Not being able to host us in the wine cellar, Paulo welcomes us into his kitchen. “Have some saucisson!” he commands as he fills us three glasses. A few friends are already there – or rather, they are still there, since Paulo isn’t good at letting people leave. “I’ve been coming here for 17 years,” one says to me. The glasses are filled as quickly as they are emptied. Leave? Why would you do that? Henri Sannier (a French sports journalist and former Tour de France TV frontman) was here this morning. Now another guy named Henri joins us, and as this new Henri takes off his cycling cap and dips his moustache in some wine, the lights come back on. “To the wine cellar!” thunders Paulo. We follow him, the master of the house, and discover the inner sanctum.
Every square inch is covered with memories: there are yellow jerseys from Chris Froome and Miguel Indurain, Laurent Brochard’s world champion’s stripes, a dedication from Andy Schleck, Virenque’s polka dots, a picture of Paulo and Alberto Contador from a newspaper. A photo of the 20th edition of Les Retrouvailles sits above a plaque, and you’d think it was a photomontage or a resumé of cycling history, so surreal is it to see such a concentration of champions.