June 29, 2012 (Liège, Belgium) – In front of the Palais des Prince-Evíques de Liège (almost) all the riders of the 99th Tour de France appeared before the public in the traditional pre-race team presentation. With the ‘voice of the Tour’ Daniel Mangeas as the master of ceremonies introduced the 22 squads to the crowd that was assembled in Liège with some riders also giving a brief interview on the stage.
It’s a mandatory part of the race but two men were absent today: David Millar (GRM) and Christophe Kern (EUC). The Scotsman has been suffering an illness and his team asked him to sit out the presentation in favour of getting some rest and recuperation in the hope that he will have recovered in time for the prologue in LiËge on Saturday. Garmin-Sharp ‘directeursportif’ Allan Peiper explained that he had been vomiting earlier today and that Heinrich Haussler was ready as a reserve should Millar not be able to take the start. But, after stepping off the stage, his team-mate Robert Hunter was optimistic about the chance of the time trial specialist starting. “He was bad but I saw him before coming to the presentation and he seems to be improving,” said the South African champion about Millar.
Kern was missing for family reasons: his wife gave birth only a couple of hours before he was due to appear on stage alongside his Europcar team-mates. He will, however, be on the bike and ready to race when the prologue starts in two days time.
One of the real stars of the peloton was the form favourite Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky. The British rider – who is already a winner of the titles at Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie and Criterium du DauphinÈ this year – was the man in demand both on the stage and with the media assembled in the courtyard Palais des Prince-EvÍques. He joked with Mangeas on stage and, even if his quirky sense of humour was a little lost on the French host, he put his personality on display and offered some insight into what he expects from the 2012 Tour. “We are in the position of favourite because I have won a lot already this year,” said Wiggins afterwards, “but I don’t feel that much pressure exactly because we have won a lot already this year.”
When asked about his chances in the race, he explained that last year it was all over for him after seven stages and that this year, if he is not in hospital before the first long time trial (stage nine) it “could be good for me”.
The last team to appear on stage was BMC, with the defending champion Cadel Evans. The American-registered squad with an international cast receive arguably the loudest applause… for two reasons: the presence of the Australian who won his Tour title at the age of 34, and the fact that the world’s number-one ranked rider from 2011, Philippe Gilbert, is also in the line-up.
Gilbert was raised near Liège and is a popular crowd favourite. He explained that, when the Tour started here in 2004, he thought that he may have missed the chance to do this race where he grew up… but now that opportunity has been presented again.
After appearing on the stage, the teams returned to the courtyard where official photos were taken. Here they also signed a large mural with caricatures of the some riders were printed. At the top of each team’s panel the riders added their signatures before answering questions of journalists and later retreating to their team buses.
The next time the riders return to the center of Liège it will be for the 6.4km prologue that starts at 2.00pm on Saturday.