07/15/10- LIVE FROM THE TOUR DE FRANCE-I SUSPECT MOST PEOPLE TRAVEL BETTER THAN I DO. There’s something about those 40+ hour travel days that get to me, especially when they’re “enhanced” by not getting much sleep the night before because you’re concerned you forgot something (which I didn’t, not as near as I can tell, but my son did somehow manage to forget his briefs). That 11 hour flight on a plane, even in a nice seat (and it was a nice seat this time) still leaves me feeling sticky all over within 5 hours or so into the flight, and that air that’s so dry your thoat starts getting sore, and the restlessness from not moving around much… maybe if I had my own private Airbus 380, you know, that double-deckered thing that would let me have a shower, a lot of space to move around (maybe even enough to ride a bike?), and a flight schedule that panders to when I want to fly.
But we did get here, in Toulouse, France, after a second flight from Frankfort. I’d wondered about Frankfort airport, a place my kids said is the worst they’ve ever been to… what could make an airport so bad? Um… where do I start? It’s huge and random and hot and stinky and the Lufthansa equivalent of United’s Red Carpet Club was packed with no seats available and cramped feeling even if it wasn’t full of people thinking they could get away from the rest of the airport for a few minutes. It really makes you appreciate how good we have it out here.
OK, but we’re here to ride, not complain about getting here, and tomorrow (Saturday) we’ll be riding from Toulouse out to a little spot on the map named “Coins” and then perhaps south a bit to “Caraman” where we’ll get to see the interim stage sprint, if the timing works out right. And then Sunday we’re off to Lourdes, spending 5 days in the center of the Pyrenees! That’s what we’re really looking forward to.
In the meantime, we’ve found a good Kabob place right around the corner (perhaps the best inexpensive food you can buy, pretty much without fail?), and there’s a Paul (killer deli/bakery chain) at the train station across the street. So we’re set, and by this time tomorrow we’ll hopefully have some cool pictures to show!
07/18/10- LIVE FROM THE TOUR DE FRANCE-TRAVELING FROM TOULOUSE TO LOURDES- So we get up a bit late but in time to finish packing and eat (did you know Kevin likes to sleep?) and get to the train station at 11:21 for our 11:46 train to Lourdes. This one we have to buy tickets from the counter because their automated machines don’t take US-type credit cards (non-chipped).
Of course the lines are long and seem notoriously slow and there is only one English-speaking window and it’s in use by the same people the entire time I’m there. So I go to the first-available French window, ask “vous parlais englais?” to which she replies “NON!” and waves me off. Right. Like you can get rid of me that easily? I stand my ground and tell her “Duex billets por Lourdes sil vous plait” and voilà within a minute I’ve got my tickets.
The train is now leaving in 4 minutes and it’s not entirely clear which direction to the tracks and the trains on the board don’t list a train number nor our destination so I make an assumption that the only train leaving at 11:46, which is the time for our train, must in fact be our train. Voie (track) 4.
Down the stairs with four pieces of heavy luggage we go (how did we do this with full-size bikes???) and eventually find where they put the track numbers (did you know that, when you’ve only got three minutes, “eventually” seems to take longer than an SAT test?). Up another set of stairs we go to what MUST be our train. Right? But here there’s a display with a train number on it which does NOT match the number on our ticket!!! After snapping out of the blind panic (I now understand that expression!) I note that, right above the train number, it lists its stops, one of which is Lourdes.
So yes, we made it, on the right train, and had at least 90 seconds to spare. We are now rolling through the farmlands between Toulouse and Tarbes, before it takes us into Lourdes, in the very heart of the Pyrenees. I am excited and kevin?
07/19/10 (am)- LIVE FROM THE TOUR DE FRANCE-SPACE FOR BICYCLES DOESN’T ALWAYS MEAN SPACE FOR BICYCLES ON FRENCH TRAINS. I was careful to book us on trains that allowed bicycles for our trip up the port de bales; it would have been impossible to cover the distance entirely by bike. Last night, we even went to the station to study the configuration of the cars, so we’d know what to do.
So the train arrives and sure enough, there’s a car that says “access velos.” and in front of that car is a conductor who tells us you can’t take bikes on this train unless they’re folded!?!? Fortunately we have folding bikes (although not the kind that folds instantly and small) so we hastily fold them in half and throw them into the vestibule.
