Part 1 The crowd and the traffic.
Today was a great day for me. I got to see my first ever stage of the Tour DE France. Our VIP Group was to be dropped off 50 kilometers from the finish and do a little before climbing the famous Alpe D’Huez Mountain. As we parked, many riders were cruising towards the mountain. Small groups, couples and huge tour groups were dotting the road on their bikes. There were many fans including one who was riding there (and up the hill?) in his Converse high tops.
Driving there was like I-5 in LA rush hour traffic. But it was only one lane in and one lane out. Obviously 99.99999% of the traffic was going towards the hill. Even the team trucks, busses and cars had to use this small one lane road to get to their respective hotels. All the teams try to leave the (start city) hotel early enough to make ti there in time. They need to unload all the luggage and allow the mechanics to get power and water before the riders arrive.
As we finally got to the base of the mountain, the crowd thickened. Even all along our ride, well before the climb, people were getting ready to watch the tour come by. This was about 10:30 am and the race was not scheduled to arrive at the bottom of the mountain until about 4:15 or 4:30 PM. I saw many Americans along the way but as I was driving behind my tour group a voice called my name. It was my friend Andy Angeli. A pleasant surprise. I knew he was going to see this stage (and more) but never fathomed the thought that I would see him in the crowd. Later on I also saw his parents Sandy (whom I had worked with on the Saturn team) and Matt. Go Wisconsin gang! But your missing Brat fest Sandy! TDF or Brat fest? An easy choice I guess.
As soon as I turned up the mountain, the already thick crowd got even thicker. I was trying to follow our group but that was impossible because I could not stop on the mountain and I had riders spread all over the hill. So I just cruised up and tried not to hit anyone coming down (Riding, walking and yes even driving). Why would you want to/need to come off the mountain? The morning of the race they stop most cars from driving up unless you have accreditation or a sticker on your car. If you want to be on the hill you had better driven up very early in the day or even in the days before. With all the traffic going up and down, it took me 50 minutes to drive up the 14 kilometer climb.
Coming off the mountain was equally slow. We ate dinner after the stage at the top with the team. We then planned on driving down to our hotel in Grenoble at 9:00 PM. As we looked out of the hotel to the one road down, we saw bumper to bumper traffic at a complete stop almost all the way up the hill. If you wanted to get off the hill you had better plan on a lot of time. We altered our plan and relaxed at the hotel for another hour. At 10:00 we started to drive and cars were moving at a reasonable but still slow pace. It still took us 40 minutes to drive down.
After following our VIP tour group up the mountain it was time to relax for a while. It was still over three hours till the estimated finish so we all had a great lunch and watched most of the action on the big screen at the teams hotel. The teams hotel by the way was THE highest hotel on the mountain and we could see almost everything from there. After a few hours of great race coverage on the huge TV, a few of us decided to go down and watch a little of it live. Great for me as this was the first time I have ever seen the TDF live. We walked down from our hotel and figured we could not get anywhere near the finish so we found a great spot with about 1.5 to 2 kilometers to go. We were on a small walkway/overpass and could see them coming at us and then passing under us. As the helicopters came closer it was apparent the race was coming up the hill. The announcer could be hard from our vantage point but my limited French did not allow me to figure out what was happening. I could only grasp the names that were coming from the announcer. Norm (Thom Weisels pilot) decided he wanted to find out what was going on so he called his wife in the US (California) and woke her up. He told her to turn on the TV and give us a play by play. Crazy huh? He was calling the US to have her watch and tell us the goods even though we were 1.5 kilometers from the finish. Technology gone crazy. Soon Lance came flying by and then one after another. No group was bigger than about 4 or 5 as we watched the first 40 or so riders come by us. Incredible is all I have to say. This place was amazing. Tomorrow is the uphill TT. Can’t wait.
Most of this story is from Dave Bolch our soigneur so it is his word against the party that (according to UCI rules) broke the rules. On my drive to Alpe D’Huez and as our VIPs rode towards the hill, Dave Bolch passed me as he was heading to the hotel. He stopped briefly to say hello as he cruised past me. Later on (as he told me) he saw Rene Wenzel who we both worked with on the Saturn team. Rene was with a tour group apparently but needed to get to the hill by 11:00 AM for something important and it was about 10:30. So according to Dave, Rene held onto the Team car as it towed him about 20 to 25 kilometers at mach 5. I’m positive there is a UCI rule against prolonged towing by a rider on a team car. I wonder what the fine would be if he was racing? 1000 Swiss francs?