In July of 2002, I went to France with 4 friends... Ray Tripamer, David Hover, Cristin Reichmuth, Yuko Tsuchiya. We spent 2 weeks driving and riding around France following the Tour De France.
Our trip proper started in the Pyrenees. We kept our bikes in the boxes and took the TGV to Pau. I had never been to this part of France before. The ride was enjoyable, clearly the area around Bordeaux would stand some exploring. Perhaps on a later trip.
We had some troubles with the Rental Car. This would becoming a recurring theme during the trip. The Europecar was not at the Gare, and we had 4 bikes with us, so David and I took a cab to Europecar to fetch the Mini-Van. Of course, we arrived at 12:45, and it is "Impossible" to get the rental car during lunch, which is of course from Noon-2 PM. So we had a very nice lunch at a bar and walked around downtown Pau, scoring a PMU Green Hand, while Ray and Cristin stewed at the train station. Finally we got the car, of course there was a large gash in the tire. So we waited around for 2 more hours while they tried to fix the tire. We finally gave up and arranged to replace the car in Tarbes 2 days later. We fetched Cristin and Ray. I almost ran over Bobby Julich in downtown Pau as he warmed down. This was fortuitous for me as it set the tone for me not having to drive. I did get a shot of George Hincapie riding back to his hotel.
We drove to our nice Chambre D'Hote in Sarrancolin. I had of course arranged for this spot at the last minute, but it worked out nicely. The ride through the Pyrenees to Sarrancolin showed some sense of the suffering to come. Our Chambre D'Hote was in a gorgeous spot.
The next day was the stage from Pau to the La Mongie Ski Station most of the way up the Tourmalet. We were starting on the other side of the Col D'Aspin from the base of the Tourmalet, so I sent Ray, Cristin, and Dave up to climb the Aspin while I drove the car to the other side - allowing us to elide the Aspin climb on the way home. I rode up the backside, which was steep but only about 5k long and I am sure we could have slugged it out, but it was nice to have the car waiting. The Aspin is a gorgeous piece of road, and this showed a lot of the value in climbing Cols *near* but not *on* the route. Less traffic, but still lots of cyclists.
At the base of the Tourmalet we skipped the planned market stop for a huge Sausage Sandwich for 6E. It was awesome. Saved my starving butt. We met the first of many the "$4K" crowd with Butterfield/etc... on this day. I guess Butterfield helicoptered their people off the Tourmalet. Why bother climbing if you don't get the payoff? The Tourmalet was a nice climb, steep, but very pretty. We hung out with a couple of Americans and a bunch of Spaniards. Of course, they would say "WE ARE NOT SPANIARDS. WE ARE BASQUE!" They were very excited at the arrival of Gorka Gonzales. Good thing, it was his next to last day before he was cut off.
This is a hard climb. A very hard climb. From Bedoin, you see a sign that says "MONT VENTOUX - 22 Km". And brother, there are no flat spots. After a 5% or so run in, the grade goes to 9% and stays there for around 10 miles. Then you get an actual small flat spot before the last slog at 6-7% for 3-4 miles. Of course, the grade is lesser, but it's now much hotter, and the shade is gone. And since we were riding up on Tour day, there was an endless procession of smog belching cars. I got hit by some ugly American who ran over to her car, and opened the door right into me. Didn't even apologize. Sheesh. Some kind Frenchman saw my despair at having lost my momentum and gave me a 50 yard push. You can't believe how much you get from a push.
Hover kicked my butt on Ventoux, dropping me like I was going backwards at the 7k mark. I did find him quickly at the top, and we found Cristin as well. Cristin eventually decided to ride down (the backside - the front side was closing for the race), so I went off to look for Ray. Ray had run afoul of the Gendarms - he was just far enough back that he started running into the cutoffs as the road was getting blocked off. I was also out of water - 2 bottles and a 100 oz Camelback were finished. In my search for Ray, I found a mirage - a BAR! I could not believe I had been up on top of Ventoux, starving and dehyrdated, for 2 hours, and not found this place. I bought 2 Pepsis and located David. We drank the Pepsis, locked up the bikes at the top of the backside, and headed for the bar. Luckily, we ran into Ray at this point. We headed to the bar for food and San Peligrino. I even had a celebratory Beer.
We found a place on the roof of the Radio Tower to wait for the riders. No victory for Lance as he could not quite close on Richard Virenque. We snapped some photos of the Yellow Jersey Ceremony and headed for the bikes.
