Today was the big day, the queen stage of the Tour de France, the day they’re going to climb Alpe d’Huez twice. Or they were supposed to. The news after the individual time trial was that if it was rainy, that the ASO would cancel the climb and descent of the Col de Sarenne and the second climb up Alpe d’Huez. To be honest, the descent in question was very harrowing (for a rank amateur), and I could not imagine trying to do that in the rain, but these guys are professionals, the top of their sport, this is what they’re paid to do.
It reminded me of the first time the CART cars went to race around the new Texas motor speedway. The drivers said the track was too dangerous, because it allowed them to drive too fast, which would subject them to too many G-forces, which might cause them to black out and crash. My response to that is the same as to the Peleton; if you can’t stand the danger, you don’t *have* to ride so fast; you can always slow down.
Chris Froome said they shouldn’t have to ride it, only to be taunted by Alberto Contador in the press.
At dinner last it was raining, at night it had cleared up and was starry.
I woke up before my alarm this morning, as we were being kicked out of our hotel by Team Saxo Bank and Team Cannondale. We had to have everything out by 10am so the van could make it down the mountain and over to our hotel in Les Deux Alpes before the peleton took off out of Gap.
So an hour before breakfast would be ready, I went for a walk; no use in trying to go back to sleep. One good sign this morning; though it was overcast and chilly, the roads were drying up, even the ones meant to lead Froome astray:
As I took a walk back up to the finish line, the mountain was starting to wake up for the day. In France, you can camp/park/urinate/etc on any public land. So all the little grassy areas were full of campers:
It’s not all that easy of a walk. It’s quite a bit uphill from the hotel to the finish line, as one would expect at a ski resort.
It was very peaceful and serene, which would be a stark contrast to the pain and suffering that would occur here on the mountain in just a few hours.
The trucks that were arriving overnight were already unloading their fences, some of the media trucks were already in place, as well as the Izoard/Galibier/Club vehicles. Today we weren’t going to be watching from either the Izoard or the Finish line, the tour had rented a chalet at switchback #3 for us to watch the race.
I then continued my walk through sleepy Alpe d’Huez. It’s a wonderful town, and this taste just makes me want to come back and visit it again.
As I got back to the hotel, the Saxo Bank and Cannondale crew were just starting to show up and do their prep work.
So I went in and had my normal breakfast, then went up to the room, packed my still less-than-dry laundry into my suitcase, and brought it down to get loaded up on the bus.
I did see Phil in the hotel lobby, we exchanged a bit of banter, but he was on his way to spend a long day (one of many) up at the finish line.
At this point in time, my decision to ride or not was made for me, as they had loaded my bike up on the bus, and I could not ride it down the mountain and back up today. I was just a little upset at that, but with how awesome yesterday was, I got over it quickly.
After meeting with the guides, we had another 2 hours to walkabout before meeting back at the hotel at noon to walk to the Chalet, so again, I walked around Alpe d’Huez. It was less sleepy this time, and more buzzing about. Anxious energy was apparent throughout the campers and crowds, as everyone was still unsure if there was going to be a double ascent on the day. The weather was still overcast, but it was not rainy at all. I took a walk with Greg to go find the tour gift store, but we failed, and then walked back to the parking area to find that the guy who ran the stand nearest the ski shopping was not an official tour shop, and that when he told Greg “Only during the arrival or departure” he meant “The official tour shops are only near the finish line and the starting line.”
The “banned” version of the Robin Thicke song came up on the TV. No censoring here, and the parents of the grade school kids that were sitting across from me had no problems with the content.
Having my fill of coffee and nutella crepe, I walked back outside, to see that the Cannondale truck was setting up in the parking lot across from the hotel:
And I kept walking, back up to see if I could stop by the Tour gift stand and get some gear finally. Though in the 3 1/2 hours since I last walked up near the finish line, everything had changed. There were a lot more people up near the fences, and the gendarmes were out in force now.
So, eschewing the crowds and having 10 minutes to walk back, I made my third walk back to the hotel.
Back in the hotel, they were setting up what was the ddining room area to be the post-race press conference area for Team Saxo Tinkoff.
We all assembled and then eventually walked off towards the chalet. It was a walk back into town, and then down the side of two pretty steep, but stunningly beautiful hills.
