|2003 Tour de France Trip|
TDF by Greg Clarke
After the Paramount race the following week I traveled to France for the first time to watch what turned out to be one of the most exciting Tours in history. Myself and other OCW/Paramount members met an English tour group in Paris and traveled with our bikes to ride and watch all of the mountain stages in both the French Alps and the Pyrenees. With the popularity of Lance at the TDF today I know many of you have traveled to watch the tour and or have read much about it so I thought I would just jot down some things that tend to go unnoticed in the press or TV.
Road crews working hurriedly on the course trying to patch the roadway or clear debris the day of the race just before the race goes by. No standing around with a shovel for these guys.
The number families with their children excited about seeing the bike racers and watching the race.
The speed in which the racers descend the crowded roads after a stage finish. On a mountain top finish almost all riders have to ride down to the team bus. (Lance excluded). On the stage to Ax 3 Domaines I tried to descend after the race with a few riders including Jan Ullrich hoping they would clear a path through the thousands of people walking or riding bikes down the road. These Professionals including Jan were taking so many risks that I did not dare follow them. Weaving in and out of kids, walkers, bikers, I thought for sure I would see one of them get taken out but miraculously it never happened. You think the Santa Ana River Trail is bad on a summer weekend, you should try this!
The number of local fans willing to walk or hike three hours to watch a race go by for three minutes.
Grown men and women (myself included) shoving and scrambling for little trinkets from the publicity caravan.
How kind and helpful the French people are. (Really…No Really)
I was surprised at the number of Lance fans from other countries including France. All of the children seem to like Lance. One day I was riding on the course with my Euskatel jersey and I was yelling at some of the kids along the course “Viva Mayo!” and the kids yelled back “No, Allez Armstrong!” (Of course they love Verinque)
How tough the climbs were. Being a reasonably fit cyclist I thought I could fathom the climbs in TDF…I was wrong. The only climb I’ve done in California that I can compare any of them to is maybe Mt. Whitney Portal Road. They are just so long (12-15K) with the only break being when the road tips to a comfortable 7%. It took us 1:50 to climb Vonteux with fresh legs. It takes a top pro :50.
Traffic jams that backed up for 10 miles as cars and buses attempted to make their way to any of the famed climbs in the Tour. Doing a “hammer session” through a beautiful canyon with two German riders, with us try to drop them and them trying to drop us and at the end all of us having huge smiles and giving each other “high fives”
The Basque people whistling their disapproval of Armstrong on Luz Ardiden after dropping Mayo.
Feeling the rush of watching and rubbing elbows (literally) with thousands of people from many different countries and feeling that unspoken bond that you are enjoying a thrill like no others as the race goes by.
The fever pitch of the Dutch, partying on the Alpe D’Huez. Next time I go I’m hanging with these guys. They know how to throw a tailgate party. Beer, food, dancing and of course you never let the Rabobank team car pass until they stop and then in frustration nearly run you over, oh and don’t have your window down if you’re an opposing team’s car unless you like a refreshing splash of water to the face.
How everyone in France says “Voila” when giving you something.
The fact that I was eating formagge and jambon (cheese and ham) every morning before riding 50 miles with a beyond category climb thrown in for good measure.