Filed under: General
Suffering Tour withdrawal symptoms?
Yeah I’ll bet many of you are – well I’ve got a whole bunch of stuff to post up in the next few days by way of an update and to complete the Tour write up. As a distraction, if you are in Melbourne you should get out and watch the final of the Dirty Deeds Cyclocross series – to be held back at Harrison St Velodrome towards the end of the month. I read the writeup on the second race that took place a few weeks ago and it looked like a cracker – these races keep getting better and better and I’m disappointed I’ll miss the final race by only a couple of days.
My family arrived the Monday after the Tour finished on the Champs Elysees and we have continued travelling in France after spending a week in a cramped apartment near the Musee D’Orsay.
I’ve managed to not crash the car driving on the right hand side of the road and my cunning plan of getting my bike on the roof, my bike bag collapsed and lashed to the roofracks and having a suitcase full of stuff shipped back to Melbourne to avoid being slugged (again) with huge excess baggage fees – all while avoiding divorce – is coming along quite nicely.
We are currently based in the Loire valley and I’ve managed to get out on a few rides that are a total contrast to the mountains – nice and flat which probably suits my waistline that is taking a post-Tour hammering from French pastries, bagettes, cheese and wine – I can’t understand why most french people I’ve met eat like horses with apparent impunity.
In a slightly perverse sense we are missing out a bit here as there is very little post Tour excitement of any kind around here or in Paris during the following week for that matter - in contrast to the celebrations and excitement going on back in Oz. If Volker had won perhaps it may have been different here.
Anyway, plenty to write about and some of it cycling related.
Blog update coming soon when I finish sorting through the photos I am rapidly accumulating. Suffice to say the Chateaux here in the Loire are jawdroppingly incredible, the weather has been amazing and we have finally found some decent restaurant food after encountering mostly tourist tat in Paris.
Au revoir for now.
It seems somewhat odd writing this sitting in my Paris apartment nearly a week after the time trial has finished but I managed to get some good shots from the day Cadel clinched his historic victory and thought it would be worthwhile posting them up and giving you some personal impressions of the day.
Generally I find watching time trials pretty boring and I have to admit the first part of the day became that – we arrived early in Grenoble and were dropped right outside the Mercure where the Cofidis, Astana and Movistar buses were set up – a whole row of Look time trial bikes were stacked against the building and the Cofidis mechanics had already set up the warm-up area roped off on the footpath with their stands set up next to the bus.
What was interesting about the time trial day is that we could wander around and get up pretty close and personal to a number of the teams and riders as they completed their runs. We did a circuit of the large park where the start and finish areas were located and stopped for a while next to the entrance of a large stadium where most of the teams were set up behind barriers. As it happened Cadel rode past into the area just as we arrived in full kit on his bike. I read yesterday that he may have ridden the full course in the morning – if so his kit would suggest that might have been the case as it was about 11am at that stage.
As you can see below we could get quite close to see the riders heading out across the park to the holding area.
Next we wandered right around to the area immediately behind where the finish was and this was pretty fascinating primarily because we were lucky enough to catch Cancellara finish followed almost immediately by Cavendish.
In each case I was staggered at the behaviour of the media pack – in Cancellara’s case he seemed pretty spent with the effort and did a slow circle on the bike before coming to a rest next to the side of a large van, head down, chest heaving. Almost immediately he was surrounded by TV crews, photographers and journalists shoving microphones in his face while his minder tried to take his helmet and put a jacket over his shoulders.
Then, while all of this was going on Cav came in, looking somewhat more relaxed than Cancellara and clearly enjoying the banter and support from the crowd and his interview.
After both riders finished with the media they headed down the road behind the finish area to warm down – each followed by a stampede of onlookers rushing to get an autograph or to just follow their heros – amazing behaviour.
Other views from the finish area:
After enjoying the shenagans in the finish area we wandered back towards the direction of the start area wondering how we were going to kill the next 3 or so hours until the leading group of riders including Cadel hit the start ramp. Grenoble is a confusing flat and relatively nondescript city with no apparent centre that can be easily located from where we were wandering. Eventually we stumbled into the centre which was located in a handsome square surrounded by some nice civic buildings overlooked by a fort up on the hill.
