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Just back from France . . .(6 posts)

Just back from France . . .ms
Jul 22, 2003 10:18 AM
My plans to ride the Etape du Tour (route of Stage 16) largely were dashed by a fall on July 3 (broken humerus at the shoulder and severe upper thigh/butt road roadrash) Notwithstanding my doctor's advice to stay off of the bike for at least 4 to 6 weeks, I took my bike to France, did two short rides before the Etape and then tried to do the Etape. I knew that I would not be able to finish the Etape, but I started and make it to the top of the Col du Soudet. By that time, my arm/shoulder was throbbing and I was not confident that I could do the descent safely so I just waited for the broom wagon. I am no Tyler Hamilton -- given my recent experience, words cannot express how much admiration that I have for him and his performance in the Tour. Listed below are some random thoughts about my trip and the four stages of the Tour (11,12,13 and 14).

FRANCE AND THE FRENCH: This trip was my fourth one to France. I always have liked France and have had very positive experiences with the French people. This trip was no exception. I was received warmly -- in fact several people that I encountered on the route of the Tour went out of their way to express positive views about the US (not the President, but the rest of us) and about the US riders in the Tour. There are appeared to be fewer US nationals along the route of the Tour this year -- at least one French person with whom I spoke expressed gratitude that those of us who were there had made the trip.

PHILIPPE AND COMPANIONS: Philippe (philippec) had assisted me with my Etape registration and hotel arrangements near Pau. I had a great time staying at the same rural hotel with Philippe, his cousin and their friends. Even when I am healthy, I am nowhere near them in terms of riding ability or experience. But, it was a great deal of fun to discuss riding (and other things) over breakfast and dinner. Philippe is a great resource on this board and an all around great guy. His help was an integral factor in the success of my trip.

STAGE 11: The friend with whom I was traveling and I made it from Pau to Toulouse with just enough time to find the end of Stage 11. We arrived at the finish area about 90 minutes before the end of the race. We were able to squeeze into a spot about 50 meters from the finish line. We could see the race on the large screen TV and the live flash of riders when they came by. We also saw Arnold at the presentation (the color of his hair looked extremely strange). The riders came so fast to the finish, that we really did not see anything. The best part of the day was our inspecting all of the bikes on the team cars that were stuck in the traffic jam after the race.

STAGE 12 (Individual time trial): This was our best day of viewing. We parked near Blaye-en-Mines, which was about 2 km from the finish. During the early part of the day, we walked to the finish line and then to the parking area beyond the finish. As the riders finished, they would go to the team cars and buses. We hung out around the finish and got to see many riders up close and personal. While I was standing near an early CSC finisher, a very familiar looking guy came up to him and started asking him about the ride and the course. It took me a few seconds to realize that the guy was none other than Bjarne Riis. That gives you some idea of what the finish area was like. One thing that impressed me was that most riders were very accommodating to the roving bands of kids (10-14 years old) that were seeking autographs -- I was standing next to George Hincapie when he let a kid unpin and keep his race number.

For the last hour of the race, we walked back to Blaye-en-Mines. Occasionally a rider would be out of order (i.e., a later starter would have overcome his predecessor). Then Jan Ullrich appeared -- ahead of his two predecessors. He was impressive. All of the other riders that came by looked spent -- Ullrich looked fresh. His ride seemed effor
report cut short--please post the rest. nmJS Haiku Shop
Jul 22, 2003 11:02 AM
Sorry -- here's the rest . . .ms
Jul 22, 2003 11:58 AM
STAGE 12 (CONTINUED) For the last hour of the race, we walked back to Blaye-en-Mines. Occasionally a rider would be out of order (i.e., a later starter would have overcome his predecessor). Then Jan Ullrich appeared -- ahead of his two predecessors. He was impressive. All of the other riders that came by looked spent -- Ullrich looked fresh. His ride seemed effortless – as if he were riding on a motorcycle instead of his actually pedaling the bike. Even without any television commentary or knowing the actual elapsed time, it was clear that Ulrich was on fire.

STAGE 13: We went to the start of the stage in Toulouse. It was fun to see the riders checking in and walking around. However, given the large number of people and the fences, it was not as easy to get as close to the riders as we did on the end of Stage 12. However, the start of the stage is an impressive sight as the peloton moves across the start in one large group.

STAGE 14: We watched the stage from the top of the Col du Portillon. We drove about half way up the climb and walked the rest of the way. There were lots of Euskatel supporters on the climb, but I actually had expected the road to be more crowded given that it was a Sunday and this was the only place where the race actually came into Spain. You really do not see too much of the race on the road – even at the (relatively) slow pace of the race on a climb, the riders go by very quickly. However, if you only can see one stage of the Tour de France, see it on a mountain climb. Teoteoteo has posted here before about life on the mountain – my experience this year on the Portillon and last year on the Col des Saises confirms all that Teoteoteo has written. The road is full of families in campers, cyclists who have ridden up the climb from the foot of the climb and neighboring towns and people like me who walked. The day (and the night(s) before for those who camp out) prior to the race is spent eating, drinking and generally partying. There is a comradeship among the people on the hill that transcends age and nationality. People communicate in a bicycle-related patois that is a combination of French, English, Spanish, German and God know what else – the Spaniards next to us were trying to tell us what they were hearing on the radio as the race unfolded before it reached us – they did not speak English, we didn't speak Spanish but all of us could manage some broken French. When the publicity caravan passed, grandmothers, kids and able-bodied adults all were elbowing each other for the loot that was being thrown from the caravan. I traded a Courchinou sausage for a PMU hand. After the race passed, many of us were gathered by campers with televisions – although we were not invited guests, I felt welcome to watch. Notwithstanding our differences, I felt a closer bond with the people on the mountain than I have felt with friends and neighbors when I have been a reluctant guest at Super Bowl parties and the like. My one political note for the day: If George W. had spent some time following the Tour on the mountain in his earlier days, he would have a much better feeling and affinity for the "old Europe" than he has demonstrated in the past year.

BACK HOME AGAIN: I missed my family and it felt good to be back in my own bed last night. But, I have the bug. I already am plotting my return to the Tour (and the Etape). You can see much more of the race action on OLN than you can live in France, but the experience is not to be missed.
Awesome report, thanks for sharing! Get well soon! (nm)js5280
Jul 22, 2003 2:47 PM
wow what a thrill of a life time......abicirider
Jul 22, 2003 3:51 PM
sorry to hear about your shoulder but seems like the trip made up for that, Hell I'm 40 I think I would act like a teenager given the opportunity to go over to watch the tour, again awesome if you have any pictures you can post by all means please do so.
Be Safe Out On The Roads!!!!!!!!
Ray Still
Mooresville, NC
Thanks, ms! nmMike P
Jul 23, 2003 3:17 AM