VIP Views and Armchair Rides

24 Jul

In the airport in Biarritz on the way from our trip, and it’s hard to believe it’s less than 20 hours since we were peering through the mist at the top of the Tourmalet.

It’s been a hell of a trip, at ten days less than half of what the tour riders have to endure to reach Paris, and it’s a bit agonising to be heading home just a few days short of Paris because you start to get attached to this event. It’s been epic, to say the least, and the conditions on the Tourmalet on Thursday afternoon were entirely appropriate for the centenary celebrations of the Tour’s first visit to the Pyrenees.

After enduring a sleepless night of thunderstorms we were in no hurry to rush up the hill to bag our spot and took our time before breaking camp for the final time. We finally made the leisurely stroll up to the finish line and found a spot within a few yards of the finish line about half an hour before the riders were due. Given that there were people heading up the hill to grab a decent view since early morning we were pretty happy with how it worked out.

I found a couple of plastic chairs that gave us a view over the crowd and we were made up.

The only trade for our VIP position was a complete absence of internet coverage and with only rudimentary school French to help us decipher the commentary, our knowledge of the race unfolding in the valley below was as foggy as the mist that enveloped the hill.

From the commentator’s incessant patter we had an idea that it was all about Schleck and Contador and there was no surprise when Andy finally burst into view, crossong the line with arms aloft, his Spanish amigo and nemesis less than a bike length in arrears.

Within seconds the crowds around the finish line started to abate as the star gazers rushed to the podium to worship their heroes.

We thought there was more entertainment to be had, and respect to be given, in staying to cheer every one of the riders as they flopped, exhausted across the crest of the col. Not one of them had time for a smile and most looked absolutely shattered, not least Nicolas Roche whose 12th place finish was surely the best ride of his career and certainly an immense response to his difficulties of the previous two stages.

I say no one had time for a smile but that’s not strictly correct. Robbie McEwen, riding with broken bones for much of the event, celebrated the finish of the mountains for another year with one of his trademark wheelies across the line. Excellent…

After more than half an hour of riders appearing in ones or twos – no sign of a big Autobus  on this monster of a stage – Andreas Klier had the broom wagon for company as he coasted over the line, utterly spent, but still in the Tour and on his way to Paris unlike Simon Spilak of Lampre.

After filing back down the mountain for a couple of kilometres we jumped in our car just in front of the Saxo Bank team car ferrying Andy Schleck to a well earned massage and dinner. I let him by and then welded our Citoren Picasso hire car to the rear bumper in front for the perfect escort down the hill.

It was one of the highlights of the trip for me, though the DS, her head buried in her hands for much of the helter skelter 18km ride, wasn’t quite so impressed. Down the outside of the almost interminable queue for much of the journey we made up large dollops of time on our 200km commute to Biarraitz. We eventually incurred the wrath of an Astana official in an accredited car who wanted to know why we, the great unwashed (the term is not applied loosely here following four days on the mountain…) had infiltrated the privilged cavalcade.

In fairness, the cavalcade had caught and passed him so he shouldn’t have been quite so grumpy, especially after Bertie’s epic ride that day. I wasn’t the only punter in the cavalcade, either. The blue car behind was also an opportunist.

Anyhow, after a couple of kilometres of fist waving and car weaving from him, he eventually conceded defeat, though I expected a Skoda estate to come in through the back window at any moment in the next 20km.

That armchair ride off the Tourmalet gave us a head start on our trip to the luxury of the airport Ibis in Biarritz, our one and only hotel of the trip.

A real bed and a shower. What decadence!

I love camping but next year we’re getting a camper…

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