Woke up early this morning after a very hot night. We were staying in Carpentras which is a medium sized French provincial farming town. We stayed here in 2008 as well and both times have been incredibly hot at night.
We left the van park at 9.15, which again was a little too late again. Mitch is becoming the "Sgt Major" and using his experience in this area to get us all organised. Our van is definately better organised (and cleaner) than the others! It is good to have someone take charge over this as wirth 6 guys in a very small van, without some organisation it can get messy (and unbelievably smelly!!!!
Our plan was to drive 90k then jump on the bikes and ride the last 100k to where the race would finish at the airport at the top of the hills overlooking Mende in south central france
On the way, we stopped
However the route we planned to take was a little bumpier than we thought. This would have meant that we wouldn't have got to the race finish in time so we stayed in the vans till we got to the top of the climb and the downhill started.
Mitch and Spencey were driving the vans, the rest of us riding a steady 16k descent. Jay nearly got cleaned up by the FDJ team bus as it hustled through to get to the finish in time, so he sat up and took it easy. Spencey and Mitch headed for Mende some 60k away with the vans and we tapped it out, Danny doing a lot of the work, with Damo and I taking a few turns on the front. I knew the ride was a little bumpy, however none of us envisaged a 12k climb on this afternoon's agenda.
We took turns, keeping the pace even, you could feel the last few days with 8000m of climbing starting to come into effect (watch out all when we get home!). Eventually we arrived at the top, Jamie showing his new form by staying with the "big guns" on the climb of Danny, Damo, Jordan, Buzz and yours truly. At the top of a lot of major climbs in France there is often a bar or cafe. This was no different, and after a very hot tiring 12k climb we went inside to get a (another) coke. The little old lady behind the bar was very friendly, but I don't think she trusted Jamie and Danny who were grabbing the drinks. She counted the drinks about 4 times before she felt satisfied that she had provided the right amount for what we paid. I used the garmin GPS(what did we do before these things) to map a new course to the finish at Mende airport. We coasted for the first 10k of the last 13k we had left.
Mende Airport is on a plateau 400m above the city. The race actually finishes on the actual runway. It ois not before an incredibly steep 3k climb, that averages 11% gradient. Even the pro's battle up this hill. With the course closed to the public, Spencey, Mitch and Jay stayed down in town. We went the back way which is the second road to the airport. Little did we realise that this was just as steep, with sections having a 18% gradient with the tar on the surface sticky from the oppressive heat. The whole 2k of the climb was brutal. When we took off from the bottom, all the big guns took off. Jarrod was first to pop and his "big gun" ran out of bullets! I took it a bit easier, knowing how steep the road was. I picked off Jordan, Jarrod, and Damo, eventually catching Danny and managed to get over him and take the KOM for the day! He disputed it at dinner when questioned at dinner by rhe boys, but finally a win for the good guys!
Bluncky and Joe (birthday boy) fought for the "flame rouge" (last) up the hill. Bluncky had a little walk at the steep stage, and Joe soon followed. Not good to walk when you can ride.
At the top we waited about 1k from the finish and right at the top of the climb. Contador was showing his strength on the hills as he put 10 seconds into the yellow jersey holder, Andy Schleck. Contador will be hard to beat looking at today. The riders came through in dribs and drabs, absolutley stuffed!! They are were dribbling, gaunt eyes looking longingly up the road for the finish to come.
We finished our Hambergers that we had cooked for us at the finish, and took off after the race down to the town to meet the others. We swooped down the road the riders had just come up, many spectators thinking we were actual riders, taking photos of us and yelling support for us. Good fun.
After the race a few of us thought we would keep riding, but a brief summer thunderstorm put paid to that, so we put that idea out of our heads.
We headed to where we are staying tonight, Millau. We plan to ride most of the course in front of the race tomorrow and watch what should be a sprint finish after. So for us, another big day of 160k
Early start coming.