This was the toughest day of the week with lots of climbing 12,393 ft. - and rain.
After riding LAlpe dHuez yesterday, we ended the day in Allemont. We grabbed lunch at a deli and got into the vans bound for Lake Annecy. One of the things that made this trip so enjoyable was staying at chateaus. Ill include a few chateau photos in the next blog. I should have taken even more chateau photos, but hindsight
The group split up today with some of us riding bikes to the train station and boarding a train to begin our ride in, I believe, La Roche-sur-Foron. Others got in a van and drove to Grand-Bornand to drop the van for the drive home. That was the plan anyway. This group had a short climb up the back side of the Columbiere (opposite direction from the race) and they intended to meet us at the top.
There was a sense of urgency for the train group to catch an early train and get riding. Because we rode some of the actual race route, we needed to be sure that we were well ahead of road closures. As you would imagine, the roads close to all non-credentialed vehicle traffic well before the riders come though. If my memory serves me correctly, this means we needed to be at our race viewing location some two to three hours before the riders would roll though.
Early in the ride we were not on the actual race course. As we got closer to the Romme, there were more and more spectators making the same nomadic journey we were making. I dont recall exactly when the rain began, but it was somewhere on the Romme climb. Perhaps the wet conditions were the perfect compliments to riding in a river of people.
Riding up any major Tour climb is hard to describe. I will describe it for you here, but you cant know what it is really like unless you experience the madness. At that, it is a madness of order, yet no order. I am still in wonder how more people are not injured. Somehow it seems to work.
Imagine navigating a narrow mountain road on your bike. The climb is tough, so you have to lend concentration to keeping your pace. Now put that ride within a river of pedestrians walking up the climb, carrying coolers, chairs and cheering equipment. Make half of those spectators cyclists with varying cycling skills and fitness levels.
Line the sides of the road with campers and trailers that, in some cases, secured their particular location a week ago. They are barbequing, some are watching the Tour on satellite television and many are having parties.
Add a few darting dogs, kids and the occasional chattering group of adults with arms waiving enthusiastically and you can begin to formulate an idea of the normal flow of the ride.
As the ride is progressing along normally, sprinkle in the occasional sponsor caravan that is tossing out free shirts, which causes everyone around you to swarm the caravan vehicle. I got very good at shouting out attention! (Click on the little speaker at this link to hear the correct pronunciation.)
Finally, to complete your vision of the ride, imagine paint and chalk artists standing, sitting, and lying in the road, creating their personal message to the riders. The river of pedestrians and cyclists parts around each artist like a river parts for a giant boulder.
Wow, what a surreal experience.
It poured rain for the climb to the top of the Romme, and once at the top we huddled under a picnic shelter for awhile. David Cooper, one of our guides, finally made the call that we needed to keep riding to summit the Colombiere to meet up with the others in our group. There was only one way to get to our destination before the road closed down, pinning us on the Romme, and that was to ride in the rain.
After a descent that took us past a downed tree that had been struck by lightning, we began climbing again. It is a long and sweeping climb from the valley up the Colombiere. (Photo later).
Once on top of the Colombiere we found the others in our group. The shelter at the top was limited and Peter was the first one I saw when I reached the top. He told me where the others were and gave me a Coke from the pack he carried from Grand-Bornand. I was in sore need of sugar and the caffeine was good too.
After some recovery we settled into our spot. Below is a shot of the end of the rain and our location to watch the riders, preceded by the sponsor caravan.
The next photo shows the road up the Col de Columbiere lined with spectators for as far as the eye can see. Click to enlarge the photo to see the road wind deep into the right side of the photo about ¾ of the way across.
Below is a shot of a few of the sponsor caravan vehicles. People atop the vehicles throw out schwag to eager spectators. One of the vehicles throws out the publication specific to the caravan, telling the length of the parade is 200 vehicles.
The fourth shot show some of the helicopters that are following the race. These are not the television camera copters, those followed later. We suspected these were some sort of VIP choppers. (Click on the photo to enlarge.)
The final shot shows how close we were to the racers, and more, it is a good illustration of the fatigue they cannot hide. It was a hard day in the saddle.
After the sweep vehicle came past us, it was time to ride toward the finish line and our van. That river of pedestrians and cyclists I previously described is now more crowed, heading downhill and it now includes exiting vehicles. Constant vigilance is essential.
Once at our van, Julie realized that we would get back to the chateau faster if we just rode our bikes. A long, hard day; but still nowhere near what the riders have experience.
Todays stats for the crew that rode long: 62.88 miles, ride time 5:15, out-time was 11:55, 12,393 ft of ascending this day.
When I get back to the chateau, the airline has finally delivered my second bag. Woo-hoo!
Tomorrows ride is a much needed recovery ride near Lake Annecy.