The Tour is an adventure. Getting to a good vantage spot on a mountain stage is the same. I wanted to go high on the highest col of the Tour to experience the glory of the race.
My ride started in Bourg d’Oisans after the bus from Grenoble (where’s Lieswyn? Grenoble is all about his new urbanism). I initially didn’t think much about riding only 25 miles to the top of the Galibier. But I should have. The distance was 30 miles, not 25. It wasn’t so much the 1700 meters or so of climbing I had to do, but the backpack I was carrying. Didn’t want to freeze up there, so I brought enough clothes to be moderately comfortable in a cool rain, which was forecast, and eat lunch as well—and the bag seems to slow down climbing. I had predicted the climb would take 2 hours. After it took more than an hour to get to the halfway point, I reconsidered—and I wanted to be up there pretty early so I could stake out a good spot near the top. Worry that the top would be packed kept me going, though I did stop to get a shot of a Dutch camper sporting a big Michael Boogerd poster at a pretty turnout. These guys were happy to look up at a glacier and listen to the radio.
Rode into a bike racer from back home, Glenn Schneider, a few k before the Col du Lautaurets. Always good to see a homey far away. Turned out he was staying in Bourg d’, but had driven as far as he could. As we chatted, an aussie who was at his hotel rode by. Marc was also riding up to the Galibier as was Glenn, but G had a call to make, so we agreed on meeting at the top. Not like there would be thousands of people up there.
The turnoff at the Lautaurets was blocked. There were cars as far as they eye could see. This was the descent off the Galibier and people had already staked out spots. We were initially blocked from going up, but made our way up anyways. People were walking, riding, even just waiting to see the racers descend by.
When we got to the old summit, the tunnel, we decided to take that rather than going to the new summit, 291 meters and one k higher. It was perfect, as it let us off at the 1k to go sign on the other side.
And far from being out of touch with the race, a couple in a camper had the Tour on TV and there was a pack watching through the windows, and shouting updates in various languages to their friends nearby.
When we thought Vino was near, we looked out over the mountain and waited for him to appear two switchbacks below. When he was in sight, we went to our places, yelling, taking pictures, noting time gaps. Botero looked like he was struggling, but maintained that gap. The pack, led by Discovery, looked pretty comfy.
After the leaders went by, pretty much everyone looked in pain, save Discovery riders Rubiera and Beltran. They looked smooth, as if they were conserving for tomorrow. Everyone else was ragged. Horner had an amazing grimace. Fast Freddie was sprinting in his drops to catch the McEwen-led grupetto. As Vino was sprinting for the finish, Quick Step’s Kevin Hulsmans came by. We assumed he was the last man on the road, so we grabbed our bikes and headed back for the tunnel. On the trip down, we passed cyclists, hikers, families, cars, campers, vans, everything. I had done the descent a few days ago, so I was expecting to be in Bourg d’Oisans in an hour, and then ride the 40k back to Grenoble in another hour.
Impossible. Besides the traffic, there were wet roads and then a rain storm, not best for a twisty descent, but better than another 1700 meters of climbing.
About two hours after I walked through the tunnel, I was back in Bourg d’. Off with the clothes, as it was warm and dry. 7pm, over 2 hours before darkness.
I found out the 40k to Grenoble was more like 47-50. Made it back at 9, almost 12 hours for 45 minutes of the Tour and hours of adventure.