So many people are aware of my 14 rides on the Routes of the Grand Tours and since i started blogging with " Parrabuddy " about two years ago they have enjoyed insights of behind the scenes action during each July .
There is one character originating from Holland that does the route the day before towing a trailor and starts as the signs go up . Spoke briefly with him on the 2010 tour as i had decided to do two stages the same day so as to have extra time in Morzine visiting friends in that area . This middle aged gent was also doing a film with a support team so whilst he knew about my episodes on the Tour he was not too keen to ride any of the route together . Suited me since i was travelling light and thus travelling faster and of course had far more distance to cover those two days . Whilst i slept at the finish in the Jura that night i guess he was camped along the route .
Uncharacteristically i took the car to Britany for the start one year expecting to connect with some acquintances who were to drive my car supporting three riding , with two on the road throughout each stage .
They on the other hand after a few days decided that they were not so interested to cover each stage in full so we went our separate ways . Thus i found that i was doing far more than the scheduled route each day with having to go back for the car and move it down the next days route so as to take advantage of any shortcuts that would be created by the Tour dog legging rather than when it travelled in a direct line . Similar situation occured in 2009 when in the last week the car was abandoned by the driver at the start in Martigny and i was looking for him in Bourg St Maurice .
Whilst on the Tour route that year i picked up with a couple of Americans for a few days and was introduced to the star of this post .
" GEORGETHECYCLIST " travels the world on his bike and if you go to www.georgethecyclist.blogspot.com you will enjoy a smorgesbord of stories from all over . Somewhere in his tales he has mentioned yours truly several times . So to start the third year of my blogging i will leave you with his story of our meeting . Sometime later i hope he will return with links to the various posts where he has mentioned many of our escapades :
" George on Skippy
Every June the week-long Dauphine-Libere in France is the final tune-up race for many of the riders planning to compete in the Tour de France. I too made it a preparatory race before attempting to follow my first Tour in 2004. It was in fact the first professional bicycle race I witnessed in Europe. It gave me a small glimpse of what La Grande Boucle would be like riding its course and submerging myself among the throngs along its route. I was hoping to find others similar to me on loaded touring bikes tagging along with the peloton. Unfortunately, over the years I have only happened upon a very small handful, rarely more than one or two a year making the attempt.
I did notice though at the Dauphine on several of the stages a tall, lanky, distinguished looking gentlemen with gray facial hair decked out in Lycra on a quality racing bike riding the course at a near racing clip. He was clearly a devotee of the sport, one of those cyclists who have logged so many hours on their bike they look as if they are at one with it, as if they virtually live on their bike. I immediately recognized him as a distinctive character, someone I would like to get to know. He was wearing an Italian club jersey, implying that was his nationality. That seemed natural, as the Italians are the most rabid of cycling fans. I doubted that he spoke English, so I did not make any effort to track him down, nor did any opportunity present itself to casually meet him.
It was no surprise to see him a couple weeks later at The Tour. He was looking as Italian as ever. Bike racing was clearly his life. I saw no others who even remotely compared to his dedication or flair. He was most definitely the ultimate of racing fans and followers.
Over the next couple of years I'd continue to catch glimpses of him, but without any contact. It wasn't until I met a German cyclist with panniers on his bike doing what I was doing did I finally learn who this Godfather of Tour followers was. The German said he had met him and claimed that he was an English-speaker, if Australians can be said to speak English. When he said "Australian" I didn't think I heard him correctly, thinking he meant Austrian. But no indeed, this fellow was Australian and was known as Skippy. It was towards the end of The Tour that year and I didn't see Skippy again. I returned the following year determined to finally meet him.
Coincidently that year I met an American cyclist from Texas by the name of Jesse who had teamed up with Skippy. Jesse was trying to ride The Tour route in its entirety, though using trains for the transfers between stages, in tribute to a cycling friend who had died of cancer. His brother was accompanying him, biking some, but also hopping aboard trains with their gear so Jesse's bike would be lighter. About a week into The Tour they met Skippy, who was trying to bike as much of the route too as he could, but also with the assistance of a car. He was looking for a driver. Jesse's brother assumed that role.
Jesse was experiencing pain in his knee so wasn't rocketing along as fast as he would have otherwise, more at my pace, allowing us to periodically ride together. He began telling me some of the extraordinary stories of Skippy's Tour experiences dating back to l998 when he was befriended by Marco Pantani. A day or two later when Skippy joined us as we were riding along, and I got a first hand dose of his stories, I quickly learned he was as well known in the peloton as The Devil, and knew quite a few people along The Tour route as well. He'd stopped and have a glass of wine with someone he knew and then catch back up to us.
In the years since our meeting we have become fellow comrade in arms making the effort to meet up as often as possible during The Tour to share our different perspectives and experiences. He hasn't stopped amazing me with who he has last bumped into and with anecdotes from his many Tours past, not only of France but Italy and Spain and others, hanging out with the riders at the start and finish of the stages and also riding with them on their rest days. I was thrilled when he finally started a blog in December of 2009 http://parrabuddy.blogspot.com to put some of them in print.
If I had had any doubts as to his celebrity, they would have been laid to rest three Tours ago at the Grand Depart in Monaco, I was on the outskirts of the principality, just arriving on my loaded bike, when the French AGR2 team passed me as they were out on a training ride. One of the riders blurted, "Hey it's Skippy," a joking reference to me, as other than my similar gray beard and skinny figure, I would not be mistaken for Skippy, not wearing Lycra and chugging along on a loaded up bike. When I mentioned it to Skippy later in the day he said he would give those guys a scolding for having a laugh at his expense. For me though it was a high honor.