The towns around Lourdes are full of cyclists. This part of the Pyrenees is legendary for the tour and one of the most popular places to watch the action.
There are literally thousands of cyclists here. It seems that many of us (your's truly included) crave the challenge of taking on these mighty mountains, matching ourselves against the pro's who do it for a living. It's a bit like playing a proam in golf; on the way to the course, you harbour secret thoughts that today is going to be your day. You are going to walk out there and the pro you are playing with states "gee you hit the ball well, you could do this for a living". In real life you turn up to the course, lucky to scratch out 100 and the pro mumbles something about "good putt" as you tap in a 2 footer.
Riding is no different. You can climb the Cols, shredding the other amateurs who ride the climb in all sorts of gear, on a variety of bikes, however then the pro's race up the climb, you see the difference and it is like at the proam in golf. You go home knowing why they do what they do, and why you don't!
We rolled out at 8, heading down the valley to a town called Argeles Gazost, a pretty alpine town with many ski resorts around it. This is my favourite area of all France. The 4th time, I have been here and it is beautiful. I have always preferred the Pyrenees to the Alps, and this part of the Pyrenees is the best. All the major climbs are no more than 50k away from this area. Hautacam, Cateraurets, Luz Ardiden, Tourmalet, Aspin, Abisuque, Solidor, Marie Blanc to name a few.
After our morning coffee at which we met another couple from Manly, who know Waz and Zoe, and talking to a guy from the UK who did the gran Fondo (amateur ride with 10,000) cyclists) last Sunday, we headed up one of the classic climbs, the Hautacam. It is yet another ski resort, 14k long and tough. We spreadout as we started the climb. Halfway up, there was only me Danny and Damo, when I heard a soft "pop" and Damo went sliding out the back. It is the worst feeling when you know you just cant hang on. If you don't ride, it may be hard to understand, and it may only look like you are 10 metres behind, but if you pop, it may as well be the Grand Canyon between you and the guy in front of you.
Danny and I continued to set a solid pace. We caught another rider, a Spainard who looked like he was an old pro. He could climb, and put both Danny and I into the hurt box. Three or four times, Danny and I clawed back to his wheel, just to loose 20m when he surged. One time I was next to him and my gears started playing up when I tried to change down. I said to him "Andy Schleck" in reference to the mechanical Schleck had yesterday. He just looked at me and said in Spanish " and I'm Alberto Contador" and attacked!!
With 3k to go, I knew I felt good. I sensed Danny was in some trouble next to me. I got just over a bike length on him. We had been climbing for over 40 mins side by side and not a word had been said to each other. This was war! I thought this was my chance to put Poolboy to the sword. I knew my only chance was to wind up the pace and get a few metres on him, as if we got to the last couple of hundred metres from the top he would outsprint me. He was up to the task. I threw everything at him, however he showed what a good rider he is and with 200m to go, came around and secured the polka dot jersey.
We waited for Damo and Jarrod and descended back to Argeles Gazost, had an early bite, regrouped with most of the others and then headed up the other side of the Valley for another 29k of climbing up Col de Solidor/Col de Abisque and wait for the pro's to come through. Lots of Spainards on the mountain today. They all want their man Contador to cement the Yellow jersey on his shoulders. Mitch and Jordan were up ahead of us, as they didn't stop in Argeles Gazost for lunch, and got up to the top of the Abisique before the gendarmes closed the road . We all got to the top of the Solidor and decided to watch here along with the huge crowds. We had a TV to watch and it was warm on the mtn. We spent the time talking to Dutch, American and French Fans, all who had their favourites, particularly as Lance had attacked and was in the break. Like the Armstrong of old.
We took up our position on the roadside to cheer on Lance and the break. I was last to join them, as I stayed longer watching the TV. When I got to the others, I saw a large pile of riding shoes. This looked strange. The boys had decided to run next to Lance and the break for as long as possible like many of the crazy fans you see on TV. Buzz had Spencey's boxing Kangaroo around his neck, Bluncky the video phone.
Around the corner came LA and the break. The boys took off running at full pace next to them. The look on Damo's face as he took off was priceless. Danny nearly ran under a camera motorcycle and was out of it early, but the others got a rails run. The chopper was overhead with the TV camera and we soon had texts coming through from the boys at the Brown Cow cafe in Hampton who were watching it live saying they had seen us.
The boys were pumped afterwards, Adrenaline running, Bluncky said later that he thought it would be like running with the bulls!!! After the peleton came through we took off down a back road and found a small B+B owned by a very nice Dutch family who let us all come into their home for 90 mins and watch the race. Lance couldn't quite pull off the fairytale finish, but the whole place was yelling for him in the final sprint.
Race over, we headed back to Lourdes
45k away. Another lively session on the bike after some exciting scenes on the mountain.
Back to Lourdes reasonably early, 125k of riding and nearly 3000m of climbing today. We have done over 17000m of climbing to date in the last week
Tomorrow is a rest day for the Tour. We will do an easy 100k including te Tourmalet
Rain forecast. Not good for us. Just got into bed and it is raining now