The best start ever to a Tour de France – that is what the organisers were saying in London 18 days ago, that is what the riders were saying. It seems like a long time ago now.
The mood on the Tour on Wednesday, the morning after the bombshell of Alexandre Vinokourov’s failed doping test, was mixed.
The fans were still there in force at the start of stage 16 in Orthez, scrabbling for the freebies the sponsors hand out, and for autographs from those riders they still believe in.
It is clear they don’t believe in the current race leader, Michael Rasmussen, who was greeted with cries of “voleur” (thief) when he finally emerged from the safety of the Rabobank bus to sign on.
Rasmussen has not tested positive but there are doubts over his explanations for missing random drugs tests after he failed to provide anti-doping authorities with his up-to-date whereabouts. He would clearly be an unpopular winner.
I spoke to a number of riders before they set off. Australian Cadel Evans, widely regarded as an anti-doping champion, told me he was always happy to see a cheat caught, although he acknowledged it was bad for the sport’s image.
His words were echoed by team-mate Chris Horner, who said: “I'm certainly not surprised [and] glad to see that the drug-testing is working.
“People are going to have to be patient and have a bit of belief in the system, I guess. It's certainly better than it has been.”
Perhaps the most interesting words came from T-Mobile’s Bernhard Eisel, whose team was left in shock by last week’s news that Patrick Sinkewitz had failed a drugs test.
The Austrian sprinter faced a tough day chasing the climbers up tough Pyrenean stage and that the peloton still features a number of cheats.
“It's a never-ending story, a nightmare actually,” he said.
“They [the cheats] just keep going. They believe they are smarter than everybody else.
“The tests we have are really good but at the moment it's depressing to go to the start of a big mountain stage and still know there's somebody else out there.”
We had some hint there would be a protest before the start of the stage, and sure enough all six French teams and the German T-Mobile and Gerolsteiner squads staged a 13-minute protest.
They are the first teams to join a coalition called the Movement for Credible Cycling and hopefully more will join.
The last few days have been painful for those who love the Tour and who follow cycling.
Some may feel it’s not worth it anymore and they will walk away from the sport, others will raise an eyebrow every time a rider puts in a great performance.
The question is where now for cycling?
For a start, firm action must be taken by those at the top before sponsors, cycling fans and the kind of casual fans who lined the course so enthusiastically in London desert en masse.