The plan today was to drop us in Annecy which would allow us to cycle about 80 km of the route, however, things didnt quite go as planned
We left Brancion just after 08:00, climbing our way up past the old city with beautiful forts nestled on the top of the hill. From there it was a harrowing drive (at least for someone who dislikes heights as I do) through the Alps to Italy and from there via tunnel back to France. I had the misfortune to have a window seat looking down into very deep valleys, which gave me a good reason to pray for Eric the driver. There were disconcerting sounds from the vehicle and when we stopped it seemed that someone had put on the trailer brake last night. Nothing fatal, but inauspicious given the roads we were travelling through.
The towns and the valleys were just lovely, picture perfect advertisements for life in the Alps. It was fascinating to see the older houses with huge stones on the roofs. Made me wonder how large the internal beams were. At one point we passed an old pill box, a reminder of the terrible history from 60 years ago under the Nazis. Many French were executed and one regularly sees plaques in towns to the martyrs executed by the Germans. Its impressive to witness how far the two countries have moved on in the intervening period.
The traffic began to get quite heavy as we approached the TDF route. We were well behind schedule so I asked Jonathan if some of us could get off and cycle much faster than sitting in a traffic jam and after all, we are here to ride our bikes. He agreed and we pulled off the road just past the turn off to Col de la Forciaz. After a quick unloading I hopped on my bike and was off I had already dressed myself for the day (including the essential suntan lotion) before boarding the bus.
My goal was to get as far as I could before they closed the roads for the race. I hoped to make it to Col de Croix Fry which would see me traversing the final two Category 1 (i.e. the hardest) climbs of todays race.
There was a bike path next to the road that I took towards the Col de Forclax and then I passed the barriers and started climbing. It was a hard, lung bursting ride. Its a good thing I didnt try this yesterday when I was feeling under the water as I wouldnt have made it far. I was amazed at the change between yesterday and today I was ready to attack the hill and do my best to get to the top as quick as I could. In the end I did it in a respectable 52 minutes at an average speed of 11 km/h. With grades in excess of 10% for some 10 km. I was very satisfied with that.
IThe day was very hot and humid the temperature reached 37 degrees I was told and it was extremely hard work getting up the hill. In some places it was more difficult than Mt. Ventoux with short, steep sections similar to the Pyrenes and yet as a Category 1 climb (Mt. Ventoux is out of category) it was easier overall. The climb was only 8 km and there were a couple of flat sections, and even a downhill to give one respite. The crowds were very light for most of the ride, except at the beginning where many were walking slowly up the hill. However, towards the top they increased to the usual large numbers.
The downhill run was delightful and much straighter than Mt. Ventoux so I was able hit 75 km/h. At one point I saw the beautiful sight of Lake dAnnecy which was brilliant blue with mountains as a backdrop and lovely towns nestled along the shore. I expected to descend to the lake but unexpectedly the route took a turn uphill through some residential areas. I came across a Canadian couple on a tandem. It must have been boring for the woman who was at the back as she would have seen more of her husbands back than the scenery since he was quite tall. Ive often thought it would be interesting to try a tandem but my wife Lis flatly refuses. Wed probably disagree over who would steer.
Just past Bluffy I turned right onto the main road and began to make my way eastwards. I asked a Gendarme how long it was until the road would be closed and he said one hour. I wanted to get to the top of the second climb so I put my head down and went as fast as I could. It was great to not have any cars to worry about and made good time
Just before the village Thones there was a sprint section which was in the process of being set up. There was a stand where the woman were practicing their dance routines to very loud music. They needed a lot more time. The village itself was delightful with an old church as the centrepiece of the town and plenty of cute stores and buildings. I turned off the main road and began a gentle climb which all too quickly turned into the steeper 12 km climb to Col de Croix Fry. I found out later from Mark that when he arrived not too long afterwards the Gendarmes had closed the roads so a local led about 20 cyclists to another road nearby which connected to the main route. Good thing I worked to get there early.
Col de la Croix Fry was another Category 1 climb so it was very difficult. Not that I should complain; the TDF riders will have covered some 200 km by the time they get here, having crossed four mountains. Its beyond me how they can do it.
The road was much more crowded than at Col de Forclax and people were painting messages on the pavement as I made my way up. These are often supportive, but I saw many with the message EPO Armstrong accusing Lance of using performance enhancing drugs. Its sad that this is still making the rounds since he is the most tested athlete around and there has never been anything to prove the accusation. People just cant accept that hes a freak. I like his message used as part of an anti-drug campaign "What am I on? My bike."
There were very few Kiwis watching the race compared to a few days ago. The largest contingent after the French were Germans, cheering Jan Ulrich (the perennial number two) who was in fourth place at this point, in spite of a fantastic time trial yesterday (only to be beaten by Lance).
