Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tourmalet

ST. LARY-SOULAN, FR

The route for Stage 12 today would be similar to last year's stage. That crossed the Tourmalet too. Instead of going over the Col d'Aspin the peloton would go over a ridge parallel to it called the Horquette Ancizan. The Horquette is a less traveled road, very narrow, compared to the main road over the Aspin. Both roads get you over the mountain.



The Horquette appeared to have been recently repaved for the Tour. It wasn't a smooth asphalt but clearly was new pave. Main roads have markings on either side at the edge and a center line. Narrow back roads have only the markings on either side. Really back roads don't have any markings. The Horquette had no markings.


Yes, There are barbed wire obstacles in the Tour

Adrian Register and I started early, shortly after 7:00 a.m. so we could get over the Tourmalet before it closed to all traffic. Last year, with Trek Travel, we started too late and the Gendarmes closed the road at 4 km to the summit. Although we were viewing from La Mongie which is 4 km from the summit, I never felt exactly comfortable telling people I had cycled up the Tourmalet. I hadn't.




We hit the Horquette and at first had empty roads. But then the traffic started. Lots of people wanted to drive up this mountain or decided it would be neat to see the course.


Adrian Register

At the summit four cars pulled over to allow an oncoming car to pass. When they did, a car beside me pulled sharply to the right - right where I was precariously perched on the side of the road with a sizable drop and no guard rail. I held onto the car, even grabbing the mirror to steady myself. I heard the passenger yell at the driver. No harm.



At the end of the descent we stopped as some free ranging cattle were moving. Apparently, they get frightened if you look at them, a challenge I suppose, and I took their picture. Oh oh. They went stampeding by but did not charge us. The Gendarmes were not amused. But then again, they never are.

Adrian being chastised on my behalf, I think
But it was in French

The ascent of the Tourmalet went slower than I remembered. And was more difficult. At the end of the second snow shed I told Adrian I had to stop. There, painting on the road, was the Devil! I had to get this once in a lifetime opportunity.



 
















We only went a few hundred meters and I spotted the Trek Travel tent on top of the restaurant in La Mongie. I told Adrian that I wanted to stop. At the tent, I fit right in wearing my Trek Travel jersey. One of the guides, Shaun, even offered to take and store my (Trek) bike. 


Shaun, from Trek Travel


I laughed. I told them who I was, that I had been on the trip last year, and was just stopping for water for my bottle. Then filled it with energy mix. And ate three bananas. And took some energy bars. I was good to go. This Trek Travel stop was my oasis in the desert.




I'm not sure if the last 4 km were steeper than the rest of the climb or if it was the cumulative effect of climbing but I was suffering. I cramped when I got out of the saddle and Adrian rode ahead. When I reached the summit I could barely get off the bike.


The true summit of the Tourmalet.

We both had to dismount and walk through the crowd of cyclists at the summit. After a few minutes and some photo taking, we mounted and headed down the other side of the Tourmalet on our way to Luz Ardiden.




I stopped after about 500 meters. Something didn't feel right and was making a sound. I found that my rear wheel had been rubbing on my brake. Crap. No wonder it was so hard getting up the mountain.


Llamas being herded up the Tourmalet

I opened the brakes to stop the rubbing and we only went another couple kilometers before stopping and watching a herd of llamas go by. After a discussion of the amount of time it would take to return from Luz Ardiden, we decided to return to the top of Tourmalet and watch the Tour from there.


View from Tourmalet looking towards Lourdes

We froze. We were perhaps the only people on the summit without jackets. And it was cold.





The barriers were in place for the last 70 meters to keep the crowds back and designate the King of the Mountain points. Between the barrier and a stone wall which was about 1.5 meters high we squeezed in with our bikes and at times, crouched down to let the barricades block the wind. It was a perfect viewing location.




But then - the Gendarmes. One came over and told us we couldn't be behind the barriers that were erected for keeping people behind the barriers. We ended up setting on the wall.

Adrian Register


One of the vehicles in the caravan was advertising Vittel water. Their float was a giant water bottle with a person sitting on it with a long sprayer in hand. On hot days it is great to spray the crown but today was cold. Everyone, except Adrian and me, were bundled up and did not want to get wet. I really thought that common sense may prevail but he looked at the small crowd and sprayed us. Jerk.







As the people on the floats in the caravan threw items, two young French girls jumped down between the wall and the barrier to pick up some of the items that had been thrown. Watching them, we reasoned once the Tour came by, if we jumped down behind the barrier the Gendarmes couldn't reach us to make us move. And as the first riders came up the climb, we moved back in behind the barrier. Best spot in the house.






Our viewing location - between the barriers and the wall
But on the other side of the road







I understand that a number of my friends saw me on the television broadcast that day. I did not. But I was there in person.

 
Adrian Regsiter


As the race came over the top I handed my newspaper to Stuart O'Grady. Pretty cool that he took it and put it in his jersey. And I saved a paper for my descent too. It helps.


Most surprising: Some riders, including José Joaquim Rojas, actually stopped at the summit to put on their jackets rather than try to do it going 40-50 mph on the descent. Not the few that are contesting for the stage win but those who are farther back and just trying to survive the stage.


José Joaquim Rojas
  Once the road was reopened after the Tour went by, we first descended to La Mongie and stopped again at the Trek Travel location. There I borrowed a spoke tool and tightened up a loose spoke which helped greatly. The wheel wasn't true, but much better than it was. I kept the tool and promised to return it to Trek Travel in the Alps.






On the way home we decided to take the Col de Aspin instead of the Horquette. Adrian says it was easier from this side but I'm not so sure about that. 




From Col de Aspin


On the day it was cold, wet, and miserable, but sure full of memories.
Dinner in St. Lary
"American Pizza" (Topped with Fries)






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