Monday, 16 July 2007

The Tour de France

This weekend the Tour had one of its 3 mountain-top finishes, and this one happened to be on a weekend. It was Stage 8, the second Alp stage of the tour, finishing at the ski resort in Tignes and it was too good a chance to miss. Reanna came across from Manchester and together we caught the train out to Bourg-St-Maurice on Saturday afternoon. Bourg is a great little town, nestled in amongst the Alps, with two fantastic supermarkets (I know I'm obsessed with them, but they were good!). We had an epic adventure trying to see the Tour, but in the end the Alexander luck came through and we made it to the stage about 5 minutes before the sponsor's caravan came through.

So the story is that I checked on the cyclingnews and official Tour de France web site to try and get some maps of where the stage was going to go, so I could work out a good spot on the second last mountain that was within walking distance of Bourg. I thought I had worked out a plan that if we walked for at most 2.5 hours we would be a fair way up the hill and still have time to make it back to Bourg in time to catch the train back to Paris. So Reanna and I set out on Sunday morning ready to see the Tour, we followed what I thought was the road and we saw heaps (!!!) of cyclists along the way and all the team cars/buses/trucks and officials so we were pretty sure this was the right road. It didn't seem to be going up as fast as what I was expecting from the profile map, but after 2.5 hours (and 11kms) of walking we started to climb a mountain. I thought great this is it, so we found a good spot, had lunch and settled in to wait. All the time there are cyclists and team cars constantly coming past us, but it wasn't until about 1.5 hours before the race was due past that a French cyclist stopped and said "You know the tour doesn't come past here? It comes past further on".

At this stage there was no way we could walk further on though, because we wouldn't be able to get back in time for our train, we were already 2.5 hours away from the station. At first I didn't believe him, but then I stopped a British cyclist and asked him and he kindly pulled over (even though it was a steep hill) and pulled out his Tour map and showed us where we were and where the tour goes, which yes wasn't anywhere close to where we were. At this stage we thought we were going to miss it, we couldn't make it back to Bourg in time to see it, and if we kept walking we would miss the train. Luckily there was a French family (with a car) near us, and when I found out the Tour wasn't coming I let them know and they very kindly gave us a lift back to the second last climb. We managed to arrive about 5 minutes before the caravan came through, so we got to collect a whole stack of free stuff from the sponsors (mostly just key rings). The pick of the bunch though was the Predictor-Lotto and Caisse D'Epargne water bottles that were discarded by the Tour riders. All in all we ended up walking about 18kms, when the most we should have done is 10km. No wonder I was sore the next day!

Now to the Tour! It was awesome, there were stacks of people all over the mountain and we walked a bit further out to get away from everyone so we would be able to see the cyclists clearly. The atmosphere was awesome, with the sponsor's cars taking about an hour to come through, and some of them were pretty crazy. Then all the officials and gendarmes would come flying through the roads and about 40 minutes after that the cyclists started coming by. There was actually a pretty steady stream of cars coming through all the time, until just before the cyclists. And the team cars that follow the cyclists are actually really close to the riders so you have to really watch out or they will probably hit you. Some of the team cars were a bit crazy with how they were driving to get around cyclists to get further up the road and I'm suprised that the cyclists don't get hit.

The cyclists are all really small too, I didn't realise just how small, but they are probably about my height, if not shorter, and really skinny! Even George Hincapie, or Big George, is pretty tiny. They are also really colourful too, I suppose you don't often see every cyclist wearing brand-spanking new team kit, the average cyclist wears their jersey's over and over again. By the time the cyclists got to us the peleton had been shredded by the climbs before hand, so we got quite a few groups coming past. First was Rasmussen, on his way to the yellow jersey and then the main group of GC contenders before the sprinters group came by. In amongst that there were quite a few cyclists riding by themselves too. I got to see Robbie Mcwen, he came through 2nd last and in the end didn't make the time cut-off so he wasn't allowed to start the next day. It was really hot and he looked like he was suffering. I also go to see Tom Boonen, the best looking cyclist in the peleton, so that was a bonus. The bomb from Ballan is what they call him. All in all it was a good day, once we made it there, and I'm looking forward to the finish in Paris, where hopefully I can get some better pictures than these ones.

The crazy caravan cars:

The cyclists coming through, they went really fast, even on this steep hill. The first picture is the sprinters group just taking it easy up the hill. They weren't pushing themselves at all, just sitting back and chatting amongst themselves. The second picture is Rasmussen in the breakaway currently leading the Tour.

Finally we have a stylish European, and no those are not Speedo's, they are just his underpants, I like his hat though. And then we have the schwag we managed to collect from the sponsor's caravan.

And finally we have obligatory photos of the French Alps. In the second picture we walked to the base of the mountain on the right with the very sharp peak, it was a long way away!

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