this way on the Sunday but there was nobody there this time , I guess it was their day off. I still found a gathering to join, the Italian hospitality is one of the things I have come to enjoy at the tours. Families think nothing of inviting people , even strangers to tuck into their feast which generally is a competition by the various ladies to provide the best of their cooking and baking. At various tours I have come across Anzacs on the side of the routes because these people have told me of them. When they do this I ask if they would like to invite them to join the party. I have had many emails from both hosts and invitees about how they enjoyed their day. I on the other hand usually have to head on down the road to the finish in most cases.
These days whenever he is in or around the “Tour Villages” he has his Journo mate with him as he seems to be the PR element but on some occasions he has his lady with him. He gets to go inside the village from time to time at the expense of some of his “Sponsors”.
You will find Didi at the World Road Championships and occasionally at the Giro d’Italia and Tour de Suisse usually with the van. When he flew into Sydney on the Friday afternoon of the opening of the Olympics , he walked the 15km from the airport to the opera house and settled down for two nights in the botanic gardens which border on the Governor’s home. Didi had welded five fixed cog wheels into the “Olympic symbol” to hang around his neck. Dressed in his costume he was the usual familiar sight, but to the security guards he was an intruder , well , they chased him out of the gardens several times as a danger to the public.
Sunday morning I was riding Centennial Park with Jeannie Longo when I saw the trident chalked on the road, , seeing some people sitting there , i asked about who put them there . I discovered that it was a “crazy man dressed in red and black carrying a rubber fork”. Pretty obvious who it was to us cycle fans, so I tried cycling around hoping to find him. After about an hour I asked some cycle cops and ambulance personnel if they had seen him and gave my mobile number for them to make contact. I had been told about his nocturnal activities so I went down to the security post and explained who he was. They thought the cogs were “ninja rings” but were surprised to hear he was in the “Guinness Book of Records” for several of his inventions . In fact they asked me to send him back so that they could get his autograph for their families . Later that afternoon I got a call from the ambulance cycle guys saying that Didi (they had another name) was seen sleeping in Hyde Park near the memorial, so I went over there.
When my shadow dropped on Didi he opened his eyes and went “Skippy”! Apparently I was the first person he had come across who knew who he was. Didi speaks no English , so could get no help with taxis, accom or eating and he had a small soft backpack with change of underwear,etc apart from the Plastic Trident that he carried with him. Talk about travelling light ! I decided the best plan was to get him to a German speaking situation or someone who could translate and thus arrange matters for him. Getting him to come with me to Central Rail Station a short distance away , was a chore , as he didn’t want to leave the city but I dragged him with my bike down the road. Seeing him with a cyclist and bike caused the penny to drop for some people as several people stopped us and asked for a photo and autographs .
On the train to Stanmore and the Concordia club we were surrounded by Cycle Fanatics who were grabbing autographs and photos. When we reached the Concordia club the manager proved to be a real fan as he gave Didi a bed in his own home which was near Centennial Park. Next day , Monday I saw Didi with Ron Niewand walking the park and on the Tuesday I took him out on “Big Foot” the boat I was living on during the Sydney visit.you have all seen Didi leaping in the air on land, well the Wednesday edition of the SMH has his photo with him airborne on water! From then until he flew out on the weekend he was the star once again. He wrote an interesting story of his Sydney visit, class it as fiction!
During subsequent Tours Didi has carried my bags and given me rides when the Peloton has passed . One occasion was a Sunday in 2001 out of the Maurienne valley towards Grenoble where the rest day was to be on the Monday. I was at the hotel when Lance arrived from the race, amongst those waiting was a couple who had visited George Hincapie at Bollene on that year's Dauphine Libere. On that visit I received a bottle of their wine and was lucky enough to have a repeat donation on this occasion. Their vineyard is on the slopes of Mont Ventoux and it was a very nice wine. Looking forward to renewing the friendship but George will have to give me their email address. On the Tuesday we had the ITT to Chamrousse which I had ridden several times in years past. Chamrousse is a favourite ski resort from earlier years when i had occasion to stay in the area with family friends .
This year , 2009 , Didi was parked on the last climb to Gran Bornand ,the Col de Columbiere . Arriving at his van after passing through a severe wind and hail storm I was able to grab a welcome refresher. At that time there was still a strong headwind as the van was parked on an open slope but a little higher up the wind moderated and at the top the rain had stopped . The Gendarmerie blockade was in place, and no one was alloowed to pass on the road so through the mud to the back of the control and on the bike for a rapid descent and warmer weather the further down I went. By the time I was stopped at the 1km mark corner I had dried out and was presentable enough to catch up with Nicolas Sarkozy at the finish after the Arrival formalities were completed. President Sarkozy was in his car about to leave when he must have seen the Tricot in the air. He got out of the car came over shook hands , signed the "Skippy's Legacy" tricot exchanged a few words then returned to the car for the hasty trip to the waiting Air Transportation .
I saw Didi during the climb to MT Ventoux on the saturday , but that day I was in a hurry to get over the top before the Gendarmerie started imposing order on the awkward visitors who thought this old fart should be walking the climb like they were.
I let my feet pedal , as if you can walk it you can ride it, but there are many times in many tours where people have to get out of their car to walk in to a viewing spot. Because of this they then treat the amateur riders with a lack of respect! How can you go to watch the “profis “ in action and treat the “amateurs” with disrespect, it’s beyond me!
Didi’s winter exploits continue in the photo!
More will be added at a later date ! Meanwhile enjoy visiting the other blogs and for reminders of further posts follow