Tuesday, 16 July 2013

T16: TdF Stage 15 on Ventoux on Bastille Day

Well - my very first live Tour de France Stage...and what a way to do it on the queen stage of the 100th edition. It was a morning filled with anticipation. I woke early and headed down for a big breakfast because we were going to be on the hill all day and not being sure what would be available on Ventoux, we had to be self sufficient. 

We all wore the same matching red Diamond Cycle Tours kit. The idea was that all of us in a gaggle might maximise the TV spotting opportunity. That didn't work at all!  

We took the van to just outside Bedoin and rolled from there. It was an easy roll but it became very clear very quickly that it was going to be bedlam - and it was. 

Here we are getting through Bedion at the base of the climb. The poor pro's would soon be tackling this massive Mont after 222km of racing and only afterwards did we find out that they hit the bottom of the climb with an average of 47km/h. OUCH!

There were humans everywhere. In cars, on motorbikes, walking, and on all manner of bicycles - I have never seen so many types and brands. For example: one had the wife recumbent on the front and pedalling whilst her husband was in the standard upright position but tandem. As I mentioned previously, some had been camped out on the hill from 2 days ago - others had been there less time, but by 10.30am, they had had a skinful and were both cheering and singing loudly. There were the obligatory number of mankinis and body paint as well as a squillion flags and banners showing support for the various riders of teams.

It was really hard to take it all in. We tried to stick together but it was tricky. At one stage at about 7k up I looked over my shoulder and thought I saw more Vini Fantini kit, but the double take confirmed it was actually Cycling Tips kit and none other than Wade Wallace and his editor Matt (the former Climbing Cyclist). I rode with them for about 5k and had a great chat. I really enjoyed meeting personally and riding with both Wade and Matt because I read their blog nearly everyday. Check out the link to their blog of Stage 15 and see Sagan doing a one-handed wheelie in front of the peloton!

Just hanging with Wade Wallace

We stopped for a bit about 13k up the climb and joined the party for a while, just trying to soak up the atmosphere. It was hot - so coke and pain chocolat first, then beer! There was a DJ on at Heineken corner so it was a real party vibe as thousands of cyclists and fans made their pilgrimage up the hill. The biggest cheer went up for a young kid of about 8, on his kiddie mountain bike in Orica kit slowly making his way up the 9%+. The huge cheers gave him a boost as he surged through the corner!

Tim meeting Didi the Devil
The original plan was to see the tour come through at Tom Simpson's memorial but the view was rubbish. By the time we got there, the gendarmerie had closed the road so it was off bikes, don the thongs and walk on up upon the rather uncomfortable rocks of Ventoux heights from the spectator side of the barricades. We finally settled on the 500m to go banner, which gave us a view down to about 1.2k to go and up to about 300m to go. 

It wasn't long until the caravan came through. It was absolutely nuts - and I mean mental. What is it about free shit that just drives people to jump and dive as if the last meal on earth had just been tossed out the window of a car? I was no exception. It was like a fever as I maneuvered for position and then launched off other people's backs to take a speccy for a 20c key ring for some washing powder brand I'd never heard of!!! Wearing thongs on fist size rocks whilst taking off-balance species was not good for my poor feet and I ended up with a few cuts and scapes. Anyway - we scored a lot of crappy TdF loot and the kids will be happy!

When it was finally time for the pro's to come through I muffed it. I was getting updates from home via text from T-Bird as there were no big screens and we couldn't understand the French commentary. SBS tour tracker was no good because with 1 million people on the hill, there was no bandwidth to get anything. Finally we saw Froome in yellow come under the 1k to go banner. But I didn't know where to look. It sounds weird but I kinda missed the whole thing - there was too much going on and I was just bamboozled. I was a kid on a 5 minute excursion to the biggest candy store in the world and it was too much. In retrospect, I should have stood back on the hill and watched it all go by - just soaked it up, focussed on the race and the riders. But I was on the fence, screaming as Froome, then Quintana, then Rogers, Porte, Schleck, Orica Greenedge guys, and then the autobus went by; whilst trying to take photos and video; and dodge motorbikes close to the barriers; and look at the agony on their faces...and no sooner had they come past - it was over. 
They looked shattered. They were so skinny. And they were mostly so small. When they rolled past, I thought, man - I went up there faster yesterday. Then I remembered I had not just ridden 241k at an average pace of 47km/h before the climb and 41km/h for the whole stage. Just wow.


The transit to get off the mountain was absolute gridlock - it took over 2 hours to get 20k down. We literally had to walk our bikes down around 4k before we could roll. One poor chap had had a heart attack part way down to Sault and they were giving him CPR. There was a very sombre mood after we got past that.
Back at the pre-positioned van, we had a 2 hour trip to Embrun. It was very pretty going through the gorges, past rivers and finally getting to the lake. I can say that I really like Embrun already. We didn't get in till 10pm, just on dark, so the first order was to eat. 3 chocolate croissants, a coke and a beer for the day weren't doing much for me right then. Dinner was so very welcome and I have to say the best ravioli ever for entrĂ©e. Lamb followed and then a brilliant exploding chocolate molten bomb thingy with vanilla ice cream.

To top it off, there was a marching band for Bastille (National) Day, fireworks and a rock band that played well past 1am in the main square. Very cool. Tim and I "Bastille Day Bombed" (you know, like photo bombing) by joining the procession right behind the band and followed it into the town square. 

Big, big day. Crashed into bed and out like a light.


See Mont Ventoux ride from Bedoin here.
See Mont Ventoux ride from Malaucene here.


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