Today we travelled by car to Pau to experience the Tour de France individual time trial first hand. This was preceded by the women’s race around the 27 klm course. The time trial is a specialist discipline with the riders wearing aero-dynamic gear and bikes to try to shave seconds off their time around the course. The stage was won by the current Tour GC leader and “maillot jaune” (yellow jersey) wearer, Alaphilippe. For me, a highlight of the day was meeting up with my mate Trevor Rickard and partner Anne, who had been walking on the Camino Trail.
On Day 5 we decided to tackle one of the Tour classics – the Col d’Aspin, and because the Tour would be finishing reasonably close-by at Bagneres de-Bigorre, we thought we could take in some of the Tour hype on our ride. To get to Bagneres de-Bigorre, we first rode down the bike path to Lourdes for 8 klms and then over the Col de la Croix Blanche for 13 klms. We stopped off at
Sainte-Marie de-Campan for lunch and then headed up the road towards Col d’Aspin. However we’d left our run too late, as the gendames had closed the road with 8 kms to go, because of the Tour. We headed back along the 20 klms of beautiful fast road to Bagneres de-Bigorre which the Tour riders would be doing in another 4 hours and managed to check out the team buses etc at the finishing line, before heading for home. I managed to take a wrong turn on the way, which gave me another 10 klms of secret training, but I still managed to get back to Argeles Gazost to see the Tour finish on TV at the pub. It was a big day. I rode 114 klms in 5 and a quarter hours, ascended 1,433 mtrs and burned 2,044 calories, some of which I replaced in the pub afterwards.
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.
I didn’t really expect to be riding my bike again in France, but when Andrew (our tour leader from 2017) emailed me an invitation to join the 2019 trip to France and Spain, I jumped at it.
It was just 4 days after the passing of my wife Merryl, and I knew I’d need a goal to work towards in the future months to help get me through the difficult time that was follow.
So, after quite a few months of training, I’m ready to leave for France on 12th July.
Our last day of our Tour was spent in Lyon, which is France’s 3rd largest city. Situated on the junction of the Rhone and Saone Rivers, it’s an important commercial centre. The old inner city is fantastic with narrow cobble-stoned streets and has the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre dating back 2,000 years. We enjoyed a visit to the magnificent cathedral on the hill (accessed via a funicular train), wandered through the streets and had our last meal together at one of the many open-air restaurants.
As this is my last post of the trip, can I say thank you to those who have followed my travels and for the comments that have been made about them. I’ve had a great adventure and I’ve enjoyed every minute bringing it to you. Thanks too to son Paul who set the blog format up for me and made it so easy to post regular updates to. It will be a great momento of my trip.
On our last day in Alpe d’Huez, I wandered around the town and took a few more photos and video. Even took a short ride part-way up the mountain in the gondola to get the early morning cloud hanging in the valley.
Today is our last full day at l’Alpe d’Huez and 11 of our group headed out for our last ride of our tour. After a swift descent down the mountain to Bourg d’Oisans we headed up the valley before turning right for the 20 klm climb up to the small ski village of La Berarde. After the climb up to Alpe d’Huez yesterday, I found the going pretty tough but managed to join the group for coffee half way up and then kept with them for the final ascent. After a nice lunch we headed back down the valley, but diverted along the way to the quaint little town of Venosc for deserts and coffee. Then it was full pelt back to Bourg d’Oisans (thanks to Warrick for drafting me down the highway) where I reluctantly returned my hire bike. I could be very tempted by a Pinarello.
My Garmin said I traveled 81.5 klms in 3 hours 40 minutes at an average speed of nearly 22 klm/hr. We ascended 1,233 meters elevation and I burnt 1,405 calories, so I don’t feel at all guilty about the ice ream with lashings of real cream on top. A ride back up the mountain in the car to Alpe d’Huez and my French riding experience was all over. Tomorrow we travel to the city of Lyon for some sightseeing before we fly out for home on Monday evening.
The climb from Bourg d’Oisans to the ski resort of l’Alpe d’Huez has been a signature stage of the Tour de France since it hosted the first TDF mountain top finish in 1952. Although not part of the Tour this year, it has hosted some classic battles that have confirmed the winner of the Tour’s yellow jersey. Over the length of 13 klms it rises approx 1,100 metres at an average gradient of 8.2% with the earlier couple of klms more between 10 and 11%. There are 21 hairpin switchbacks along its length. each named after a famous cyclist. The record time is under 40 minutes but I took closer to an hour more than this. Nevertheless it was all about the finishing for me and I was proud to hold my bike aloft at the finish, even though I was the last of our group home. Congratulations to the rest of the group who all finished the climb. (2 on electric bikes).
Today was a light day. Only six of us headed off on a short 35 klm ride which took us along the edge of the mountain below Alpe d’Huez and then a fast run down into Bourg d’Oisans for lunch and then desert at a great little patisserie. Yum yum. The scenery was breathtaking. Along the way we met a couple out touring on their electric bikes. He was 79 and she was 75. They looked great and were really enjoying riding up to 110 klms a day. After lunch we got to ride back up to Alpe d’Huez in the car with bikes in the van – very civilized!!
I just had to include the pic of our illustrious leader Andrew riding the electric bike around the town on our return.
Today was one of the highlights of our tour – meeting up with the Tour de France. We traveled by car and van to within 17 klms of the top of the first major climb of the day, the Col de la Croix de Fer and then rode to within 4 klms of the Col – about the closest the gendames would allow us to continue without walking. The ride itself was no pushover and we appreciated what the Tour riders cope with many times over in a day. We ascended about 1,000 metres while the Tour rides rode up 5,000 meters that day.
Prior to the arrival of the Tour, there is the Tour procession of all the sponsor’s vehicles throwing out sample of merchandise ranging from hats, lollies, drinks and even washing powder. the “less mature” of our group (only kidding) had a great time collecting all the paraphernalia that was thrown out.
Finally the Tour riders arrived, spread out much more than I had expected, and we got to see Froomey and other heroes close up. No wild behaviour from our group but plenty of cheering and encouragement especially to Marcel Kittle who unfortunately withdrew from the race shortly after passing us as a result of injuries sustained in a crash earlier in the day.
Hope you enjoy our TDF experience.