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Published: July 17th 2008
Week one of the tour down - two more to go.
Anthony and I flew out of Perth at 6am Wednesday 9th July and after a longish flight landed weary but well in Dubai. It was hot! 42 degrees and humid as hell. Luckily we only had a short stop before boarding another flight to Frankfurt. Kindly the Emirates check in staff at Perth had slugged us for excess baggage as with our bikes etc it was hard to make the limit even with limited clothing! We were then thrilled to discover about 10kgs of crap magazines in every seat pocket and the flight from Dubai to Frankfurt mostly empty.
The upside of this was I could stretch out over 4 seats and have a sleep for most of the 6 hours. Frankfurt was our van pick up point and after a overnight catching up on lost sleep we all rendezvoused at the DRM camper hire joint. After detailed instruction of what to do with our excess poo etc we were on the road. First stop was to supply the van with food and other essentials such as beer and beer. German and Belgian beer loaded along with cheeses,
Van at speed
Norbert (our van) is flying
coffee, and some slightly obscene smelling cured meats!
We hit the road heading south bound for our next meeting point of Arreau in the Pyrenees. The four campers set off in different directions. James and Craig for a mountain biking side trip in Germany, Al and Al for the running of the bulls in Pamplona, us for the most direct route and Gav and Roger on a Womens Weekly world discovery tour of most of Europe.
We soon found the motorway and made good time crossing into France near Mulhouse (after a slight miscue into Switzerland - Anthony navigating!). We were aiming to overnight near Beaune but ran out of puff and got off the motorway near Montbeliard looking for a small town to stop in. We traveled thru a few small run down looking towns before stopping in Pont de Roid - also no known as the Balga of North Eastern France. The were many disenfranchised youth hanging around attempting to look threatening however the impression was somewhat lessened by them sitting on 45cc scooters. After having a few crackers thrown in our general direction we decided that staying in town was not a good plan so
motored to the outskirts and spent the night in a parking bay.
Slight delay to departure due to me looking fridge door shut! Traveled the day on motorways managing to pay off most of the French foreign debt in tolls. Stopped for fuel and a coffee and watched the last 40kms of the tour live. Stopped overnight of the 11th at St Sauves Auvegne. A great little village where the tour had gone thru the day before on its way to Super Besse. Stayed in a paddock on a farm with views across the mountains of the Dordongne region. The village was part of the “Route de Frommage” or tour of cheese - note to self - must return here some time.
The next morning we saddled up again for our destination of Arreau and with half the population of France on the road for the Bastille Day long weekend it was a slow and occasionally frustrating trip. We arrived in Arreau and found and empty grass area we took for a campground. We were the first ones to pull in however after the other guys arrived and parked next to us it sent out some sort of
signal to others and in an hour or so the place was packed with tents and campers.
After many beers and stories of Pamplona, mountain biking and Rogers driving we hit the sack.
On Sunday the 13th the tour went thru Arrreau via Col de Peresourde and then over Col de Aspin. In the morning we headed up the Peresourde - I stopped about half way after not having ridden for five weeks. There were hundreds of cyclists and nearly as many Gendarmes. We headed quickly back to town for a bite to eat and then to go part way up the Aspin to watch the tour go by - except for roger who was stopped in the Peresourde and couldn’t get back to town.
The tour caravan, a procession of weird floats and promotional giveaways arrived quicker than expected and we thought we might get stuck in town. We watched the caravan from town and then sped up the Aspin as far as possible before the tour arrived. It was fairly cool and helpfully a bunch of Spanish supporters covered me in several litres of freezing cold water. On the way up we saw plenty of
The Phil Jerseys area hit
other Aussies and were told that Cadel had fallen and was injured but when they went by he was with the main group looking a little beaten up but ok.
It was great fun cheering and seeing the riders go by after years of watching them on TV and in magazines - it was all a little surreal and the whole group was feeling pretty good as we trundled back into town. Arreau is a very pretty town at the confluence of a couple of rivers and we had a terrific group meal at a local restaurant.
The 14th was Bastille day and we left early headed for the end of the next stage at Hautacam - a ski destination with one road in and out. We were all keen to see a mountain top finish and hoping Cadel would do well. We were quickly finding that the various navigation equipment being used were largely not compatible - either that or we had no idea how to use them. Directions and coordinates being given were rubbish and the conviction of “following what the Tom Tom says” has led me to the theory that Lemmings may also suffer from
following the directions given by tom toms. So……..after a few frustrating minutes in traffic (most of France descending on Hautacam hoping for a French win on Bastille Day - ha ha), we found a park and headed up the mountain. A real festival atmosphere prevailed and people looked like they had been set up for months. Not sure how many people lined the road to the top but suspect it was more than 100,000. We all finally made it to the top where there was all the tour infrastructure and a big screen to watch the race approach. We had to get there several hours before the finish before they closed the roads and we had and increasingly cold wait for the riders to arrive. We past the time eating official tour hot dogs and frittes which given their captive market they were able to charge more for than our gourmet meal the night before! But we were at a mount top finish on the tour so who cares.
As the riders got closer it became apparent that Cadel had a chance for the yellow jersey - and that we might be there for his podium appearance! There was
much excitement and cheering as the riders came in and even more when it was confirmed that the Australian was in Yellow. We hauled all of our flags, inflatable supporter hand, boxing kangaroo etc to the presentation area and after screaming and yelling got a big thumbs up from Cadel. It was a top day. (see on U--tube - search team ligget). The mountain descent was dangerous as we went down with a phalanx of tour cars, police motorbikes, the tour riders and thousands of other spectators. One of the tour riders missed a corner, cleaned up a spectator and left the mountain in an ambulance. We overnighted in another paddock and on the next day (15th) stayed at Cauterets - yet another magnificent ski town high in the Pyrenees. Most of the guys chose to ride another mountain to the Pont D’espanga - while Mike and I did a coffee and patisserie tour of the town.
That evening we went in to Lourdes to check out the town and La Grotte. A quick warning - if you have strong religious beliefs you should probably stop reading now. My overall impression of the town was that it was a
rip off of people who had little or no hope left. It was packed with pilgrims and crappy souvenir shops - where I was lucky enough to pick up a virgin Mary snow dome.
Off again on the next day to Luz St Sauveur at the base of the Col de Tourmalet - a 2115 metre monster that the tour passed over on Bastille day. We got geared up and headed up the mountain on our bikes. Back in 2002 I can remember driving over the swiss alps and wondering what sort of idiot would choose to ride a bike of such mountains - now I was about to do it myself. I decided not to do the whole distance and drove 6 of the 18km to a small market town. The others all did the full distance and it was awesome. A huge mountain and a huge achievement. Stops for coffee and photos at the top before a bumpy descent - at high speed. We overnighted in Luz St Sauveur all tired and happy to have made it up the mountain. James, Mike, Craig and I tried to go for a Thermalise (hot spa) but arrived just as
the French Rugby team did - we were not welcome. Dinner was tapas and beer at a roadside bar before collapsing tired and happy.
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