!http://www.active.com/Assets/Cycling/RobKlingensmith.jpg|style=padding:10px;|align=left|src=http://www.active.com/Assets/Cycling/RobKlingensmith.jpg!I'm sitting on a grassy slope, just below the 2km-to-go banner on the hors categorie climb of Plateau Beille. I'm filing today's blog directly from the race course, thanks to a slick 1-pound computer I carried in my backpack called a FlipStart . It's the "mini me" of full-featured laptops, at a fraction of their size and weight.
Today's race is the first of three consecutive Pyrenean stages that, together, will probably determine the outcome of this year's Tour de France. Now is the time for those cyclists who consider themselves climbers to go toe-to-toe with yellow jersey-holder Michael Rasmussen.
I left my bed-and-breakfast this morning and joined an American group from Ride Strong Bike Tours for the 40-kilometer ride from Foix to the base of the climb in La Cabannes. The town was jammed with cone-licking Tour fans and media trucks, so I grabbed a quick sandwich and pointed my Cervélo towards the mountain.
The serpentine road up Plateau Beille is 16 kilometers long, with plenty of sections that exceed 10 percent gradient. It's a very difficult climb and a perfect end to today's challenging stage.
Today, virtually every inch of road is occupied by fans who claimed the best vantage points up to three days ago. Thanks to their boistrous cheering and encouragement, the steep climb wasn't too bad.
Thousands of other cyclists were on the road, and the common strategy was to weave your way to the summit finish line, then descend to a choice location on the upper elevations to view the race.
Before any pro cyclists can be seen, however, the daily parade of Tour sponsor floats and vehicles roll by, throwing candy and useless schwag to the crowd. This whips everyone up into more of a frenzy, if the all-day, beer-steeped tailgaiting parties weren't enough.
By now, you'll know the outcome of today's race, and will probably watch it on TV tonight. But nothing beats the experience of joining an international crowd of cycling fanatics on the slopes of a mountain stage, for a glimpse of the athletes and hours of cultural immersion in the Tour de France.
Rob Klingensmith is an avid recreational cyclist and an executive at Active.com. Rob will provide a unique perspective on what it's like to be inside some of the most decisive stages of the Tour.