Tuesday, July 27, 2004
Photos from the Trip
Stage 15 - Villard de Lans:
Col de Glandon:
Stage 17 - Col de la Madeline:
Stage 19 - Besancon:
Stage 20 - Paris:
July 25-27 - Paris France - STAGE 20 & REST DAY
The rest of our trip involved relaxing, eating some good food, hitting the major sights (Nortre Dame Catherdral, Eiffel Tower and Louve) briefly and just enjoying a full day in France without a bike.
It is safe to say that for both Jim and myself, this trip was more than we expected in so many ways. Nothing can prepare you for the French Alps the first time, nothing. It is beautiful, difficult, barren and overwhelming. We are coming back again someday to ride these Cols again. I have some unfinished business with the Col de Glandon, the Col de la Croix de Fer and the Col de la Madeline.
VIVE LE TOUR!
Saturday, July 24, 2004
Saturday, July 24 - STAGE 19: Besancon
Today was our final day of the trip and the last stage before Paris. The ride to Besancon was fairly uneventful. The terrain was a mix of flats and short rolling hills with one lovely descent through a forest on the outskirts of Besancon. The weather for the day was cloudy and rainy but we were watching the Tour so what was a little rain?
Time Trials are not very exciting as spectator races, in my opinion. Jim and I chose to hang out at the finish line with the hopes of spying a celeb or two. We did get to see Phil Ligget and Paul Sherwin in the media booth and took pictures but alas we never did find Bob Roll and the OLN travelling desk. We walked up and down the 500m of the finish and bought some souvenirs, ate some French fries and watched the riders coming in. The crowds were full of enthusiasm for every rider as they came down the finish. People would bang on the barrier, it was definitely noisy and I could imagine how that sound combined with the cheering would push anybody to give every last ounce of energy he had.
At one point, we settled down on a jersey barrier (cement slab - mini wall) to watch some riders. As I slid down off the barrier, I rip my bike shorts. Just a small hole, enough to moon folks on the ride back to the bus. We stayed to watch Lance start his time trial on the giant jumbo screen but were unable to stay to see him cross the line because we had to meet a bus about 10K outside of Besancon for the trip back to the hotel.
The day ended with a ride to the bus (to avoid Tour traffic),where our trusty rental bikes were removed of our pedals and saddles and packed away, there jobs complete. We took the bus back to the hotel for a final night's celebration and dinner.
Friday, July 23, 2004
Friday, July 23 - Bossey, Switzerland to Dole, France
After two days of not riding well, I was aching to get out on the bike today and remind myself that I could ride a bike for more than 60-70K. Our guides asked me if I planned to skip the moring climbs and start after the Picnic Lunch. NO, I will be riding today! was m y reply.
The morning climb of the Col de la Grivine was long but gentle. We started out in the sun and heat and by the time I got to the top of the climb a storm was rolling in. I put on my rain jacket, ate a PowerBar and hoped for the best. What I got was thunder, lightening and pouring rain on a descent. Would France EVER cut me some slack? After only 30K on the bike, soaked to the bone and not too happy, the sag van picked me up and dropped myself and several other soaked Tour-mates at the picnic-lunch that had become pizza at a local restaurant. I sat with Jim and ate a mozzarella and olive pizza and waited for the sun to return. As soon as it did, I asked our guide Suzie for my bike back, I was getting back on the bike! 85K later I rolled into Dole, France .. enjoying the sunshine, the scenery and just being back on the bike! Finally a day over 100K, redemption at last!
Dinner was in town in Dole on our own. We did well, we managed to find the restaurant that the locals loved and ate outside. Wonderful!
Thursday, July 22, 2004
Thursday, July 22 - STAGE 17 - Col de la Madeline
This was a reality day for me. The reality was that based on my speed and the incline, I wasn't going to be very successful in climbing the Col de la Madeline. With a 19.5km of climbing and less than 4 hours until the Tour arrived at the summit, I had to make a decision that I never thought I might. Today I would not ride and Jim would .. One of us had to make it to the summit of Col de la Madeline!
I spent the morning in the van with Enriquo, Leighton, Layola and her husband. Enriquo decided we were going to make a “run” for Madeline in the vans. The worse that could happen is that the Gendarmes would stop us, either way we would see the Tour pass by. We made it about 8k from the summit before the Gendarmes told Enriquo to park the van, we could go no further. The road on the summit to Madeline was covered with cars, campers, thousands of fans and cyclist all there to watch the Tour. With 2.5 hours until the caravan arrived, I decided that I would get out and walk toward the summit. The Gendarmes were still letting cyclist and walkers up the mountain.