Thankfully I didn’t get so rattled as to forget we get off at the first stop and transfer to another train, this one with a formal bike car with racks that put caltrain to shame. That’s where we are right now, waiting to begin the expected part of today’s adventure!
And in retrospect even Kevin agrees that we should have ridden the 13 miles to tarbes (for this train) instead of transferring. Fortunately, the rest of our rides all start and end from our hotel!
07/19/10 (pm) LIVE FROM THE TOUR DE FRANCE- SO DO WE GET IT TESTED OR WHAT? Kevin’s (my son Kevin, not “Pilot” Kevin) all about stuff that riders toss, and this time he scored a water bottle. But not just andybody’s water bottle, this one belonged to Andy Schleck!
But there’s more to the story. You see, I’d run out of water, and had very little to drink on the long hot climb up the Port de Bales. Just one bottle in fact, because I let Kevin have the other (so yes he had THREE bottles on the climb to my one). No biggie I’m thinking, I can pick up some water on the way back.
That didn’t seem to work out. There were no convenient places to get water in Luchon (at the base of the main descent), and we were facing a long ride (40k/25 miles) into a HOT headwind. So I asked Kevin if maybe we should drink the water in Andy’s bottle (which was at least 3/4 full).
No. That would be wrong. We’re unworthy. It just doesn’t seem right.
“Bike shop owner inexplicably dies of dehydration while riding with a nearly-full water bottle.”
Of course that’s not what happened; I can go quite a while without drinking much, and I just put my head into the wind and churned away the miles until we finally came to a park with hopefully-potable water in its bathroom. I was going to call it a restroom but that seems inappropriate for one of those French things where you have a hole in the floor and a place to put your feet while you squat.
So I didn’t die, I fought yet another unexpected headwind (which I now accept as simply something I do and have gotten pretty good at driving into them, instead of viewing then as the most-evil abomination on the planet), and got us to the train station in Montrejeaus an hour and a half ahead of the train.
At least no drama boarding the train with bikes this time!
Oh, right, back to that bottle. Do I send it to a lab for testing, or are andy’s failures in the TdF evidence that he doesn’t dope? Presently I have it sealed (tight rubber band) and in the cooler in our hotel room, with a hand-written chain-of-custody document in case there are any questions. Oh, and we have further documentation it’s Andy’s because we have pictures that we took ourselves, showing him fumble the attempt to get it into the cage and actually caught it in the bounce off the ground, and we can demonstrate scrapes on the bottle that could have only happened that way. I think we have it nailed. Question is, how much should we demand from Saxo-Bank for the return of this… evidence?
07/20/10- ALBERTO CONTADOR IN FOCUS. ANDY SCHLECK FUZZY. COINCIDENCE? Today’s adventure in France took us up the Col du Soulor/Aubisque, first stopping at the top of the Soulor for food & drink, and then moving on to a quieter area on the relatively-gradual climb up to the Aubisque, where there are a couple of tunnels famous for being inhabited by cows. Thankfully, no cows in the tunnels today, but neither are there lights, which is why, in the picture, you see Jakob Fuglsang and Andy Schleck without sunglasses. We took a lot of photos of cyclists exiting from this tunnel, and an interesting thing struck home. Most of the really gunning for something kept their glasses on. For example, in the breakway group ahead of these guys, all but one guy (Barredos) kept their glasses on. Including Lance. Barredos ended up losing a few seconds because of this and had to chase to get back on.
The other thing you’ll notice is that the camera chose to focus on Alberto Contador. Smart camera. Unless Andy does something really spectacular (like Lance made us think could happen today), he could end up not even being in the top-3 when the race gets to Paris.
Tomorrow (Wednesday) is an official Tour de France “rest” day. The riders recuperate from the savage hills they faced today and think about the even-worse nightmare that awaits them on Thursday- a hilltop finish atop the Tourmalet. Andy Schleck’s last opportunity to retake the Yellow Jersey and put enough time into Contador, Sanchez and Menchov that he has a chance at not losing everything in the final time trial on Saturday.
Today’s ride trivia- Leaving the hotel at 11am was pretty much perfect timing for the climb up the Soulor/Aubisque. The beginning of that climb is abrupt & brutal; you take a right-hand turn up a ramp that seems steeper than the beginning pitch of Alpe d’Huez, and it just keeps on going for quite some time. After a few miles you reach a beautiful valley that is enjoyed just as much for being able to ease the effort for a bit, and then the climb begins again, as bad as the first part, at Arrens. The very upper reaches of the climb are much easier, although that final 2K of any climb always seems a lot longer than 3 laps around the 333 meter bicycle track in San Jose! For me this was old news; I’ve been up this climb a couple of times, but for Kevin, it was tougher than he expected it to be.
