Postcards from the Alps II

It had started raining heavily before we set out for Gap muffled like members of Michelin Man’s army. It was also cold, another day at 9°. We passed many a sodden cyclist en route happy, for once, to be in the warm and dry of the car. We found the Village d’Arrivee almost by chance on the road into Gap some 2km from the finish line. Happily our names were on the guest list, we were given our bracelets, our goodie bags and ushered in.

I generally prefer to watch a stage as close as possible to the big screen and the finish line. With today’s weather I was more than happy to have shelter, warm food, toilets, plenty to drink and a large screen. Not forgetting a clear view of the run in. The show starts early with reminiscences from French former stage winners, a tour of the hospitality tents of the Tour’s principal sponsors chatting to their celebrity guests, a magician, a trick cyclist…………………Stop, I don’t want to appear ungrateful, just bring on the cycling. There was also a quiz and I was much amused to see that Lance had been franconified (is that a real word?) into Lens Armstrong!

No need to scrap for freebies from the caravan as they deliver bags of goodies at the Village which are distributed by the hostesses. I now have a huge bag for the kids down the club. I was much amused to see cars exhorting us to visit Luxembourg. Why, they’re all here! 

As the day’s transmission started, the break ,which produced the stage winner, had been established only after 100km thanks to a very strong tailwind. On the 163km stage from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Gap, the escapees included none other than Jeremy Roy and Thor Hushovd. The latter going on to re-enact the Norwegian National Championships in the run in for the line with Edvald Boassen Hagen to record his 2nd stage win of the Tour.

The action was kicking off in the bunch as it approached the final bump of the day, 15km from the finish. It took Alberto three attacks but he finally shook free the Schlecks and shot off with Cadel Evans (looking very good) and Sammy Sanchez in tow. The three descended into Gap where Evans time-trialled to the finish. Thanks to the Spanish boys sticking together Cadel gained only 3 seconds on Bertie and Sammy, but more importantly he leapfrogged Frank.

None of the jerseys changed hands today, but we saw who’s in form and determined to fight for the podium in Paris.  Even before I knew that Alberto would be riding, I predicted a Schleck free podium. GC now looks like this:-

Position N° dossard Nom Pays Equipe Horaire Ecart
1 181 Thomas VOECKLER FRA EUC 69h00’56” 00”
2 141 Cadel EVANS AUS BMC 69h02’41” 1’45”
3 018 Frank SCHLECK LUX LEO 69h02’45” 1’49”
4 011 Andy SCHLECK LUX LEO 69h03’59” 3’03”
5 021 Samuel SANCHEZ ESP EUS 69h04’22” 3’26”
6 001 Alberto CONTADOR ESP SBS 69h04’38” 3’42”
7 091 Ivan BASSO ITA LIQ 69h04’45” 3’49”
8 161 Damiano CUNEGO ITA LAM 69h04’57” 4’01”
9 052 Tom DANIELSON USA GRM 69h07’00” 6’04”
10 118 Rigoberto URAN COL SKY 69h08’51” 7’55”

Postcards from the Alps I

Yesterday was sunny and fresh first thing in the valley. After a hearty breakfast, we set off destination the top of the Galibier. It starts gently enough with the gradient rising slowly up to 7% towards the top of the Lauteret.  We were heading into a strong headwind and I sheltered, whenever I could, behind groups of other riders. My beloved became impatient and waved me through saying I could ride behind him.  This is where he disappears 300m up the road providing no shelter whatsoever from the wind. I ground away.

Despite the layers and my winter 3/4 thermal bib shorts, I was chilled to the bone. I needed a warm drink, a comfort break and a spell in the warm sunshine. Out of the wind it was quite toasty and I began to thaw out. Although the Tour wasn’t  due until Thursday, the world’s stock of camper vans was massed all over the upper slopes of the Lauteret and all the way up the Galibier.  Judging by the registration plates, Luxembourg was closed for the forseeable future.

We set off up the Galibier. Whenever we’ve ridden here in the past, the weather has been simply scorching. Not so today. I began to regret not packing all my winter cycling gear. Yes, I’d checked the weather forecast but this cold wind was lowering the temperature by at least a further 10°. The meadow grass on the mountain was lush and green, full of colourful wild flowers. Indicating that there’d been no scorching temperatures this summer.

The view from the Galibier is magnificent, you can see the peloton advancing from miles away. However if, like me, you’re not overly fond of heights, it makes you feel nauseous. I plodded on as the gradient rose to 8%. But the road surface is good and it’s a fairly regular climb. I was amazed to see riders in short sleeved shirts and shorts: must have been Northern Europeans. This year’s professional jersey of choice was Leopard Trek: those Luxembourgers again. 

Easily the worst bit was the descent. No it wasn’t dangerous, it was freezing cold. Again, we took a short break at the top of the Lauteret to thaw ourselves out before launching back down the mountain. It was a very rapid descent, largely becacuse my hands were too cold to apply any pressure to the brakes. The lower half of my face was blue and the tips of my fingers white. Only after a reviving scalding hot shower, wraping up warmly and eating dinner did I start to feel warm again.

That evening we watched a report on the news where over 200 cyclists taking part in a 120km sportif, which went over the Galibier on Sunday, had been stranded at the top on account of the weather and had spent the night there. They had withstood snow and hail until the local fire brigade halted the race. Similar weather conditions had been encountered by those doing the 2nd Etape du Tour in the Massif Central. Only 2/3rds of the entrants had taken part and less than 50% had finished. In both instances, I would have been a DNS rather than a DNF.