And we found a small square a few blocks away that had some nice cafes where we settled in for the next few hours for a nice long alcoholic lunch in front of the TV watching the progress of the time trial. The cafe was full with a boisterous group of Norwegians cheering on Bossen Hagen and Husvold when they came through. Next to us were two groups of older french men having a vigorous and lengthy debate over an extended lunch about who was likely to win the Tour and the relative merits of the top group of riders – one group backed Cadel and one the Schlecks with the debate lasting long into the afternoon and becoming more empassioned as the wine and warm sun took its toll.
As the start of the lead group of riders approached we made our way back to the start area which was by now packed with thousands of spectators. I had no chance of getting a good position to view the starting gate so I headed back towards the holding area about 200 meters back to watch the final group of the leading riders come through.
Have a look at the next series of photos.
Each rider had the story of the race of truth written in his body language – Sanchez looked like a caged tiger – constantly riding up and down and full of nervous energy, the Schlecks both looked as nervous and as anxious as a grade 3 kid about to do his first school speech, Contador looked like he always does – inscrutable.
However look at the shots of Cadel. He was composed, focused and completely in control.
I thought he looked like he had already won.
It was incredibly moving and the tension and excitement in the crowd was palpable. I caught the eye of one of the BMC mechanics sitting in the back of the car waiting for Cadel’s starting slot and held up my hand with 2 fingers crossed and he waved back a V for victory sign in return. It was a nice connection in amongst everything going on around.
As soon as Cadel left the starting ramp I raced down the street and ducked into a cafe to watch the next 50 minutes as Cadel went head to head with the Schlecks. We shared the same nail biting agony as the rest of you watching in the small hours in one of the most intense hours of sport I think I have ever seen or experienced .
When Cadel came around the final turn the cafe I was in, now packed with spectators erupted. We couldn’t believe what we had just witnessed and an impromptu “Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi !!” erupted around the cafe.
Magic. Intense. Emotional. Incredible. Historic Epic – you name it – all the superlatives and cliches seemed appropriate at that moment.
What a year to come to the Tour.
An incredible end to an incredible day, followed by a mad dash to the supermarket for bottles of champagne, a madcap bus transfer to the train station and a fairly raucus transfer by private train up to Paris, twitter feeds going crazy with excitement.
Filed under: Uncategorized
Photos from the stage to Gap now added to my July 20 post. What struck me the most about that day was the expression on the faces of the first half of the field as they came in – everyone was giving it maximum effort including Cadel. Until you see the shot of Cav..saving his energy for another day.
Filed under: Rides
Rode Galibier before lunch – cruisey pace – another epic climb.
Watched what I thought was one of the most exciting stages of the Tour I have ever seen, ensconced in a small pizzeria in the local village just above our hotel. A noisy boisterous crowd fueled by tap beer and a nice light red supporting Cadel and any rider who wanted to dish out some pain to Contador.
All in all a very satisfying day and a lot of anticipation in store for the time trial tomorrow in Grenoble.
We will be on the sidelines cheering.
Filed under: Rides
So as mentioned yesterday 5 of us made the back route down to the valley above Borg D’Oisans via the Col de Sarenne on a descent of truly breathtaking proportions.
The road itself winds up behind Alp D’Huez and then skirts around the edge of a large open valley before turning on itself and heading up the other side to the top of the Col which nestles between two peaks. In contrast to the climb up Alp D’Huez the scenery gives way to open alpine pasture overlooked by majestic grey peaks with mountain sides visible on all sides.
Apart from the dramatic scenery the road itself provided its own elements of drama – it was a rough maze of patchwork repairs covered in a light layer of gravel. Every 400 or so meters we would have to negotiate a V shaped cobbled culvert with either water or gravel in the bottom inserted in the road for storm runoff. At one point the road turned completely to gravel as we reached the apex of the road before negotiating a series of switchbacks to make the summit.