I walked about 3K and ran into the other tour guide, Gabe. Since Gabe was situated on a perfect spot at a switchback just before the 5K banner, I decided I would stay with him for the day. We had a great time screaming ici ici (translated: here here) at the Caravan girls and got some awesome pictures of the riders as they came through.
After the riders came through, the Gendarmes opened and the road again and I travelled with Gabe to the regroup point where we would take a bus to our hotel for the night at Chateau de Bogis near Lake Leman. The 2 hour bus ride took 4 hours due to traffic but it was better tha being stuck in the heat.
Dinner was at the Chateau de Bogis where we were spending the night. The hotel decor was what I called classic IKEA. Yeah I know …. When it come to decorating styles, I'm just a clueless American. It was a beautiful stay and we had thunderstorms that night .. the sound of falling rain gave Jim and I our best nights sleep since we had left the 4-star splendour of Annecy 5 days before.
Wednesday, July 21, 2004
Wednesday, July 21 - Col de Glandon & Col de la Croix de Fer
Today's goal was simply to do the best I could. I had no idea how I would handle climbing a CAT 1 Climb. I only knew that I had to give it a honest effort. Jim and I both were pretty “unnerved” in the morning only I wouldn't put that together until later. At the time I just though that he was grumpy, very unlike him. The mornings ride was some gentle climbs and flats into the town of Allemont, just passed the base of Alp d'Huez. Because today was the Time Trial there were hundred of cyclist coming from the opposite direction, heading towards Alp d”Huez. Knowing they were expecting upward of 900,000 spectators on Alp d”Huez, Iwas glad that we were riding instead of watching the stage today.
Less than 1K past the center of Allemont, the climb of the Col de Glandon begins. In places, the col reaches inclines of up to 12% but the average grade for the entire climb is 10%. I made it through the first 10K but not before running out of chain rings in the back. Whenever it became too much, I had no problems with getting off the bike and walking until the grade lessoned enough for me to get back on the bike. The irony was not lost on me that I could walk parts of the Col de Glandon faster that I could ride them. Between 8-10K into the climb, I began to develop a blister on my heel from walking in my bike shoes. I had to face reality. I could walk allot of the Col de Glandon and risk the blister getting bigger and not be able to ride for the next few days or I could end the day now and know that I tried my damnedest and live to ride another day. I chose the latter. The support vans were full of fellow Tour-mates who climbed as far as they could and several folks who chose not to ride at all that day, so I had plenty of company. Jim kicked the Col de Glandon and the Col de la Croix de Fers butt! Okay well it kicked his butt but he rode the entire day none the less! I am so proud of him!
The descent of the Col de la Croix de Fer was dizzying and dazzling in the van and from Jim's reports even more dizzying and dazzling on the bike. There were no guardrails and several switchback and hairpins as well as some tunnels to be wary of. Nevertheless, everybody made it safe off the Col and into Saint Jean De Maurrienne where we caught Armstrong's performance on Alp d'Huez live on tv. The whole group was a buzz at dinner with American pride and looking forward to seeing the Tour again tomorrow from Col de Madeline.
Dinner was at Hotel de l'Europe and was chicken and pasta It was great to have a classic post cycling meal after such a challenging day.
Tuesday, July 20, 2004
Tuesday, July 20 - STAGE 15
Today we would watch our first of 3 stages of the Tour! The whole group was excited and ready to go. We had some gentle climbing up to Villard de Lans along with hundreds of other Tour enthusiasts. The rode was packed with cyclists, the accents were great! Aussies, Italians, French, Americans and Germans .. everybody headed up to the race. Although I continued to be the slowest climber in the group, on this day, I was never “alone” on the road.
We regrouped in a the village of Lens en Vercors, grabbed out day-bags from the support vans and headed out the last 10K towards Villard de Lans and the finish line. Jim and I stayed together and wandered into town along with thousands of others. It quickly became apparent that to really get around at a Tour Stage town, a bike was the way to go.
We rode into town, discovered the last 3K to the finish was already closed off to traffic (we would have to walk our bikes) and decided that we would head back down and watch the race from a great spot just past the 5K banner were we would be able to see the racers start there last small climb as they made there way to the finish. Having decided on a “spot” we wandered back into town to grab water, a baguette, Coca Light (Diet Coke) for me and Coca (Coke) for Jim, some fresh nectarines and mini ham and cheese pizzas from the Patisserie/Boucherie (Notice a pattern here?? Ham and Cheese?)
