Postcards from the Pyrenees

We left home just after 09:00 on Monday morning in our Renault hire car and headed for Bagneres de Bigorre. Just past Carcassone, the car emitted a small cough and lost power. My beloved guided it onto the hard shoulder, we leapt out of the car and vaulted the security barrier. I rang Renault Assistance who were unable to assist and advised us to ring the police. I did and they gave me the number for the local constabulary who kindly sent someone to tow us to the nearest Renault garage. All well and good, but the garage advised they would not be able to fix the car that day, possibly the following one. I rang my Renault contact who advised that they were obliged to find us a replacement car and I should ring Renault Assistance. So I did.

Finally, after much toing and froing, they found us a Hertz hire car for 4 days. We would however have to return to Carcassone to collect the Renault. This solution did not find favour as we were heading in totally the opposite direction. The Renault garage staff, fearing an imminent and irrevocable schism in the entente cordiale, decided to put us out of our misery and fixed the car in 15 minutes flat.

We had planned to go and watch the peloton’s arrival into Bagneres de Luchon. Instead we had to settle for watching it on my beloved’s new mobile. Yet another French win, Tommy Voeckler looking radiant in his tricolour jersey as he crossed the line. Sadly his endeavours were overshadowed by polemics. Should Contador have attacked the yellow jersey when he lost his chain? Andy Schleck’s Dad admitted he’d have taken the same action as Contador: he’d have attacked. No matter, the two have now kissed and made up. Contador leads Schleck  by 8 seconds.

Tuesday morning, we were up bright and early for our ride up Col d’Aubisque. The roads were literally alive with cyclists in kit of all hues and hailing from the four corners of the earth. We rode companiably, side by side, enjoying the freshness of the air and the magnificent green countryside. It was starting to heat up as we reached the Col du Soulor whose incline starts to quickly ramp up to 12% before settling back down to a comfortable 5-7%.

Chasing leading group up Soulor

One of the many things I love about the Tour is the ability of anyone and everyone to attend the world’s biggest, best and longest street party. The roads were lined with enthusiastic spectators proclaiming their allegiances and what was surely the world’s biggest concentration of camper vans. While waiting for the real show to put in an appearance, they’re willing to encourage all of us amateurs toiling away up the inclines. I was high fiving small kids as I wend my way upwards. No mean feat given my lack of bike handling skills.

Towards the top of the Col, I made an executive decision to stop at the last outpost,  before the descent, providing refreshments, toilets and a TV. From here, in the company of a large number of Uruguayans, Americans, Aussies and Danes we watched the slow approach of the peloton. There was much excitement as Lance, having lost so much time on GC, had been allowed to escape and, with his fellow escapees, had over 3 minutes on the yellow jersey.

It looked as if the peloton had settled in for a quiet day  and was more than happy for Messrs Fedrigo, Casar, Armstrong, Barredo, Cunego, Plaza, Horner, Moreau and Van de Walle to duke it out. Barredo took a flyer off the front but was caught with 1km to go. The two sprinters fought for the line and the win went to Fedrigo, by a nose. The sixth French win and the 2nd consecutive one for Bbox!

The yellow jersey group came in over 6 minutes behind, led by Hushovd who gained enough points to regain the green jersey.  Otherwise, it was stalemate at the top, leaving Schleck one fewer opportunity to make  up lost ground. Thursday should therefore be decisive. Sadly, the weather has changed. It rained heavily overnight and it’s continued to drizzle on and off all day. The Tourmalet is shrouded in mist. Tomorrow, further rain is forecast. But whatever the weather, we’ll be there to see all the action.

Pyrotechnics

On the eve of Bastille Day many towns, including mine, host a spectacular fireworks display. In fact, sitting on my balcony with a view of the coast from Cap Ferrat to Cap d’Antibes, I can witness two concurrent displays.

The hot and heavy weather is continuing and most days I seek out routes in the shade but even so when I arrived at Tourettes sur Loup this morning I could’ve happily dived right into the fountain. However, mindful of my position of Club Secretary, I decided against it.

Back home, I took a cold shower and slipped into something  light and flimsy to watch this afternoon’s stage: 204km from Morzine-Avoriaz to St-Jean-de Maurienne. I needed to wear something light because I was in the home straight of my hors categorie ironing mountain which had been hanging around since the start of the Giro. Luckily my beloved has an extensive wardrobe dating back to when we had three apartments.

I feel rather guilty about the amount of time I spend glued to the Tour which I partially alleviate by multi-tasking. I have ironed over 80 shirts and around 100 t-shirts. Tomorrow, I’ll start on the pile of mending: missing buttons, hems and the like. Usually, I manage to sort out and tidy all the cupboards and drawers in the lounge and re-organise my dressing room. Sadly, this year they’ll have to wait for the Vuelta.

Meanwhile, back to the action. With Lance’s hopes of adding to his Tour crowns crushed on Sunday, everyone else was still pretty much in contention as the peloton rolled out for today’s testing stage. 

Stage 9

An early breakaway including 5 French riders was established.  BMC was controlling the peloton but there were riders popping off the back from quite early on thanks to a flurry of attacks and the profile of today’s leg sapping stage.

By the time they reached the foot of the Col de la Madelaine, the breakaway had been whittled down, the gruppetto was well established and the leading contenders were being shelled out the back like peas under pressure from first Saxo Bank, and then Astana. 

With 40km to go, Andy Schleck turned the screw but couldn’t distance Alberto Contador. Indeed the two rode together to the crest and then down the other side, Alberto looking the more comfortable, until they joined up with Christophe Moreau (one of the original escapees) with around 18km to go to the finish. Samu Sanchez had been trying to bridge up to them but, despite treating us to a master class in descending, never quite managed to close the gap. With 10km to go, he was out grimacing Nikki Sorensen. 

Schleck and Contador caught the remainder of the breakaway on the run in to the finish which was won by Sandy Casar (FDJ): yet another French win. Schleck the younger was now in yellow, Contador was sitting comfortably at 41 seconds behind with Samu in 3rd, 2:45 down. Barring a disaster, it’s now a two horse race.