Wednesday, 19 July 2006

Tour de France 2006 - Day 6 - A Thunderstorm, a Thunderstorm, My Kingdom for a Thunderstorm

Waking after another poor night, it was a trifle colder than previous mornings. Although it was sunny the wind was up and blowing in for the mountains. A couple of
cups of coffee and tea restored the warmth of the cockles (never quite sure what that means!), and a bright day beckoned again.

No need to move this morning again, we were exactly where we would see the race for the first time. All we had to do was wait, eat, and clear up the evenings debris. By the time the caravan appeared we were well ready!

Now the art of gathering stuff from the caravan is full of mystery. First, they like throwing lots out when there is a big crowd. But then you have lots of people fighting for it. So there's a balance to aim for. We got it right on col de Perty, and again here. Only a few people, but enough of a crowd to make it worth throwing stuff. Then I prepped the nearby people by saying I was collecting for "le camping avec les enfants". They collected loads and just gave it to me, "pour les enfants". I'm so bad, and they're so gullible.

Our immediate neighbours were a French family, who gave us horrible looks when we pulled in the previous evening, two older German men who had travelled down from Stuttgart in the same time we took from Cambridge, and a French lad, who had cycled up from God only know where, and got stopped when the road closed. It was a happy bunch, and with a friendly Gendarme to keep us in order we were well away.

After the caravan we had quite a wait for the cyclists. Time well spent reading up the tiny lead that Floyd Landis had got the previous evening up Alpe d'Huez . Wow, 10 seconds now in the race. Little things like eating lunch, getting the car fully packed ready to shoot off after fin de Course, merely filled the time between interpreting paragraphs.

The first set of riders, or echappe, arrived, Rasmussen amongst them, so I cheered him as the other riders were getting lots of French support. The next bunch appeared. Loads of faces I couldn't recognise.

Then the yellow jersey bunch. This time I could shout at Landis and wave my Union Jack around. I got hit by a full water bottle. Undetered, I waved it around again when I recognised David Millar, who gave me a nod back. Ooo, my day made!

Then I picked up the water bottle, and realised it was Cofidis. Why throw a full bottle? It could only have been Bradley Wiggins spotting the flag! Day made, twice!

Now some of you may be wandering about this Union Jack waving. After all, amongst us there is a little reticence to do this as it is often associated with less than salubrious activity. Well, I tell you, when there is so few British around you have
to make your mark somehow. The flag, although not my favourite did this, brought notice, and general happy banter from the French and others!

We left down side, trying our daring plan to get round to col du Glandon in time. It all went well, with a steady, if a trifle slow procession down to Bourg d'Oisans, where we spotted the debris of the previous nights party of 400,000 dutch on the hill up Alpe d'Huez. Yes, really 400,000 people. Just a note, the Tour is the most watched live sporting event in the world. It's estimated that 20million people will see it at some point.

The road up to col du Glandon had a notice saying "Route Barre", but we just drove straight through it. There was no-one there to stop us! The traffic up the hill
steadily built up as we caught up with slower moving vehicles. We were just getting in sight of the top when the traffic stopped. The road ahead was car-jammed solid.

There were camper vans here, there, and everywhere, and not able to move very much as they took up too much of the road. after some to-and-fros, I gave up, turned the car round in a handy space and parked up a small slope. We had very little time left, as circling helicopters attested. Lorna declined to try, as she would "slow me down", but I jumped on the bike and headed up the last 250m up, 4km to the summit.

I didn't see the leaders, but I did catch all the main contenders again, and with enough spirit left to cheer on those I recognised.

The rapid entrance also become a rapid exit. Jumping on the bike, I hurtled back down the hill, avoiding buses in the middle of the small road, and pedestrians trying to get in the way. I know that sounds horrible to say, but in France they are expected to get out of the way. The best way I could handle this was by being behind a French cyclist who unmercifully shouted at people. I popped in with the hopeful "merci" and winning smile afterwards.

Then we got to the free road, and the slightly rude cyclist ahead, who had jumped in front of me, was left in my smoking wheels as I shot up to near 40mph. I was going so fast I neally passed my own car, now not in any traffic jam. Throwing stuff back into the car we departed the scene with great haste, missing the thousands of cars still up there.

Now, after a slightly uneventful journey, we are camped at St. Martin d'Ubiage just east of Grenoble. The air is heavy and damp. We are praying for a thunderstorm.

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