Watching the Tour was everything we thought it would be and more. The fans are just as vocal as any fans at a football game here in the states! The caravan that precedes the race is crazy and the fans are crazier. Screaming and Yelling and Scrambling to get the free hats, candy and water that the caravans throw into the crowd! Without becoming a “frenzied fool” I managed to catch a hat or two and get some pictures of the Caravan and the crowds. Now all that was left was waiting for the riders to arrive.
The arrival of the riders is heralded by the helicopters. You hear them long before you “see” anything but the excitement when you hear the helicopters is so intense .. it's like the adrenalin you feel before a road race or a triathlon. We watched and listened as the roar of fans grew and you knew that they were coming. Suddenly there they were …. Simoni, Veronque, Hincappee, Basso, Armstrong… and following not far behind, the peleton and Vockler (still in yellow). To see these men up close, was awe inspiring. To see the speed with which they were climbing after a rest day, humbling. To hear that Lance won the stage less than 5K away from us and took the Yellow Jersey for the first time in the tour - thrilling! Jim and I were both as happy as pigs in mud! We were right where we always talked about being while sitting on the couch after training rides watching the tour on tv.
Following the Stage finish, it became apparent once again that riding a bike is the way to see the Tour. We were out on the road on our way back to Grenoble long before the cars were ever out of the parking lots made from local farmers fields. Due to a little confusion with the cue sheet, Jim and I got a little lost on the way back through Grenoble. This is where my wonderful “techno-loving” man comes in so handy! He had brought a handheld GPS unit to track our climbing and all we had to do was plug in the hotel address and turn every time it beeped. Within 5 minutes, we were back at the hotel. We were luckier that some of our fellow Tour-mates, some of whom spent an hour wandering the street of Grenoble. As Hank said as he rolled in “I was lost but now I am found!” Dinner was in town at Bistrot Lyonnaise Another great but very long meal. The lack of daily naps that Jim and I are accustomed to taking on our Bike VA trips was beginning to catch up to us. There is much to be said for naps, at any age!
Monday, July 19, 2004
Monday, July 19 - Annecy to Grenoble
Let our Tour begin! Jim and I immediately chose to do the soft version of this ride, our theory being that we both seem to gain fitness as our bike vacations progress and we wanted to give ourselves a fair chance at Col de Madeline and Col de Glandon later in the week. Of the 30 people on the trip, about half the group did the soft route and half the group did the 5 Cols.
In the morning we rode through the Montagne du Semnot and climbed the Cols of Leschaux (897m) and Plainpalais (1173m), It was on these Cols that I had my first opportunity to really try out my French conversational skills. On two separate occasions, I found myself chatting with some fellow male cyclists. Even with my handicap, Je parle un peu du Français (translation: I only speak a little French), we managed to discuss the weather (Il fait chaud: It's hot!), my destination (Grenoble by way of Chambrey), and warm wishes for a good ride! Those chats really made a difference in what was turning out to be some LONG SLOW climbing on my part.
The descents were the most technical descents I have ever experienced in my life. Switchbacks, hairpin turns and speed bumps through small French towns all while going downhill made for a harrowing experience. This was nothing like the fun I experience at home coming off SkyLine Drive. By the time I got to the bottom of the second descent I was physically exhausted and shaking. I was done riding for the day at 50K. I had the foresight to get off the bike before I was completely exhausted and miserable. I'd save those experiences for later in the trip. I spent the remainder of the day with Gabe (a tour guide) and Pat (a fellow Tour guest), riding in the support van getting to know them better, cheering our folks on, and watching the beautiful French country side go by. Jim rode the entire distance with a group of 6 or 7 riders and had a good day too.
Upon arrival in Grenoble, a bunch of us decided to seek out some sandwiches since there were 4 hours until dinner at 8PM. We wander down the main avenue in Grenoble searching for a Boucherie/Patessarie (Deli/Bread shop). After endless blocks we stopped in a local bar on the off chance they might serve sandwiches. After a lot of mixed communications, we were able to order 8 Ham and Cheese Baguettes and a few bottles of water. Jim and I managed to talk to a bar patron about the Tour, Lance Armstrong and Vokler. It was fun trying to chat a little and then we sat down and enjoyed sandwiches with our fellow Tour-mates and headed back to the hotel to shower before dinner.
Dinner was in town at Le Petit Paris. For our aperitifs, Jim tried the frog leg sausages and I tried the snails. Both were delicious. Main course, lamb for Jim and Pike in a crème sauce for me followed by some delicious deserts and accompanied by plenty of local wine and water! Every dinner was like this as we would come to find out. 2.5 - 3 hours with lots of food and drink served slowly so you could enjoy your company and the food. After a day in the sun on the bike with lots of climbing we were all ready for bed soon enough!