Monday 19 July 2010

Le Tour Arriveeeee

Sorry, Arek, not quite there yet.

Saturday 17th

After last night debacle it only seemed fit that I got up early. Actually why? What maltemperance did I perform that was so inequitable? Who knows. And by that I mean of course, what the blavering hell am I going on about!

After an early-ish start repacking the car we dropped into breakfast. Perhaps those both needs explaining. Every year we through the car contents in with gay abandon. The first night is always okay as we are in a hotel. However, when you need to get lunch out quick or plan a evening stop, the order everything goes in is so important. Otherwise, it's easy to get knickers with your pate, a slightly ruffled tent acting as a nice table, or a baguette as a rather study tentpeg. That only usually works after 2 days of waiting, it's no good on the day of purchase.

As far as droppong into breakfast, well we felt like the entertainment. The birds from the night before were ready to be fed again. This time it was with damn cheek. We found our table was no safe haven asthey landed where they wanted even onto our plates for a nibble of croissant. Bread less so, but still large bits wer lifted off for the trees and bushes around.

we did manage to keep some for ourselves and they weren't threatening in any way, just damn bold!

The drive south was dull and reasonably empty until we got near Toulouse were it became very obvious this was a Saturday in France in the summer an dloads were heading south for holiday fun.

We finally gave up the autoroute a bit early as it was beginning to compress and expand in that way that leads to accidents. In the very first town we got sent the wrong way. C'est la vie! We got sent through a tiny little town of St Felix de Lauragais. It was an ordinary pretty little town which was nice to drive through. Only later did we find out that the place was where they crowned all the Cathar archbishops. I never expected that! If you don't know, the Cathars were a Christian sect up in the 12th century. They practised a more open religious way with less of the organised hierarchy of the Catholic church. Needless to say they were crushed and mostly burnt alive in horrific ways.

I confess to thinking that I thought it was further south and est of here, bt realised we were far away anyway!

Arriving in Revel we immediately went on a tour of the last climb up to the nearby Lac de St Ferreol. It was a bit of a stinker. cav was going to have a bit of fun trying to stay in the race here.

We headed back out of town on the route and stopped to contact a twitter mate who lived nearby. He tweeted back and arrived on a motorbike with his 13 year old son, Max.

It's always a bit worrying meeting people in the flesh for the very first time. Even if over the net you've shared fun jokes and secrets for many months before. Chris was exactly like his net personailty and was a joy to meet!

He immediately invited us to his home for pastis and the TV coverage of the Tour. We meet his wife, Nadine, and younger son, Etienne, who also made us feel very welcome.

We also meet Sir Jack Russell, one of Chris' dogs who has his own twitter account. He greeted me with the traditional twitterati greeting, a bark and a wet nose between my legs. Then he was off for one of his favourite pastimes, chasing exotic birds round the garden.

The caravanne was due. We gathered everyone and jumped on bikes to cycle to the nearby route. We still had a small wait but nothing like our normal 2-hour slog.

We've never been on a flat, straight bit of road between large towns before. It was great as you see everything coming for a minute beforehand. However, when the caravanne arrived it was lethal bigs of sausage doing 40mph hit the road all around. Most dentists will tell you that sweets head straight for your teeth like a sugary missile. Bags of Haribo did just this, but not quite how it is meant. Sweet relief at head height.

After the caravanne, the usual hour wait for the race itself. sunflowers were dancing in the wind opposite witha windfarm in the distance. It is amajestic site. I really don't get the nimbys in the UK wh fight tooth and nail against these things. They are a fantastic site, oh so quiet and offer a real possibilty of change. Sometimes, I think the question is wrong. Don't ask "Shall we put a windfarm here", instead "Do we want a windfarm or gas power station here". Windfarms would get a lot more support.

Talking of wind, the peleton in full "set up the sprinter" flight shot past. 160 riders doing not to far short of 40mph cuts a massive hole through the air. Pushing back to begin with, the sucking in. Wow! What a buzz! Cavendish was on our side a few back from the front, with a train of 3 in front of him.

Then they were gone. A mass of cars hurtled past in their wake witha few straggling cyclists. Well, straggling at 35mph! Wasn't to sure but I think Lance Armstrong was off the back at this stage.

