Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Well, I Wasn't Sure About the Fish.

Sunday 18th lunchtime

Our lunch was over. So was the pleasantries of the Tour. The caravanne was waiting. Possibily not! I just don't have as mush interest in this big rolling publicity stunt as I used to.

However, I was all a glamour when the Sky team car appeared at the side of the road just at our bit. Ooo, hello! This means Sky were handing out bottle here and empties woud be appearing! Lawks a-Lordy! The chance at getting a Sky bottle!

The build up to any part of a race coming through is just indescribable. Everyone is on edge of their seats after fight for candy just a few moments before. Helicopters arrive, giving that Apocalypse Now feel to the proceedings. They're nothing to do with the filming of the race, just the guests of the day. And then the final helicoptor that is filming the race. Jump up and down right now! Let fly with expletives your father doesn't know, let alone your mother! The riders are upon you. Shout their names, promise them untold wealth in the life to come. It's all to get it done.

I saw loads of familiar faces this time. Sometimes a bit late for a photo, sometimes okay! I saw Wiggo, big George Hincapie, Sastre, Lance Armstrong, Dave Millar, Mark Cavendish, then Sean Yates and Chris Sutton in Team Sky cars.

After the race, we'd planned on following them over the summit to get us into and good place for our next night. We've done this before to good effect.

We were held by our local gendarme. Crowds ensued. We got bored. He eventually let us go and we careered off into the distance. We made it round a good many bends before another cop stopped us dead. From him "none going passed the top until 8pm" which was hours away! Nothing to do but turn around and fight our way back down against people still coming up. Gerndarmes are great but I wish they'd talk to each other like normal cops are meant to do!

So, caught in queueing traffic, we searched for a way out. Our saviour came in the guise of a hard mountain track. Instead of looking up to the wonderful gorge cliffs, we were riding along them. Ooooo-errrrr, cliff face driving on a single track road with tunnels. Wibble! Then, after 15 minutes of climbing we were out onto the plain at the top. What!?

I still don't understand how terriflying drops can suddenly turn into flat plains when you drive out of the top of them. You feel like someone is trying to cheat you out of your understanding of the way things should be.

After some serious back road stuff, we got onto the main road to Foix and St Girons. There, I confess to knowing the road number (D618) and the junction to Col Portet d'Aspet via Audressein.

We finally got to campsite at the Col at about 8pm, totally shattered. We cooked, drank some wine, and went to bed. Well, and watched this Spanish extended family put up a Quecha about twice the height of any Quecha I've ever seen. FSC people, we have some new kit coming, oh yes.

Monday 18th

The morning brought warm sunshine at 8am. Not just a slight rise in the chilled air, a kind of get-out-of-bed-before-fry-you rise.

I got back to our usual thing of me boiling water for tea and coffee and Lorna wondering what had been brought to her. It was good, of course, but I say so!

We'd already heard about the morning crowds, there was a degree of "French ambulance" around us. For those who don't know this music style please search for it with the words "Bill Bailey". It explains all.

Breakfast has already been explained, so if you don't know what happens, you've only yourselves to be blamed.

Finding a nice spot at the exit of the camping field, I moved the car there and ran away from it before anyone could tell us off. We'd blocked everyone else in but so had the col barriers. I find if you want to do things like this in France, actually being plain rude (to us English) actually just works.

We ran away to the other side of the road to wait for the signs. Not like a rather awful Mel Gibson film, our UFOs were ASO helicopters.

We had little interest in the caravanne this time. We were mistaken but ran with our aloof personalities as it really worked for us on a vapid level.

We found a great spot a little away from the road but under some trees, a godsend at this time. We were just up from the road but would have a great view of the riders going past. Unfortunately, we'd sat in front of some Germans who, for some reason, thought vuvuzelas were a good thing. Mind you, amongst everyone there, no one else liked them and said so, regularly.

the other lovely thing was this little old French guy with a harmonica. He was great! He walked back and forth banging out tunes old and new all the time. Constantly on his clog festooned feet, moving and occasionally dancing he enlivened the crowd. One song would led to in-time clapping and another the cheering, he had all of us in the palms of his hands! He was going for hours. And the second biggest cheer was when an Aussie donated her water to his cause!

I started to hang out with the hotties. I mean the blokes stood out of the shade a good thirty yards to the left of us. The race was due. A dull whirl of helicopters could be heard from the low valley. More time spent watching roads hundred of metres below to pick up signs of cyclists.

They emerged from the trees. Not one-by-one but all in a few masses. A few on abreakaway and the rest passing their way up behind. Little Tommy Voerckler was doing his best to stay right out in front. The French were apoplectic. It was suddenly their race again.

I shouted on Cavendish, who was at the back, and he looked a tad startled. He's more used to it on the flat stages than these weird mountainy thingies!

Everyone cheered the remnants of the race. A few hundred cars and vans and one or two slighty dazzled cyclists. Then it was back to the car to charge on. But we couldn't!

the barriers set for the mountain top still needed to be taken down by the official TdF maintenance guys. It looked bad as cars crammed the summit trying to get passed each other. Most peole started shouting at the guy doing all the work. I got my penknife out and asked if he wanted help. He was grateful and quickly spotted I knew what to do. We finished the bit I wanted in double quick time and moved barriers aside so we were off! I did hit the barriers on the other side on my way out, but non too hard, and it's only a car, n'est pas!

The descent of the Portet d'Aspet is famous for a rather terrible crash where Fabio Cassertelli lost his life whilst cycling in the Tour de France. It is honoured with a rather spectacular memorial. All cyclists slow and pay homage. We were no exception and waved to his stone remebering things done for sport. Lance Armstrong was his teammate in the year it happened. The next day, the whole team were allowed to cross the finish line first.

Well, after that we headed up Col de Mente. I've never been up here as it is always on the route before Luchon, but Christian Prudhomme (new Tour de France director) is making all kinds of changes. It's loverly! We went up a steady series of hairpins and wiggly roads through some strongly wooded valleys. Then back down to St Beat in the valley before Luchon.

This afternoon is a date in Luchon, the hippest place in the mid Pyrenees!

To be continued....

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