After much downhill trepedation, we stumbled our way down to Switchback 2 and the really nice Chalet that was to be our home to watch Stage 18. We were a bit early, as we were the only ones there. So we did what we normally do, made ourselves at home and walked around inspecting the place. It had a nice balcony, and a really neat living room and kitchen, but that wasn’t the reason we were there. I then climbed down to the road and looked about…
The location was really nice. You could see Dutch Corner from there, and see the riders as they came up corners 4 & 5 as well.
And then walking up from the corner to where I watched the stage:
Once I got back to the chalet, it was food time. There were several salad combinations, most of which involved stinky cheese, so I kept that to a minimum. Baguettes and tasty sausages, and some grilled chicken.
We had a couple of big screen TVs to watch the stage, and just after the food was getting prepared, other groups from the tour arrived to help add some flavour and chaos.
I met a man whose picture I had taken for him up during one of my walks at the chalet; turns out he was also on a Custom Getaways cycling tour, and today they rode up Alpe d’Huez. So that got me wondering why I couldn’t have just met up with another CG group and ridden today. I understand the logistical nightmare of a one off, but this was my once in a lifetime tour.
After hanging out a bit after lunch, the publicity caravan came by. Brackie wanted to get a cow keychain for one of his boys, so I made extra effort to get one for him. Got more madelines, and this time the little sausages from a company called Cochonou. I wasn’t sure what to think about them, they look like, well, powered cat poop. But eventually I braved one, and they were just like a slim jim, just not in the cylindrical shape.
Then, like on Mont Ventoux, the waiting began. Preceded by a bunch of tour vehicles, and then the ever present sound of helicopters. Though this time, because I was close to the TVs, I could walk up the hill and watch and prepare. When the breakaway hit the foot of the climb, they had a big advantage on the main peleton, who were waiting to see what Saxo Bank would do to try to eat into Froome’s time.
It was a long time for the riders to get up to turn 3 even from the base of the climb. I thought that it would be easy to see when they hit Dutch Corner, as it would go crazy, but from the distance we were from turn 7, it was just a mass of people all the time.
As the helicopters grew closer and overhead, you knew that they were close.
Watching the stage this far up on the mountain was much better than where we were on Ventoux. You could really watch them here, instead of them flying by at a measly 4% grade, here it was at least 7.5%, and was at 70% up the mountain, so the pros even were struggling by this time. Just struggling at a much faster speed than I could muster.
And the group we were with included some… Canadians.
The first rider up to us… Again, it’s Sylvain Chavanel. Just like on Ventoux.
As each rider would come up to that point, they’d look at the fan right there, and I was thinking, “What the heck is that guy saying or doing to get their attention.” After a while I realized that they were instead looking down over switchback 3 to see where the peleton was.
An FDJ Rider, and Lars Boom Ride by:
And then Andy Schleck:
And then, a bit later, Team Sky lead the peleton on by:
After the Peleton went by, there were some team cars:
I then sauntered back up to the chalet to watch the race and to see what Contador and Kreuzenger would do. I watched in sadness as TeeJay dropped his chain on the descent and had to work his ass off to get back to Riblon. And as anticipated, Contador and Kreuzenger attacked Froome on the descent.
The attack was short lived, I think they were pulled in even before the tunnels on the way to Bourg d’Oisans.
The second time through was a bit more exciting, as it was cat and mouse on the first pass, everything was laid out bare on the second pass.
I seem to have missed Teejay, Riblon and Moser, but I did see Quintana and Purito ride by:
About a minute later, The big shock was here came with Froome and Porte being dropped…
Eventually Contador and the Polka Dot jersey rode by:
Part of the reason some of these are from hilltop and others from down beside is that after TeeJay and Riblon rode by, I ran up the hill to watch TeeJay win.. Only to see Riblon pass and take the stage for France. Back down the hill was a quick run to see how littered the hillside was with professionals. I did take some consolidation that most of the pros were riding in the Small ring, and either their biggest rind or next to biggest ring on the back. We all suffer, just the pros suffer and ride faster.
After Veelers went by, It was time to get out of town. We were going to be over at Les Deux Alpes for the next couple of days, so we had to get back into town, which was no easy feat. Those hills we walked down? They were calf killers on the way back up.
I had a revelation on the walk up. I might be climbing these mountains, and holding my own, but I’m still a sprinter by body type. In high school I ran the 100 meter, 200 meter and the long jump before getting pissed off at the track coach and not running for my junior and senior year. I did pretty well for a Freshman and Sophemore; my best was an 11.1 second in the 100 meters. But I’m very good at getting to my max wattage quickly. It’s just that the endurance part for max wattage is not there. I’m going to bet that it will come with more time in the saddle, and more interval training. I’d like to see what I’d do on a power meter on a bike.
