So as a long time bicycling fanatic, I had dreamed of going to the TDF for the last 30 years. Recovering from a crash (messed my shoulder up pretty good), and having some back problems, I thought '09 was the year. So a few weeks before the start of the tour, I started planning and decided Col de Romme/Columbierre (stage 17) through the final stage 21 in Paris was going to be my trip. I'd never been to France, and although I've traveled a fair amount overseas, I knew this was going to be an adventure as a self-planned & guided tour. And it did not disappoint! Well some friends who never seem to get enough of the recap of the trip, told me I should write it down....sooo, here it is.
I used online maps and the like to plan my routes and figure out where I would like to be for each stage. My real targets were the Mont Ventoux stage, and of course the finish in Paris. So I bought my airfare, and made reservations at a couple small hotels. A couple nights like the Mont Ventoux eve, and the night after I didnt bother with hotels figuring I'd probably be sleeping in the car.
So I flew into Geneva Switzerland Wed 22 July, landing around 9am, just a little while before the start of the mountainous stage climbing the Col de Romme & Columbierre, finishing in Le Grand-Bornand. As usual I didn't sleep much on the flight over from Dulles, Washington DC to Paris. And on the flight to Geneva the adrenaline was starting to kick in.... I'm almost at the TDF!! So I land in Geneva, get my bags (by the way Geneva airport has a France exit and a Switzerland exit, never did figure out the reason), and proceed to get my rental car. Oh BTW I brought my Garmin Nuvi GPS with European maps, what a lifesaver! Got the rental car, which was an automatic (actually what we would call a manual) transmission, a little Nissan Micra. So I leave the parking garage, and patiently wait for my GPS to figure out where it was while I drove around in circles, doing my best not to end up heading the wrong direction. Finally the GPS starts talking to me. When I hit the first bump the GPS power adapter pops out of the acessary outlet. Turns out the accessary power outlet isn't as deep as they are in the USA, so the plug keeps popping out a couple times a minute. I finally find some tape and tape it in. I'm trying to find out where the hotel is I'll be staying at that night, and then I'll be heading straight to Col de Romme/Columbierre to try to catch some of the race. Finally I find the hotel, Hotel La Place in Annemasse France, not far from Geneva. I stop in to inquire about where parking is, so I can find it later on, and much to my surprise the receptionist goes ahead and gives me a key. I offer him my credit card for payment, and he says not to worry about it now, we can do that the following morning. Wow, this isn't the USA is it?
So I hop back in the car, punch in an intersection of 2 roads between Col de Romme and Col de Columbierre, and start driving. It's only another 30 miles or so. Along the way, I see a Carrefour food store, and remember a suggestion from a work colleague who said "find a discount food store and a buy a pile of water". (This was great advice BTW). Well I bought a bunch of water, some bread, sandwich, OJ, and some non-perishable stuff to keep me going.
I made it to the little town near Col de Romme, only to find the side road I was going to use to get up near the Columbierre was already shut down. So I found parking in that little town, and started walking to the base, and then up the Col de Romme. It was raining a bit, and the mountains were still shrouded in mist, but there were people all over the place. I just followed the crowd. I hiked several KM up the Col de Romme (no small task, plenty of 10% grade) with thousands of other folks.
Finally start hearing the noise of the race caravan coming through, throwing everything from jerseys, to candy and water to the spectators. I collected a pile of stuff, and hiked up a bit further. Sat at one of the steep switchbacks and talked to a 60ish French gentleman who had biked up with his son. He lived near by and always watched the TDF when it came nearby. His English was much better than my French, really nice guy.
The official race vehicles started coming by, soon to be followed by some of the breakaway remnants. Saw George Hincapie, Lance, Alberto, Fabian going by, and the fans just went ballistic. The field was scattered all over the place, and the fans screamed for every last one of them. These people really love everything about the TDF, it was just amazing. Houses, barns decorated with red&white polka-dots like the jersey.
Getting back down the mountain was interesting also, but I'll leave discussion of this until Mt Ventoux later. Suffice it to say, don't walk too close to the edge, when there is only a 1 foot high wall there. Almost saw a guy take a dive over the edge, and it was a LONG way down.
Anyway, I made it back to the hotel around sundown, devoured the food I had bought earlier. Finally figured out how to get some air, they had these metal covers over the windows. Laid down on the bed and I was gone for the night.
More to come on the lead-up to Mt Ventoux...