Sunday, 18 July 2010

Le Tour arrive!

Yes, today, the Tour de France arrived in the Ariège for the first of the Pyrénéan mountain stages, taking in the Col de Pailhères followed by a fast descent down to Ax and then a final climb up to the Bonascre ski centre above Ax. We had to be there! We drove down to Savignac, just outside Ax where we were lucky to find a good parking space and where we got out the bikes and road up to the Col before they shut the road - the distance is only 19kms but takes in 1300m of ascent! It was a thoroughly enjoyable albeit hot and sustained ascent with a max 19% gradient and the last kilometer and a half averaging 10.4%, but I seemed to manage it without any great difficulty....which is good! Stats for the ride (including the descent) are on the usual site.

We dropped down to the first hairpin after the Col where we had the best views of the hairpins that ascend from Mijanès
Miraculously, we bumped into a mate from Sheffield, Richard, and two of his buddies who I knew were in the area for the coming week's riding. It was their first experience of the TDF and they commented on the amazing atmosphere that accompanies the event, from the sheer number of people spectating, to the frenzy of the 'caravan' of vehicles which precedes the riders, distributing generally useless tat along the way. And then the hushed anticipation once the caravan has passed through, followed by the first hum of the VIP helicopters buzzing the route, the 'Apocalypse Now' style arrival of the helicopters that are following the riders and that bring the TV pictures to your set and finally, yes finally, the site of the lead rider(s) which always generates a huge cheer from the masses watching from the hillside. Today, that leader was Riblon who went on to win the stageThe speed at which he ascended was phenomenal! He had the Cofidis rider and fellow-Frenchman, Moinard, in hot pursuit Cadel Evans is still riding despite his fractured elbowDuring the last kilometer, much to my consternation, several riders took up the offer of a newspaper that was being handed out and which they proceeded to stuff up inside their jersey before ambling to the top of the Col.
I have just been advised that they do this (and have always done this) to protect themselves from the windchill on the long descent and isn't some comment on the slowness of the back groups of riders compared to the speed of the front-markers! You learn something new every day!

By the time all of the riders, the various support and media vehicles had passed through,I was seriously hot and desperately thirsty but I was out of water. Temperatures were up in the mid 30s and I was cooking. Time to get back on the bikes and bomb back down what we were expecting to be a fun descent. Usually, the gendarmes open the road for the vast volume of cyclists to descend before allowing regular traffic to head down. But today, for some reason, traffic was allowed on its way pretty much immediately which made for a slow and in places extremely dangerous descent for us folk that were on 2 wheels. Very frustrating! But we eventually arrived at a fountain where we could refill our water bottles before heading back to the car. What a cracking day out! Fantastic to experience le Tour again and to get in a good ride ourselves at the same time.

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