was a picture-postcard sunny morning along the shores of Lac du Bourget. The gorgeous spa town of Aix-les-Bains in the Savoie
region was staging a start in the Tour de France. The VIP area at the Village Depart for Stage 18 was a buzz of journalists
and team personnel. The rider protests and subsequent mass abandons from the day before were big news.
I was milling
around inside the Village, taking pictures, sampling the impressive food displays and enjoying a glass of wine, when I came
upon a Mapei team Colnago C40 propped up against a tree near the Coeur de Lion marquee. As I got closer, I could see the frame
number- #38. Il Tafone was in the house!
I looked around and spotted Andrea chilling out in the shade, all on his
own. It was hard to believe by looking at his relaxed demeanor that he was about to go out and ride a hard 200 km Tour stage
or that he had already ridden 17 stages through the Pyrenees and Alps.
I didn't speak any Italian, I didn't know if
Andrea spoke English so we spoke in French, the language of the peloton. I told him I was a big fan and asked if he could
autograph my Mapei cycling cap. He did so and then noticed my "Io Tifo Tafi" fan club T-shirt. He
seemed to get a kick out of seeing the picture on the shirt that showed him winning the 96 Giro di Lombardia, maybe it was
good for his morale. He motioned for a woman working in the marquee to take our picture with my camera.
I wished him
luck and then the bell rang that signals to the riders that there are 5 minutes to go before the start. As he got on his bike
and headed for the gate, he tossed me one of his red Coca-Cola bidons. Awesome! As he pedaled out through the gate, he was
swarmed by fans calling his name. He stopped to sign autographs for the kids and then went off to work.