As David began to unlock the bikes, I noticed that the bikes were locked right in front of the Postal Car. I motioned Ray over for a shot with the team car. As I wandered around looking for something else to photograph - I turned around and saw Hover chatting with Robin Williams! Whoa! I wandered over and we talked for about 10 minutes with Robin. Very nice fellow, though he clearly was irked Lance hadn't won the stage. He knows the deal (he's riding with Bruyneel in the team car, and understands cycling), but still hoped for the whole enchilada. We then rode down the backside of Ventoux. WHOA. We rode at faster than 40 MPH for like 30 minutes. This is a crazy fun descent.
The Rental Car follies continue. We had the new car we picked up in Tarbes. Sadly this one took Diesel, and we filled it with unleaded. 2 hours and 65E later, we were back on the road.
Off to the Alps. Picked up Yuko in Grenoble and checked into our charming Gite - Le Sardonnier. Got up the next morning to attack L'Alpe D'Huez. A great climb. Steep, 21 hairpins. The only respite is near turn 16, and short breaks at the hairpins. We took the requisite photo at the depart.
At the top are some nice restarants and stores as well as a killer water fountain. Many cyclists up top. Got Pain pictures of Ray and David as they hit the arrive.
David and Cristin decided to head back to Bourg D'Oisans, we decided to take a back road to Les Deux Alpes, where the days stage would be finishing. This required a climb above Alpe D'Huez, and then we found the road would be rutted, and have intermediate climbs. Prudence being the better part of valor we headed down. We stopped at hairpin 9 - one of the best views for some photos.
We also made the obligatory stop for photos at turn 21, where they have added Lance's name to Fausto Coppi's name on the turn marker. Nice!
Went down to Bourg D'Oisan to wait for the racers in a bar with the standard miserable service outside of Lunch Time. I don't know why they even stay open. I asked for a menu, it appeared, I asked for something on the menu, the waiter disappeared and came back, saying that nothing on the menu was available, they only had Croque Monsiers. I ordered one which never came. Why don't they just say "Lunch is over - Kitchen Closed.
Supposedly 1 hour is a very good time. Only 4:23 to go - much better than my 1:20:00 time 2 years ago.
The next day, off to La Plagne. The trip was nice over the Croix De Fer, got pics at the top, but this was a long detour as it is very windy. Got to follow a crazy camion.
On the road into Aimes, we hit a feux tricolor. That is a traffic light. In this case a metering light. A very slow metering light. I took a half hour nap and we moved 300 meters. The light would turn green long enough for 4 cars to get through, every 2 minutes. Amazing. Luckily we got off to an early start, or we would have never made Aime.
When we hit Aime, and grabbed lunch, it was too late to really ride up to La Plagne, so we rode a little but mostly walked. Luckily we all brought non bike shoes on this day. Got some nice pics of Michael Boogerd in the escape, and Ray chasing the Maillot Jaune.
All the while we had a nice French Flag that David bought in Lavalenet. It is shown here on the dash. It was only Eight Euros, and we also got a free Nougat! What a deal maker Hover is!
We stayed that night in Granier, a town above Aime. I rode the bike up there, a very nice 7k climb at about 5-6%. Great views of La Plagne across the valley.
The next day we went to Cluses where the stage was finishing. We timed it very well, stopping in a Champion to get food for the ride. We went up the Col De Columbiere, up the side the racers would be descending. This was an 18k climb, with a gradual grade, including a false flat in the middle. Then all of a sudden, with 2k to go, the road pitched up to 9-10% and held it to the top. I was riding ahead and was going to ride back to Yuko and Ray, then resummit. I quickly decided I wanted no part of the last 2K again, and found a nice spot to sit. We locked up the bikes, found a good spot to eat and had a huge picnic. Here Ray tried to order a San Pelligrino because it was on the sign. Of course, he was told to not pay attention to the sign - but he was able to get a Perrier. We got a picture of the riders stuffing newspapers in their jerseys. It was getting cold so I did the same thing.
We stopped in Chambery on our way out of the Alps. We found a much needed Laundromat - my bad was getting very funky at this point. I also got a picture of the elephants.
We stayed the night in Beaune which was a decent spot to use to get to the Time Trial to Macon. We watched a few riders go by (I think this is O'Grady).
We went to the start, it was a zoo, but pretty cool to see the riders signing in, and we had the bikes so we could get around pretty easy. Bikes are definitely key for watching the Tour. I got a shot of Jalabert signing in, he was eating up the adulation of the French in his farewell Tour. Banners for him all over the place.
A bad shot of Lance
We drove up to Dijon and turned in the Seat. It actually worked out pretty darn well, and the $40 we spent on a bike rack was well spent. After much trepidation I abandoned the bike rack next to the Seat. We disassembled the bikes and got on the TGV.