Long day but a finish with a blessing?
We are up super early today. Myself, I was up at about 4:30 AM, before breakfast even was ready in the hotel. I wanted to start packing the cars for today’s trip. We were to drive to the beginning of our ride at 6:15 or so we could start our ride by 8:00. Since there was not too much time from when the hotel would have breakfast ready and the start of the ride, I had to do most of our days packing before I got to eat.
Our vehicles for the day was a huge Bus, a large passenger van towing a trailer (for bikes) and the follow cars (3) for a total of 5 vehicles. The three cars were necessary because of the severity of the course and the different abilities of our Champions club. We did not want to leave any of our group members unattended to in such a hard ride.
We had an early start so we could stay ahead of the race and publicity caravan. Most of you know of this road show that precedes the race. Sponsor cars dressed up carnival like, and passing out odd things to promote the particular sponsor. The publicity caravan starts about 2 hours ahead of the race and passes out the trinkets. The road is closed to auto traffic (sometimes bikes too) about a solid hour before the publicity caravan. So if the race comes by where you are watching it at let’s say noon, then the roads are closed by 9:00 AM.
Today’s ride would be 115 Kilometers involving the Col d’Aspin which is a category 1 climb followed by the Col du Tourmalet which is an Hors Category climb (Above category rating — Hardest category of a climb). There are 5 Hors Category or HC climbs throughout the entire Tour. We will ride one today but the racers will have two HC climbs in this stage. Ouch! Climbing both the Col d’Aspin and the Col du Tourmalet were both packed to the gils with spectators. On top of that were all the folks who wanted to test their legs on these famous climbs. With so many riders spread out on the road, I was not going much faster then they were. I was probably averaging no more than 6 or 8 kilometers per hour at best. The crowds here are insanely large. I’ve had the experience of driving Les Alp D’Huez two years ago and because of the Centenarie edition of the tour the crowds are even thicker. In 2001 the stage finished on the Alp D’huez at about 5:00 PM. I started to drive off Alp D’Huez at 10:00 PM and it took a solid hour do drive down. This year, some told me they also started at 10:00 but got off the mountain at 1:00 am. Three hours to go 14 kilometers. Do the math on that one eh?
I’m normally very comfortable on downhills. I think I tend to take a little bit of a risk when descending on my bike. In a car, I’m almost as silly. Especially when I know there is little traffic such as the Tourmalet decent. The Tourmalet decent is really, really twisty AND narrow. So much so that I did not feel comfortable going full out in the follow car. A completely scenic area/moutain/decent. But at the same time a crazy one. So caution was definitely on the order for the day.
The groups ride had planned on passing up on the finishing climb. The famous Luz Ardiden (the other HC climb of the day) was at the end of the race. We went from the bottom of the Tourmalet to a hotel in Lourdes to shower and watch the finish on live TV.
In the town of Lordes is the fountain (and I think other places in town maybe?) of the Holy water. The town was packed as it is all the time I was told. Many come to get blessed in the sacred holy water. Many are ill such as in wheelchairs and have hope of getting “Healed” by Gods holy water. Some of our group went to see this and/or fill a bottle with this holy water. I think it was a little ironic our Champions Club did this as Lance’s Crash later on was talked about emphatically. Some of our group mentioned that it was good they went to the holy water to get some help from above. Thinking the crash could have been catastrophic.
So, a long day but a with a blessing.