Bright and early like clockwork we are, breakfast and on the road we go, today back down to the foot of Alpe d’Huez, to take in a stage Depart, and then to ride the Col du Glandon, chasing (slowly) the peleton.
Already people on the descent into Bourg d’Oisans, and a bit of a traffic jam once we got there, so we walked the 1km into town, which wasn’t a bad thing, as all the team busses had parked on this street.
They were all locked up it seemed, waiting for the arrival of the actual riders.
The team cars and bikes started arriving as I walked down the street. The closer to the town center I walked, the more people I encounterd, and then there were the ever present railings. Mix those with fans standing waiting for their favourite cyclist, and a ton of people on clipless shoes with their bikes, and it was going to turn into a nasty bit of walking to do.
As usual, the Aussies and Kiwis and Springboks were out in force around the Orica Greenedge bus. As I stood there the team car rolled up. I got a good look at their Scott bikes and what casette they were going to run today with all the climbing, and then lo’ and behold, Yellow Jersey wearer Darrel Impey got out and was almost mobbed by the crowd.
Leaving the southern hemisphere, I walked further up towards the starting line. Here’s the sign in podium. What happens here is as the riders come in, get changed, meet with the team manager, etc, they’ll eventually, at their leisure I might add, ride their bike down to the sign in, walk up onto the podium, sign their name to the sheet, wave to the crowd, maybe answer a question (Tommy Voeckler answered one), and then ride back to their bus.
I let the nespresso folks give me a free sample of their coffee, I felt I needed another shot to deal with the crowds.
And here’s the Depart Fictif – The fake start. They roll out from this line, and head off to the real start 3km out from the town. No need to have people race in the narrow town streets.
Even an hour before the start it was getting too crowded to walk around there. And I really didn’t want to spend my entire morning staking out the starting line waiting for a photo op.
I went and spent some money on my polka-dotted jersey and tshirts and souvenirs at the Tour shop. Finally one that wasn’t mobbed. I really needed to get a hat, as I left mine in the hotel room, and yesterday I got a lot of sun.
I had really wanted to see more riders on their way to the sign in, so I walked back towards the busses.
I eventually made it to the Cannondale bus and camped out; I was a bit fed up with the crowds closer in and was hoping someone might take notice of my shirt.
But by standing there, I got to see a good deal of the other team’s riders on their way to and from the sign in.
And eventually, Peter Sagan…
So much for camping out for a rockstar. Next time I know to find someone who isn’t the team lead and work to getting them to sign something. I think the best bet is to be decked out in country colors or pay to be a VIP. Though if Ted King had been there, I probably would have gotten his autograph. Teejay’s above fandom it seems, so I probably would have had a better bet at the Garmin Sharp bus, as Tommy D is overall a good guy, and Talansky seems to be approachable too.
After Sagan departed, the bus started packing up:
Though not everyone had ridden to the finish line…
Alberto Contador was running late:
As were a slew of other riders:
I then made a miscalculation about where the tour was going to ride by, and missed watching them roll out. Oh well, sucks to be me. I went shoping at a local shopping center, which had some powerade, and some pain au chocolate. I then proceeded to wait for everyone for another half hour.
Already the traffic was terrible getting out of town.
Eventually we all met up near the roundabout and headed off to the bus. Because of the massive traffic jam getting out of town to the west, and the raining of cats and dogs on the Col du Glandon, we had a couple choices, either ride from Bourg d’Oisans up to Les Deux Alpes, or ride up the road behind Bourg d’Oisans, then back into town, then up to Les Deux Alpes. Brackie and George convinced me to do the longer ride.
The climb to Villard Reymond was a bit back up the Col d’Ornon, that reverse of which the Tour did yesterday on their way to Alpe d’Huez. About half way up the Col, we turned left, and road up towards Villard Reymond, where I was told a short gravel section awaited.
This climb was tough too. There wasn’t any give to the climb, it hit the ramp, and stuck with it. The major problems were the road. Because of the fresh rain, the slate hillside had let loose in multiple places, meaning there were multiple places where at an 8.5% gradient, you still had to have mental presence to ride around broken rubble in the middle of the road.
I hit one extra tough spot, and started grinding, head down, and almost ran into the bumper of the sag wagon. Gilles was watching the stage and was waiting for me to get past him, and my blinders kept me from seeing the van until the last moment. I was lucky to unclip in time, and then with a helpful push from Gilles, got back into the climb.
After that point it really started raining. I stopped briefly to put on my jacket, but the temperature dropped and the rain came on.
It was very serene and amazingly beautiful. Lots of streams within earshot, and waterfalls, cows with bells. But the road had issues. As if the rubble wasn’t enough, there were parts where the road was being eroded off the side of the hill, where inch wide seams had opened. Nasty dangerous descent.
So with the cold and the rain and all, we were going to load back up into the van, and head back to the base of Les Deux Alpes, and climb from there. A nice 30 minute ride down Villard Reymond into Bourg d’Oisans, and the traffic going towards the Col du Glandon had gotten worse. Guess it was ok to bypass that climb today. I was still looking forward to Marco Pantani’s signature climb.
Gilles dropped the three of us off at the base of the climb, into the drizzle and cold. Immediately it was a French natural break, and then back onto the climb, cold legs and all. George and Brackie left me to my devices, and though it wasn’t as tough as Villard Reymond, it was still a worthy adversary. There were Cannondale switchback counters with a KM to go counter, but for me it was Brackie’s point “It’s just 600 meters of climbing in 9km. So I switched my Garmin to the screen where I have total ascent, and started doing math to keep my mind off of my legs. 300m was 50%, 360 – 60% and in certain spots, 372m was 62%.
Because of the weather, and the lack of severity on the switchbacks, there wasn’t much to see on the way up, until you got right up to the town. There was a helicopter starting it’s engine, either to take someone up to the ski top, or to go rescue them; there was a big downhill competition today I found out later.
But then I made it up to the Pantani monument, the highlight of the climb… And the sun came out and it started to clear up.
And as usual, I kept riding to see where my legs could take me… Eventually to a steep ravine, so instead of riding down the ravine, I stopped, took pictures, and went back to the hotel.
Got showered and warmed up and back down to the hotel bar, where Stacy and Jason greeted me with a beer, so I had one of those and a Cappuchino.
Someone mentioned there was a great vista outside, so I took a short walk in the rain.
It was an amazing view. I had to take time to thank God for what he had given me, and to pray for my mom and my sister and for all the blessings in my life. For my daughter, my wife, my family, the people on the tour, and just give thanks.
It caused me to remember my time at Shrinemont up at Orkney Springs, and how I need to get back into going to church. And how much fun it would be now to go to Shrinemont with my bike.
Wiping the tears from my eyes, I walked slowly back to the hotel. Everyone was massed in the bar, and I wasn’t sure where they were going to eat, but I wanted to get some pasta for tomorrow’s last big ride, so I went and had some Italian. I wasn’t sure the place was open, I was there so early. I had forgotten that 6pm was early for dinner in France.
After a leisurely dinner, I ran into the tour guides in the lobby, and went out with them for the rest of the evening. Settled into a local pizza place, which was pretty good, though it seemed the local delacacy was some version of fondue with some stinky cheese, which I avoided.
I really had a good time getting to know the guides, especially Will. His support ont he rides and advice is some that I will always treasure. Gilles and Brackie also had some great advice, and I had a good time working on listening to more and more French.
After a drink, I went back to the hotel and packed up, as we had to be out bright and early since I was the only one doing the long ride, so one last ride with Will. Ahh Les Deux Alpes, I wish I had more time to spend there too.