In some places, the Gendarmes were telling people to get off & walk hours before even the Caravan would be coming through, which made no sense. And there was no consistency either; you’d get back on you bike and ride as soon as you were out of sight, and the next Gendarme had no issues with you riding.
Unlike yesterday’s ride up the Port de Bales, where there were very few food & drink stands on the route, this one had plenty, many featuring local cheeses and pate. Our lunch was a sandwich of a pate that tasted slightly like liverwurst but in the best-possible way. It also smelled pretty good, but vaguely familiar; wished I hadn’t realized it reminded me of cat food. Weather was warm but fantastic at the top of the hill. Still a lot more sun than either of us are used to, but the secret is clearly to be drinking a lot of water, which we certainly did.
On the return we headed down the Soulor via Arbeost, going down the same route the ‘Tour will be heading up on Thursday. Yikes! I have never descended something that steep and that long in my life. It was a real test for the Bike Fridays, with Kevin outrunning me pretty quickly. Unfortunately, the route back to Lourdes from the bottom of the hill wouldn’t download into my Garmin, nor were there signs showing the way. Thankfully we came across a Trek Travel group that was also heading back to Lourdes. Score one for the Trek folk! No wrong turns and a very pleasant diversion off the main roads and through the rural farmlands.
Our game plan for the next 5 days? The ‘Tour rest day will feature a ride (nothing too nasty) and laundry. The weather forecast is for showers all day, and that might be enough to keep us off our bikes, we’ll see. Thursday, we’ll ride up the Tourmalet as far as we can to get a good spot for watching the carnage. Kevin would like to be at the actual top, but so would 500,000 other people! Friday we take a train to Bordeaux and may have time to quickly reassemble our bikes and see the stage finish, but the main point to being in Bordeaux will be for the final time trial the next day! Then we pack up our BikeFriday travel bikes for the last time and take the train into Paris Sunday morning and head out to see the finale.
Can you see the Tour de France without a bike? Yes, but as my son (Kevin) would say, it wouldn’t be the same. You wouldn’t feel the heat of the sun as it finds that spot your sunscreen didn’t cover. You wouldn’t get to calculate whether you’ve got enough food & water for the trip. You wouldn’t get to hike a half-mile detour across a rocky field because the Gendarme said the road was closed and that answer was simply unacceptable. You wouldn’t experience the agony of seeing those kilometer signs go by ever-more-slowly as the pitch gets steeper and you’re 10 miles into a 16 mile climb. In short, according to Kevin, you wouldn’t have earned it. –Mike, in Lourdes, France.
07/21/10- TOUR TAKES A REST DAY, WE PRAY FOR RAIN. Yes, that does sound a bit odd doesn’t it? But the weather folk are saying there’s a 100% chance of rain tomorrow (for the epic Tour stage that ends at the top of the Tourmalet) and I’m hoping that maybe, we could get so much rain tonight that it clears out earlier than it’s supposed to. The schedule for rain ending pretty much coincides with the ‘Tour finish. Go figure. But for now, we’re working on waterproofing our gear (cameras don’t like rain) and figuring out how to make the best of the warmer-weather apparel we brought. I did go into the local bike shop and pick up a supposedly-waterproof lightweight jacket, and it will certainly be put to the test shortly.
My prediction is that, at the end of the day, Kevin will be thinking less-bad things about the intelligence of the folk who drive up the mountain in campers to watch the stage.
07/22/10- WHAT IS WITH THE INSANE GENDARMES AT THE TdF THIS YEAR???!!! We were so concerned about the weather on the Tourmalet (and rightfully so!) that we bought some latex dishwashing gloves to keep our hands warm (the shops ’round these parts have their winter selection, and their summer selection of apparel, and this being summer, they simply don’t have any long-fingered gloves for sale… more on lessons in retail I’ve learned at a later time), and plenty of food to keep fueled in the event we were stranded for some time in the cold. What we didn’t count on were the Gendarmes insisting, hours before the caravan came through, that you had to walk your bike up the hill. The first such encounter came at 1pm, with the race scheduled to come through after 4. And shortly thereafter, we came across Gendarmes turning back all cyclists!!! “Sorry, the road is closed to cyclists.” Oh really? It’s OK to walk up a 25 kilometer climb (as if) but you can’t ride? So we detour around on side roads through town and re-emerge above the nastiest of the Gendarmes… and do this yet again at a town a bit further up.
