Ou sont Poitou-Charentes?

It's about a race.

Europcar means only one thing to a Frenchman, Thomas Voeckler. The Tour de France King of the Mountains was the star rider of the Tour de Poitou-Charentes.

Poitou-Charentes is a region of France, Poitiers to La Rochelle to Cognac, central French flatlands, the agricultural heart of France. Quiet roads, warm weather and few hills characterise the race and Voeclker (2007), Landis (2000), Sylvan Chavanel (2005, 2006), Jens Voight (2003), Cristophe Moreau (1999), are the type of rider that wins this lesser known race.

Stages 3 and 4 made a two stage day. Stage 3 a road stage through the villages around La Roche-Posay, Stage 4 a short 22km individual time trial.

Rolling through the villages and lanes escaping the bunch was a difficult proposition. But, as we know, it’s worth a go. Orica GreenEdge (OGE) undid the intentions of the would be escapees. The finish was a brow behind the town centre and a bunch sprint. Aidis Kruopis (OGE) rewarded the effort.

The race village was scattered across the town. Buses, trucks and riders, the back stage of the race, open and accessible to all, as only cycling is.

Contre la montre. A short TT, but important for the overall. The warm up is key to the performance, riders sweating on trainers, with olbas soaked cotton buds in nostrils and headphones clamped to heads.

At the start the crowds mix with the cars and the heady, nervousness of the riders on the ramp. A strong field, riders we know, and at the top of the pile Luke Durbridge, the man who took Boardman’s pursuit record. Is there any more to say?

Yes. Le Sportif were fortunate to follow Jenning Huizenga in the Rabobank team car.

He’s quick. Down the ramp and powering up and round the first corner. Straight down into the aero position. Fast, really fast. The rider in front is coming backwards towards us. The power unwinds from Jenning’s legs driving forward, rock solid, and the minute man is gone. At 5k he’s 1 minute up on Durbridge. The car is excited. Pushing, pushing and the next car is coming towards us. As the road twists up the side of a shallow valley we can see the AG2R rider ahead. Jenning pushes on, he’s with Jimmy Caspar before the top of the climb. But this is it. Youthful enthusiasm has put paid to his day out. For a few kilometres it seems like a two up TT, Jenning can’t pass Jimmy, and then he can’t leave him. They battle head down driving to stay in the other’s wheel, but eventually the slipstream breaks and Jenning makes headway.

‘Superman at the start eh?’ says the driver. But to watch him bury himself he’s still superman. Hard, hard, head down and suffering, but maintaining the position. Flying down into town again, bravely in the tuck at 80kph or more. 23rd on the day.

And Thomas? Who knows where he finished? The crowds are still three deep round the Europcar bus…