Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On the Tour de France

I finally met it - the Hill I Could Not Walk Up. The Col du Soulor. 1474 meters. You do the math.My apologies if I've spelled it wrong, it's spelled three different ways on the  B&R handout.

Back to the hill - a sweet 10 k ride long an alpine valley with steep sides (that should have been a clue) then a 13 k uphill. Gorgeous, I have heard. Haven't a clue. It was beautiful at the top when I finally made it there... this was one of those climbs that's way above my pay grade. If there had been a van option I would have taken it, but the road was closed to cars at the bottom. Good move, it was bad enough without the cars. Skinny little cyclists screaming by (uphill, remember). Signs every kilometer telling you the distance to the top (just shoot me now) and the average grade for the next kilometer. I thought I was a wimp, the signs never said more than 9 1/2 %. Didn't find out 'til later parts are fifteen percent. Ouch.

I made it. I bonked. There were places where I could not push my bike uphill. Out of gas. I have no idea how I made it. I almost passed out when I got off my bike. Its the hardest thing I've ever done, but I did it. And I have the picture to prove it. Not a great photo, but I'm not gonna be picky. And I am not going up that hill again.
The Tour de France was a tacky silly carnival of kitsch...

Followed by some of the most serious cycling in the world. It is astonishing to see the speed when they come storming up the hill, the casual way they sit on their machines.

And then there is the chaos of the downhill. For us, not them. 

We made our way down in this mad mix of walkers (many drunk) motor home drivers who were clearly used to driving a Smart Car or some thing even smaller, irate French motorists (also probably inebriated) and a sea of cyclists, some dashing between cars, some swooping past your ear so closely you can't believe you're still upright, all mixed in with mad French traffic jams when the uphill-going motor homes (driven by those crazy Mini drivers, remember) meet the downhill-going motor home drivers and all grinds to a halt, stacking up cyclists (those not cheating death by ducking under the almost touching rear view mirrors) and pedestrians and car drivers leaning on their horns and darting onto the wrong side of the road.

Happy just to get to our hotel - until we opened the door. This place makes a Best Western look like the lap of luxury. B&R is famous for its luxury hotels - how did this one sneak in? Oh well the sagging twin beds in the un-airconditioned comfort of our room beckon. And tomorrow - the Col d'Aspin, a category one climb. We will see...

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