By now the sun had burnt through the clouds and we were surrounded by a deep blue sky. Mark headed off ahead of me to the summit as I negotiated the final 3 kilometres at a slow pace – legs straining to maintain a rhythm, back aching from the weight of my pack, head down watching my shadow on the road and a small bead of sweat that would form and reform on the tip of my cap, swaying from side to side to the rocking of my pedalling before dropping to the roadside.
We met up again at the summit for a quick breather and some food – by now the afternoon had moved on and it was getting on towards 2.30 and we still had a long way to go.
A few meters beyond the crest of the road and the descent started down into the next valley. This is where the epic part of the ride came in. The road dropped down through a series of around 16 or so switchbacks almost to the valley floor with steep drop offs on either side and pitches in places of about 12 percent. Because the road surface was so potted, patched and covered with a light dusting of gravel we had to be constantly on the brakes as we went down and the descent took a considerable time – around 45mins or so – we had to stop several times to relieve the cramp in our hands and wrists and to cool the rims. During the descent we encountered only one or two cars and a number or riders including about 8 of the Skil Shimano pro team who looked like they were using the climb as a training ride.
Once we regrouped just after stopping at the roadside above we passed through a series of villages - le Perron, Clavans and Mizeon where we stopped to chat to a group of Welsh cyclists and a young english woman (seen to the left in the shot below) who was chatting with them accompanied by case holding a bass or other string instrument – it was quite surreal.
We made a quick final descent down to the valley and started the long drag back up the valley stopping finally at La Grave at a small cafe with a TV. By this stage in the afternoon it was several hours since we had last eaten and I had succumb to a bad hunger flat 20mins prior by getting off the bike and desparately rummaging through my pack to discover a mars bar that got me through to the last cafe.
Mark had reached it first and I recognised his bike leaning outside – by this time he was almost beyond speech and I received only a grunt and a far off stare when I asked if he wanted something to eat. The woman running the bar produced two bagettes as long as my forearm filled with ham, cheese and salad that in my case took half an hour to consume, washed down with a badly needed series of Heinekens, 2 coffees and a litre of water.
In the meantime we enjoyed watching the final 30ks of the stage over the Galibier taking place 10ks up the road from where we sitting. At one point I had trouble concentrating on the race coverage as there was an outstanding poster just to the left above the TV as pictured below:
The chaos part of the ride came as we made our way up the remaining 10ks to crest the Col de Lauteret – by this time it was around 6pm and literally tens of thousands of cyclists, pedestrians, and motor vehicles were trying to get down off the Galibier down in the direction of Alp D’Huez while we were trying to travel up against the flow. It was like salmon strugging upstream – the closer we got to the summit the more out of control and dangerous it became – bike riders descending at speed directly in our path prompting me to yell and swear at them to avoid a collision. Several times the crush became so bad that we had to get off and walk as the safest option.
An example of the French attitude to driving off a mountain after a bike race features in the pics below.
and it got worse further up:
We finally made the summit to encounter total gridlock which was hilarious in its own way.
Through all of this chaos I noticed that at the top the gendarmes had blocked the roads to all descending traffic to allow team cars and buses and other vehicles associated with the Tour to come through with priority access. Nice to see some efficiency working in amongst all the chaos we had just encountered.
We finally managed to descend back down the valley at speed following motorbikes and skirting around a long convoy of traffic.
An adrenalin filled finish to a day of truly epic proportions.
Filed under: Rides
How do you properly describe one of the most significant, incredibly epic, awe inspiring, exhausting, exhilarating days of your (cycling) life? Every cliche in the book would not do it justice. The following statistics would not come close – 3140 meters of climbing, 8.23 hrs of riding, 131 ks covered, 65 minutes or close to it up Alp D’Huez.
Huge fucking day on the bike.
- that would do.
I’m typing this up at 10pm after returning back to our hotel in Sierre Chevalier at 7.30pm, an empty tired shell full after a 3 course feast washed down with a number of well earned beers. My knees ache, I feel raw, dehydrated and on an absolute high.