After a few support vehicles it was done. so back on the bikes to watch the finish on TV at chez Chris. Vinokourov took off up the hill and won in front of a sprint won by a rather dissapointed looking Cav.

Now for the excitement for the day. We bade fond farewells to Nadine as the rest of us in two cars, headed off to the mountains of the east Pyrenees.

It started off as a slightly twisting route around the foothills before we spied rising slopes of trees above the farmland. The outcropping tips soon showing signs of snow.

Steep sided valleys with small towns suddenly switched to deep gorges with space for the odd house. Cliffs either side disappearing above us with the hint fo a railway jumping in and out of rock faces. At every turn we saw above us a wall of rock and we expecting to have the road run out when we reached it. Somehow, a wiggle would appear to let the road, river, and railway through. But how were we going to get up the side of this?

After 30 minutes the answer came in a series of hairpins up the side of a slightly less vertical section. At the top of the gorge a more open hillside spread before us, followed by a small mountain village perched amongst the slopes.

Then the fog descended. Or rather we ascended into the cloud at getting on 750m. Still we went up. Another village, also precariously balanced on the edge of drops down to to gorges below. Still we went up. Then the trees started to thin and a mountainous landscape appeared. Well, within 5 foot of thr road at least as that's as far as we could see. Still we went up.

we completely missed the carpark at Station de Mejanes, as we couldn't see the side road. But we did find a little field with a small spattering of cars either side of a small brook. Because we'd cleared the cloud! Meandering through some camper vans and through the brook we found a nice flat spot. Tents pitched quickly and food on smartish. It was freezing! This was mostly a wind howling down from the summit blowing the cloud back into the valley below us.

After food, straight to be for all. Out of the wind everyone warmed up.

Sunday 18th

We woke in warm fog. No, not the inside the tent, although that was a little bit, er, I leave it to your imagination!

there was no wind (ahem, I refer you to the past sentence). The sun boiled it off witnin the hour to reveal us perched in a beautifull little high valley overlooking a vast arena of snowy peaks. Behind us we were similarly overlooked by a high arena and the ride up to Port de Pailheres. We were camping at around 1560m, the highest we've ever been in the Pyrenees. Sorry, but adverts are made of this. Whether it's cars (which just isn't true) or creamy cheese, it's what we all have been told to aspire to.

Breakfast was a mixture of english sparse (what we'd brought) and french exhuberance (what Chris has brought).

After that we faffed with me trying to find tv signal to use against my recently installed Media Centre. Yep, trying to find a terrestrial signal in the high mountains with a simple straight aerial. Who am I kidding!

Getting fed up the bike came off roof and I girded my loins for a trip to the summit at 2001m. I set of at a measured pace and found it pleasantly easy until turned the first hairpin onto the 11 percent stuff. Arrgghh. Calves screamed & thighs retched. Buit I kept going. I was getting plenty of looks. Mountain bike, green sprinters jersey, body of a rugby prop. But with a few returned smiles came shouts of "courage" (the French) and enthusiatic applause. This is genuinely the only place where this will work. Sufficiently motivated and supported I carried on, silently screaming.

I got to the van on the corner that was a speck above us at the campsite. I looked up to see the same view above. I carried on. A couple of welsh guys caught up with me and we chatted for a few bends but I soon let them on their way.

When I started the steep slopes where discouraging and less steep a mere challenge. Now anything less than complete flat involved mounting pain. I carried on.

Finally I crested a slope to see a horrific drop in the road. No, surely it was not going to makle me go up the same height twice? I charged down trying to negate the loss of height with a speed that would take me up again. I ground to a snails pace too quickly but suddenly found the top itself.

What views all around. Down to the finish of the race and across to the plains. What wind ripped through my soul and chilled the bones. A brief stop to check email, and time to dash down the mountain back to the campsite for lunch.

Now the hairpins I'd laboured over took a whole new dimension. Going down showed exactly how way into open, unadulterated space they went. Each turn showing a fantastic view of the valley several hundred metres below and nothing but a 20cm parapet between us. I hurtled into them at speed approaching 40mph, giving my legs the jitters. Totally fantastic!

And that's lunch and a break!

i'm sorry pictures are taking a backseat until I can get 3G coverage. I have loads, even some to do with the Tour!

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