Then we come up against Rambo. I don’t know what goes on in this guy’s brain, but he not only stops all cyclists, he corrals them. As in, we’re told to take our bikes up this side road (a short dead end) and we’re not allowed to go either up or down. This is 10k from the top of the climb, and that’s as far as we were able to get. There was no talking sense into Rambo; he had maybe 35 of us basically barricaded in place until well after the race was over. Yes, we could leave our bikes there and walk on the course, no problem with that, but this was not where any of us wanted to watch the race from.
More on this later. It’s 1:09am, I’m not finished packing for our transfer from Lourdes to Bordeaux tomorrow, and I’m hoping I can get some serious work done on the 2.5 hour train ride. I will point out that the Bike Fridays worked great, both uphill and downhill; we’ve really gotten used to these little guys. For anyone who travels much on business, and wishes they had a bike with them, these are the answer. You can do serious riding with them! And they fit in an airline-legal suitcase, so no extra fees for bringing them.
Oh, yes, before I go I’ll say that I’ll have a bit of relief when this TdF is over and I no longer have to watch and read about the love-fest between Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador. Watching the two ride past us, together as always, looking more like friends than competitors… it just seems a bit wrong. I’m thinking Contador is playing the same sort of mind games with Schleck that Lance used to do with his buddy Jan back in the day. Still, I’m really looking forward to the big time trial on Saturday. And who knows, Chris Horner, now in 10th place, best GC guy on Radio Shack right now, might move up a few more places!
07/24/10- A FEW PHOTOS FROM TODAY’S TIME TRIAL STAGE IN FRANCE- http://picasaweb.google.com/ChainReactionBicycles/BordeauxTdFTT7242010#
07/27/10- YOU’RE NOT PLANNING ON RIDING TOMORROW MORNING ARE YOU? Why, after all these years, does she keep asking that question? So I’d just gotten back from France the night before, and my body couldn’t figure out if it wanted Pain Chocolat (chocolate breakfast pastry) or roast duck (dinner). Sleep? Umm… why? You gotta re-cycle yourself, so to speak, and the best way to do that is obvious. Ride. So I got up, walked past the suitcases that contained the Bike Fridays we used in France and took my “real” bike, my Trek Madone 6.9, outside to inflate the tires. And from the moment I picked it up I realized this wasn’t going to be like my rides in France, where I road a bike that mimics a full-sized regular bike surprisingly-well but nevetheless isn’t quite the same, especially when loaded down with a rear rack and lots of gear stuffed into a bag sitting on top of it. Nope, this morning was pure, minimalist bike, maybe 19 pounds of it including water bottle. Could be 18. Whatever, from that first pedal stroke the differences were obvious. Maybe 15 pounds lighter overall, and you push down hard on the crank, pull back as hard as you want on the handlebars, and it just goes.
In very short order I was up over the hill to the start of the ride, and a bit surprised to see not too many people there. In fact, at first it was just Eric & Jan, but a couple minutes later Karl & Karen & George roll up and off we go. I wasn’t sure exactly how I’d feel, but decided to push hard at the start, even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep it up. Of course, while I’m pushing, Karl is cruising, settling into a nice, easy (for him) pace that’s quickly leaving me behind. And by a third of the way up the hill, the rest of them had caught up and passed me as well. Everyone except… George. In fact, we never saw George past the park entrance. We assumed he was just taking it easy, maybe having a bad day, but that he’d be there at the end. But when I finished the climb, everyone was there… except George. We waited for a few minutes, but we’ve got a schedule to keep… but what if George had a flat and his pump wasn’t working? I tell everyone to ride on ahead and I’ll go back down the hill to make sure George is OK, with Eric joining me. All the way down, no George. We briefly discussed heading out Canada Road to make it a more-worthy ride but then I thought hey, why not retrace the Tour of California and, after descending Kings, head back up 84, joining up with the rest of the group right after they finished the west-side Old LaHonda loop? And it worked out just about perfectly, Eric & I rejoining the rest shortly after turning up Skyline towards LaHonda.
In the end, it seemed the flight back and time displacement didn’t hurt me much, and my time of 26:46 up the hill wasn’t much slower than my fastest time so far this year, a couple days before my son and I left for France.