We headed out this morning at 8.30 to climb the Col de Lauratet which is 15 odd ks up the valley from our front door before decending for 40ks down to le Bourg d’Oisans at the base of Alp D’Huez. It is a long slow drag up at around 4 -5% with the fun part closer to the top of the climb when we headed through some of the avalanche tunnels.
When I stopped to put on knee and armwarmers and a vest a curious group of Frenchmen came over to inspect the bike. One of them started pointing at my Garmin and asked me in French if it worked by satellite which I confirmed “oui par satellite” and we proceeded to have an animated discussion about the model number, different readings availablenand cost back in Australia – in my case in broken French and sign language – I think I lost him when I tried to explain why I didn’t use the height percentage reading (as I have said before it is too mentally challenging) but there were lots of gallic nods and gesticulations – they seemed to be quite impressed.
As I posted up on twitter earlier today we stopped for about half an hour further down the road in La Grave (famous for its extreme skiing) which is 10 ks into the descent as the weather turned and rain came over from the direction we were heading in - and it was freezing.
Some views from the Col de Lauratet and a few Ks past the summit towards La Grave:
The descent is pretty manageable with the only tricky part negotiating a number of long very dark tunnels with bike and road traffic in both directions making it a bit treacherous. As you head closer in towards Bourg d’Oisans you skirt around the edge of a lake filled with grey glacial water and cross a hydro dam before heading up again for a number of ks along a steep sided valley covered in forest.
In the gorge – the heavy metal horns thing is catching on with the group (I feel so proud):
Borg d’Oisans itself sits at the base of Alp D’Huez and the infamous first ramp started almost immediately out of the town. “Bang” it hits you straight away and is a challenging slog for the first 5 or so kilometers.
I decided to push on alone as I knew some of the stronger climbers in our group would overtake me and managed to get up to turn 9 without stopping for a short breather and a photo as per below. The views are incredible and there was a constant stream of riders tackling the climb as well as campervans and cars lining the route on the upper slopes.
While tapping away in a steady rhythm on the pedals I saw two riders snap chains during the climb – “poor bastards” I thought as it brought back memories of my trip up Mt Ventoux a few days earlier.
What I thought was pretty cool about the climb apart from the spectacular views across the valley were the markers with the different names of famous riders as you can see from the shot above.
Oh, and I should mention the Dutch. Boy can those guys party. Further up the climb I bumped into these guys below and had to stop and take some shots – they were already pretty smashed, had the doof doof music blaring and were making a huge roar when anyone wearing rabobank kit came by. One of them came up and offered me a beer when I stopped and babbled something incomprehensible in my ear which probably was something like ‘Ya dude, ve like to party much no?”
Dig the older guy rocking the clogs – legend
Further up the climb I rounded the infamous Dutch corner – how did I know you ask? Apart from the fact that I could hear it from several turns below and the 20 ft section of road painted orange, there was was a 2 story scaffolding construction set up as DJ box covered in taupaulin – with a DJ spinning discs on twin turntables! Look for it on TV tomorrow – it is completely mental.
The final part of the climb levels out a bit and we all completed it in grey skies and gently falling drizzle - I like to think of the conditions when Armstrong attacked up the climb in the rain but in reality it was mild and slightly refreshing in comparison. It was mayhem in the village at the top with huge crowds of riders getting photos taken and buying souvenirs.
Jarrod (part of our group)’s ghetto video arrangements for the descent below.
By now we had completed around 70 ks of riding and had to retrace our way back up the valley to Col de Lauratet – a long steady climb of around 40ks on tired legs. Both Poz via email and someone else up on the hill suggested an alternative route home which would avoid part of the climb and bring us out further up the valley – by going over the top and climbing and then descending the Col de Sarenne which is what 5 of our group managed to do.
View above airport Alp D’Huez on route to the Col de Sarenne.
And that is where the “epic’ part of our day started. (to be updated in the morning when the computer is recharged).