Legends and Lightning

21 Jul

“C’mon the Paddies!”

The distinctive north Waterford hue to the accent of the bloke on the ancient bike as he grinded his way past on the way to the summit of the Tourmalet took us by surprise but it didn’t take long to make the connection.

“Go Kelly!,” we shouted in unison and quickly scrambled to clear the breakfast dishes so that we could make our way to the top of the hill to find out why the four-time Tour de France Points winner was riding a museum piece up one of the toughest hills in world cycling.

Kelly, we subsequently discovered, had answered an invitation from an Italian friend to ride the Pyreneean centenary ascent of the Tourmalet on vintage bikes in period costume during the second rest day of the Tour.

Thus we found ourselves in the middle of a marvellous melée of fans and heroes all celebrating Henri Desgranges’ momentous decision to send his 1910 Tour entrants up the most arduous and testing hills in the Pyrenees.

It was a chaotic and wonderful scene. Cyclo tourists who had spent the previous couple of hours in private purgatory arrived at the summit to a hubub fit for a Tour winner, only to find that they were in the presence of men who had claimed, by my calculation, a total of 12 outright victories in Le Tour, as well as Kelly’s four green jerseys.

There were also two people there who had ridden the Gorey Three Day but I suppose Bernard Hinault, Miguel Indurain and Laurent Fignon wouldn’t have known that.

Ronan Pensec, Jean Pierre Danguillaume and a few others I probably didn’t spot or recognise joined the party on what was a pretty special occasion for a cycling fan of any vintage.

Kelly gave Danguillaume a spin on his antique behemoth and it occurred to me that everyone should ride a bike older than them at some point.

It was a bit of a zoo but without the frenzy that accompanies your average stage finish. While Kelly gave interviews on one side of a very narrow strip of tarmac, Indurain reprised memories of his five wins for TV cameras on the other.

Meanwhile Fignon and Hinault milled with the crowds for a while before repairing to the famous summit cafe for a beer and some premier league autograph signing.

After a quick chat with Kelly, who revealed that the bike he rode up was extremely heavy – the word he actually used was ‘terrible’ – and equipped with just a 40×24 single speed gear, we nipped into the cafe and found a table beside the stars. While the DS snapped away to her heart’s content, I carbo-loaded on the single nicest sandwich of a filled baguette-filled trip in a wonderful atmosphere of bonhomie and cameraderie de la route.

It was by some considerable margin the highlight of the day. Since then the rains, which made a brief appearance last night, have returned in torrents, increasing in intensity as the day has gone on and regularly accompanied by thunder and lightening.

The locals tried a fireworks display earlier but that fizzled out quicker than yesterday’s stage, never having had a chance against a higher power…

Perhaps it’s all the work of Octave Lapize orchestrating from above, eager that the current riders should have some idea of the suffering he and his cohorts went through in 1910.

If so, he’s 11 hours early and I and the DS would like to know why he has to bring the fans into it, shivering as we are at the time of iPhone screen tapping in our increasingly soggy tent and contemplating a night in the car if the rain finally breaks through the nylon walls…


One Response to “Legends and Lightning”


  1. Sean Kelly rides Le Tourmalet on a 1910 bike with 40/24 ratio yesterday... - London Fixed-gear and Single-speed - 23/07/2010

    […] single speed bike on a 40/24 ratio! Ok, wasn't fixed but good man! more details here… https://lespoursuivants.wordpress.com/2010/07/21/29/ […]

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