Half way up the col the police had begun waving cyclists off the road so it was necessary to walk my bike for 50 m before remounting and continuing. Short of having police every 100 m up the mountain there is no way that the cyclists can be stopped so I dont know why they go through the charade. I repeated the process about 10 times winding my way upwards and it was only about 500 m from the top that it proved necessary to give up and walk. By then the crowds were very heavy, covering the hillside.
It was too hot and crowded to stay at the top so I resolved to cycle downhill and find a suitable spot to watch the race. I found a large TV where I stopped to catch up on the race. There was a small breakaway group with Lance in the peleton bringing up the rear.
I settled down just past the one km marker in an shady spot beside a German campervan. The occupants were not overly friendly until I attempted my schoolboy German and then they couldnt have been more helpful. I got a chair, water and had a somewhat stilted conversation with them. I also refuelled with my two bananas, nectarine and some salted cashews the latter were especially important as I had salt rings on my clothes from the heat.
I expected a 3.5 hour wait for the cyclists to arrive and it was relaxing sitting in the shade chatting with my new German friends (as best I could). Some old French men came over and also spoke with me. I managed to get about 75% of their questions, which is a marked improvement over a few days ago. I was impressed that they had walked up to this point, but they said they were on a walking holiday and every year visited different mountains in the Alps from their home in the north of France. Hope Im doing that well in my 70s.
The motorcade passed us and I was hit in the chest by a packet of potato chips which I traded with the my German friends for a bottle of water they got. Just under an hour later the helicopters arrived. There were few people on the road and I had a clear view of the leaders. It was great to see Lance in the lead with another USPS rider. They were followed by Jan Ulrich and another German, then Bossi and a sixth cyclist. I snapped the photo below which isnt good, but it gives an idea of just how close one gets to the racers. Oh for a better camera.
Once they passed we only waited about one minute for the next group. From there it was longer until another group passed and then finally two large groups forming the peleton. What was particulaly interesting was the crowd support. They held out bottles of water which the riders grabbed as they passed to drink or just pour over themselves. It was frightfully hot and these guys were motoring. I found out later that one of the people on my tour saw Lance grab a bottle out of someones hands as the fellow was drinking!
The crowd support for stragglers was great and more than a few people received pushes up the hill from the crowd. It would be tragic to make it this far and bonk with only a kilometre to the top. I went up the road to a caravan and watched the incredible end of the race. With about 300 m to go one of the Germans had what looked to be an unassailable lead over the others in the front bunch but then Lance hit the peddles and ran the fellow down, beating him by about 20 cm at the finish. (and to think the German was the world sprint champion) Incredible! My German friends were disconsolate, but I was chuffed.
There was no sign of the end of course van, so I began to ride down, standing on the peddle instead of fully mounting. When I heard TDF riders coming up the hill I hopped off and cheered them on. Some other fans were cycling downhill which I thought was foolhardy. At one point I had to stop as there was a belligerent policeman who was doing his job well. He stopped all downhill cyclists and those who tried walking by had the air let out of their tyres! That got the message across. Finally the van passed and I began the downhill ride, serpentining between pedestrians and around vehicles.
About two-thirds of the way down I heard a BANG and sure enough I had a puncture of the front tyre. I stopped at the side of the road and changed the tube before continuing. After a minute I realised I had left my gloves by the road so I went back but they were gone. Obviously a souvenir to one of the walkers. Who knows what story they will tell about the gloves
I continued downhill and then turned towards Thones. When I got to town I sleuthed out the bicycle shop, having seen a barber wearing a king of the mountains shirt who I correctly guessed would know where it was. I purchased a new inner tube and then hit the road again.
It was a great run and I made good time with a speed over 30 km/h. I took a different route from earlier into Annecy and followed a bike path for much of the route. It followed the river and although it had a moderate climb, I felt really good and was able to keep up the pace. Reaching the outskirts of Annecy I was descending a steep gradient on the bike path when there was another BANG my front tyre yet again. This was getting tyresome so I took the time to have a close inspection of the wheel. It seems that the heat of the extended descents was causing the tape between the tube and the rim to harden and get distorted. I changed the tube and reset the tape, resolving to find replacements the following day. Now out of spare tubes I continued into town at a slower pace.
I asked directions and found my way to the road by the lake. Upon arrival I met Mark who asked if I knew where the hotel was. We cycled along and I spotted a sign so we arrived to find Jonathan and Eric waiting for us. We were the last two to arrive, and I think the only two to make it to the top of both Cols. After a quick shower it was dinner which for a change was excellent and then four of us went across the road for ice cream. It was a hot evening but nice to sit outside and chat. To end the day, I watched Lances amazing win again on the TV. What an athlete.On to the next day or Home loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loansloans loans loans loans loans loans loans insurance insurance mortgage mortgage