Thursday, 22 July 2010

Down the Col d'Aubisque up the Col du Tourmalet

On the way down the mountains yesterday, you wouldn't believe the traffic coming down, all of those campers who park at the top of the climbs sometimes for upto a week in advance - they need to leave as soon as the race is finished. I mean literally right now - lets move.

Mitch and I picked Joe (the Stig) up on the way down. The Stig had a slow leak in his rear tyre, so we decided to stop and fix it before the long decent. nearly fixed and all of a sudden we had a few raindrops, so rather than wait with about 50 other guys and watch Lance try try win a stage on a 14" TV, I wanted to push to get home before it really started raining - 18k down hill in traffic is ok - in the rain its a killer - literally!

So we started down the hill. The next 30 minutes or so were spent dodging in and out of cars, slower bikes and campers.... We passed over a hundred campers on the way down. You can imagine your sitting on a 7-10% grade moving at between 10 and 40km/h and you have about 100 bikes a minute passing you, doding in and out.... it would be rather annoying. I think that if I was driving I would get to the point where if one more cyclist passed me I would be about ready to scream.....

I dont think that many drivers were too worried about the Stig and I, we were crusing, threading the neadle at 60km/h, it was all the riders who when it got steep thought that they should go 20k that were the problem.. A few choice words were said to a few of those sitting in the center of the road holding up the traffic (and us of course).

What a great day, and you have probably read the story here about the experience of the rest of the FFT crew.

Last night after we got back from dinner those few rainspots turned into a deluge. We went to bed with the sounds of thunder and lightening... Tomorrows plan for the Tourmalet would be interesting.

A rare sleepin was allowed for this morning, as the "real" Tour has a rest day, we were allowed to sleep in for an extra 30 or 40 minutes.. It was raining when we got up, it looked pretty bleak. The surrounding mountains that had been visible couldn't be seen through a fog clinging to the side of the mountains.

Five of us decided that we would ride anyway, the roads were drying off, and hey we're in France to ride so lets see what happens. Le Foz had planned a nice 100k loop - with the Col de Tourmalet in the middle, basically you climb for about 20km (16m) and go up about 1500m... who knows the sun could be shining at the top of the Col.

The small group that Jay refereed to as "the Hard Men" stopped for coffee and a pastry at a small town. I spotted a Millefeuille (Match for those of you in Oz) and being a huge fan had to have one... You can see the results Beautiful.

From there the Tourmalet starts, a nice gradual gradient. Back at the campground Le Foz and Damo had called a truce - that lasted for about the first 200m and then they were off. I hung on for a few km, but decided that making it to the top was better than being seen zigging and zagging accross the road closer to the top.

The climb started to get steeper and the mist started to close in. It was hanging to the mountain, and the trees, creating roofs for the trees and creating what looked like cathederals and chapels accross the valleys... Obviously I was delusional, and the climb had just started..

About half way up the climb I passed a Dutch guy, his bike loaded up with panniers. I thought that he was smoking, but I realized that we were in the clouds and that the temp had dropped and he was blowing steam. The temp drop was nice and i kept heading for the top. Every curve Mike and Damo were getting that little further up the road, soon I couldn't see them anymore.

The think about this mountain is that there is never any letup, it gets steeper and you don't get a break and the closer that you get to the top, the more people are weaving all over the road in their own personal Hurt Locker, they won't give up, but they need a break.

Soon -a day before the Tour arrives - the police have the road closed and it's the riders and a few Tour vehicles - when I say riders there were thousands of them.

There are two bad sections of this climb, one coming through all of the snow bridges it hits 14% and with 1km to the top you think that you have nearly made it, then all of a sudden we are through the clouds, its sunny crystal clear, and you see where you still have to go.... You're kidding right there is no way that I can climb all the way up there.

Eventually we make it, we've agreed to wait in the cafe, its warm inside which is good. Le Foz and Damo have been there for about 5 minutes(probably more like 10) and are already through their first Coke. We bundle up, sit down and talk to a guy who has been coming to the Tourmalet since 1952, he's seen all the greats win there, Coppi, Hinult, Indurain. He's seen it from where the roads were gravel... Every year he comes to follow the Tour.

The others have arrived, we take a few photos and get ready for the decent through about 100,000 cars, bikes and vans.

On this side there is a constant line of traffic coming up the mountain that literally goes all the way to the bottom - and they are going nowhere, the mountain is closed at the top. But hey it's the Tour and you want to say that you have been to the Tourmalet.

The rain that had threatened all day held off to a light sprinkle till about 1km from home, what a great day.... Simply Awesome....

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