There are two Tours de France today. While the pros are racing in Brittany, the joes are down in the Pyrenees. Yes, Sunday is the Etape du Tour a day where any rider has the opportunity to ride a stage of the Tour. This year's Etape stage is the day from Pau to Huatacam which included the infamous Col du Tourmalet.
8500 of your closest friends and you will be departing from the town where Bernaise sauce was invented at 7am and heading west for the Pyrenees. The top finisher, usually a top tier French amateur rider, is expected to complete the 106-mile stage in about 5hours and 30 minutes. The pros have an expected completion time of about 4 and 30 minutes.
However, everyone seems to realize the difference between the two events. The French amateur who was first across the line in 2005 remarked that he was very pleased to have won, but he was also expecting that the pros would better his time by at least an hour. They did.
But, like many sporting events. It is not the winning, but the taking part which defines the Etape du Tour. Riders of all shapes, sizes and age participate and except for the top places, it is almost impossible to predict how a cyclist will fare based just by looking at them. That observation applies most appropriately to the seeming hundred of older Frenchmen who come to the start line dressed in jerseys that come almost to their knees, bike shorts which are supposed to be form fitting lycra, but instead, look like baggy athletic shorts and bikes that were manufactured before there was even a Tour de France.
These guys could easily be called "urchins of the road" except for the fact that they pass just about everybody on the climbs and fly by you so fast on the downhills you think you just saw a ghost.
Though most riders seem to be struggling as they ride, it is a mountain stage of the Tour!, the pain, torture and agony(PTA) is soon forgotten and plans for riding next year's event are quickly hatched. Alejandro Valverde may be the king for a day up in Brittany, but he has 8500 kings and queens down in the Pyrenees who feel just as great about their Tour de France as well.