Tuesday, 20 July 2010

A Luchon

Monday 19th

Luchon is a town nestling in the middle of the Pyrenees. Large mountains surround the end of a long straight valley from the plains up north. From here you can go up (east), up (west), or up (south east to Spain).

For cyclists it is a Mecca. There are many cyclng shops here, all dedicated to what we Brits do very little, cycling up.

After our little jaunt over Col de Mente and a brief skedaddle down the last bit of valley, we arrived at the outskirts to find the usual roadblock with two very disinterested gendarmes. We couldn't work out if the ennui was based on having got the arse-end job stuck out on a remote roundabout with no chance of seeing any cycling or, heaven forefend, boredom with cycling generally.

Car parked in the melee of abandonments that littered the verges, we headed into town on foot. I thought today's finish would be along the main boulevard in town. A long, straight road lined with trees and cafes and chairs and tables and bon viveur all day. We eaten out here before to fantastic evenings.

We found the "kilometre to go" kite on ths straight. Ah. It was further. However, we didn't miss an inch of the race as every single shop or bar in town had the TV out front showing the race itself whilst patrons gathered round each one earnestly discussing every pedalstroke.

The big news of today was Contador's unsportsmanlike conduct of attacking Schleck when his chain slipped off. For those who don't know this is a big no-no in cycling. If anyone in serious contention has an accident or a "mechanical" you do not use this as a chance to win the race. You attempt to win the race by proving you are the strongest rider when everyone is fit and active. This is one of the few sports left where this strong sense of fair play exists.

Examples of this fair play define races gone by. Armstrong was pulled off his bike by a fans flapping musette on the last climb of the day a few years back. The main contenders slowed to make sure he was alright, then when he got back to them, the fight was back on. Of course, he was pumped with adrenalin by then and shot off to victory.

It may have its roots in that all cyclists are vunerable people on the road, and looking out for each other is more important than being first. Or that the simple act of cycling in these races is so hard that deciding it on a chance simply doesn't sit right.

Anyway, we wondered along the boulevard and round the corner to find the finish. Neatly curtailed off for special guests! Hmm. Back to a slot where we could just about see them come through. Actually is was more hear them come through as each cyclist arriving brought a wave of hand-battered boards and cheers down the road.

Tommy Voerckler, the French champion and darling, came in first. We'd seen him attacking over Portet d'Aspet earlier and this was his final dash for victory. This was a French dream, possibly not of a dry variety. The French would lopve to have a cyclist who could get near contention for the yellow jersey but haven't had that for over 20 years. They now make do with the occasional stage win. Top have one in Luchon is just, well, I think I covered that before.

Others came through in bunches with Schleck cheered a lot more than the earlier Contador group. Wiggo was at the back of a early group. His contention is gone, but he still looks top 20, which is an incredible feat. We were completely overdone by last years 4th place.

After the main contenders, we took a shortcut back through the team vehicle's carpark hoping to catch a glimpse of a manager or finished star. Nothing doing. We made it back top the 1km kite just in time to see the mountain stragglers appear. This is all the sprinters and sprint supporters who are just to big to go up mountains quickly. Cavendish was at the front of this, pedalling laboriously to ensure getting within the cutoff time. People were still cheering, supporting everyone who'd done the mountains today, whatever place they were in.

We shopped and gassed in the Intermarche just north of town and headed for somewhere to camp. The first two we'd already got refusals earlier on. The Tour being in town made it unlikely to get any nearby camp spot.

About 15km north of Luchon we spied a Camping sign and qucikly headed into a small village. At the centre was a small field divided up into spots with low hedges. No Accueil to see as it was the most basic variety of site. Someone would wander round at 7-8pm and pick up the fees if you're there then. If you turn up later then who knows!

A couple of good steak and chips later, bed was calling again. I did pop out of the campsite for a second, to find the town hall being lit up in purple, then yellow, then green, then red, then purple. I was going to have some weird dreams.

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