But climbing up was a bit of the same, I walked quickly until I reached my output max, and then backed off a bit and finished pretty much ahead of everyone. I do notice now that I’m shape I recover much more quickly than before, and I can even recover without stopping. I know a climb up a hill is not a race, but more of a challenge (Though there is some big 5km hill climb at Les Deux Alpes, with 1km of ascent over that 5km). I did get passed by a guy on a mountain bike riding up from the stage, as karma’s way of keeping an ego intact.
As we got back to the hotel, some of the Saxo Bank and Cannondale riders were riding up. What sport gives the average fan this much access to its athletes?
But alas, we had to get to the bus. I think that’s about the only thing that was a detractor on the day, was the inability to just hang out and enjoy the after-stage. Maybe when I come back with my family we’ll camp out and enjoy being part of fandom after a stage.
Gathered up into a group, and off towards the ski lifts to take us over to Auris en Oisans, which is where our bus was parked. This was no simple matter, as I’ve never ridden on a Ski Lift before. I had no reason to go up on a mountain side before; I’ve never skiied, and mountain hiking is not really something that’s appealed to me, though I might consider it once Charlotte gets older.
So in the ever increasing line I went, and found Gary and Greg. Gary had been hampered by an achillies tendon pull he suffered on Mont Ventoux, so he wasn’t able to ride with us much, and really really soldiered out all the walking we had to do. Lucky for me one of them had a spare lift ticket, as I had expected one of the guides to come down the line and hand them to us. Silly me.
I was a bit concerned that the instructions were “When you get off, get on the next one.” It looked like there were forks in the lifts, and how would we know what the next one was?
Also, heights. Having never been on a ski lift, and knowing we were going to go across one of the valleys between the mountains, that got me nervous. I saw the way the power lines went across the valley from my hotel room, I was a bit unsettled.
So it was another “Act like you belong there” moments, so I watched and did like a pro. Greg, Gary and I got ready, and Greg’s gate didn’t open, so Gary and myself (and a german) got on one lift, ang Greg got a ride all his own.
At this point I was ok, since, hey we’re about 15 meters off the ground.. But the big dip was coming soon:
At no point was I more than 15-20 meters off the ground, so I treated this like a slow moving roller coaster. I now have another reason to go to ski resorts.
Or maybe Alpe d’Huez was spoiling me, because it was incredibly beautiful.
We hit the ground, and I realized why it would be easy to get to the bus; the lifts were only running in one direction, so there was no decisions to be made. Well, just which seat you wanted to be in, I chose the outside every time.
Gary and I finally caught up after the second transfer:
And well, more stunning beauty. I just couldn’t believe I was here amongst the clouds on a peaceful yet scarry ride, and it just got more and more awesome.
Once back firmly on the ground, it was time for the ride down to the Lac du Chambon and then up the 9 virages to Les Deux Alpes.
That’s Les Deux Alpes there, just in the slight upper right part of that mountain.
Once there, and nestled into the hotel, it was decompression time.
It was a really nice hotel room, though it did remind me of Austria more than it did of France.
But what a stage today. It was so sad seeing Teejay come up short on the win and having his name on the side of a switchback, but it was good for France to have Riblon come through on the first ever dual climb of Alpe d’Huez. Quintana and Purito are for real, and does Froome have enough of a cushion or is he in real peril? And I guess this about raps it up for Alberto Contador. There was a point today where Kreuzenger had to wait up for Contador. And if it weren’t for Richie Porte, how much time would Froome have lost today? I know all about being able to pace oneself when there’s a wheel in front of you to keep on, but if Porte had not had great form today, would Froome have lost even more time to Quintana?
Dinner was incredible, though I didn’t particularly like the mdelon appetizer (I did have a couple slices to make sure), but with a good deal of wine, both white (which wasn’t bad this time) and the red, it was more than enough.
After dinner, it was quite hot in the hotel, so I went for a bit of a walk about, and ended up at Crepes a Gogo, which did not have the Jersey style of Gogo. But I had a nice Illy Cappuchino and read the Equipe, and with that warm caffinated buzz, I rolled back to the hotel. And Huzzah! All my wet clothes I had hung out upon arrival were dry. Yay for simple things. Having enough underwear and cycling kits for the rest of the trip makes me happy.
Tomorrow we go down into Bourg d’Oisans and watch a Depart!