Today we rode up one of the Tour de France classics and got to experience the Tour at first hand as well, when it finished at the summit of the Col du Tourmalet.
We began early to try to beat the crowds, riding up the familiar bike-path and then up the valley road for 20 klms to Luz-Saint Sauveur. The road was packed with motor-homes, police cars and cyclists but that was only a fraction of what we were to experience when we turned onto the road to the Col du Tourmalet. The number of motor homes parked in every nook and cranny along the way was unbelievable. as was the number of people walking and riding up the mountain. The 18 klm to the summit at 2115 mtrs high is a steady grind of between 7 and 10% gradient. Although I’ve climbed it previously, at 10 klms I started to have doubts I’d make the top but I kept pushing one klm after another and wondering at the sights and scenery along the way. Just when I was confident of making it, I was stopped by the gendarmes at the 800 mtr mark. They had closed the road to the summit because of the number of people up there,
I headed back down and found a nice little vantage point on the side of the cliff/road at the 2.5 klm mark. All the others in my group had headed back to our hotel to watch the Tour come through the town, but I decided I’d sit it out for the 4 hour wait to experience the Tour on the mountain. With no food or water left this was perhaps a rather foolish plan but after sharing part of my vantage point with 4 young Spanish guys, I was made an honourable Spaniard for the day and they proceeded to ply me with wonderful baguettes filled with gherkins and sausage and cans of beer. I had the most amazing day, perched on the side of the mountain looking 5 klms down the valley and topped off with the eventual arrival of the Tour riders.
Riding back down the mountain was a nightmare for the first 5 klms but then the traffic freed up and I was able to make it back to the hotel in time for dinner at 7:30. All up I rode 75 klms for the day in 4 hours 40 mins and burned 1,664 calories which I’m sure I replaced with what the Spanish guys gave me to eat and drink. To cap off all the excitement, my son Paul messaged me to say he’d seen me on the TV coverage back home as the Tour riders passed me on the mountain.