Today is a rest-day at our race hotel in Tarbes and my first chance to catch up on some much needed sleep and to get some photos uploaded from the last two days of the Tour.
My arrival on Saturday afternoon was mostly uneventful, though bus service in
As predicted, my 6:00am alarm rang much too soon, but I managed (despite the fact that my internal clock insisted that it was midnight). The French SSC crew insist on arriving on course 3 hours before race-start, presumably because if they arrive any later, they would never get the cars in position where they want them for roll-out. There is, however, a bustling, restricted-access race village with coffee and food waiting for the race organization… and real bathrooms… the lap of luxury.
Once underway, I managed to doze off for a bit while Lionel and I made our way in the forward caravan, ahead of the race, until the first break formed and we dropped in to cover the leaders, Seabstian Lang of Gerolsteiner, Aleksandr Kuschynski of Liquigas, and Nicolas Jalabert of Agritubel. Jalabert was dropped after the first Cat 1 climb, and we went with him to cover the chase group that also included de la Fuente, Sanchez, and Monforte while car 3 took over our position behind the leaders. We were ultimately pushed forward as things began to come back together and finished up ahead of the race.
The day ended at the hotel-restaurant in
The big day. Today, we ascend the Col du Tourmalet and Hautacam. The start is later than it was yesterday, but it was still a chore to get out of bed. On our way into
Lionel and I, this time as car 3, begin our race with a leisurely drive through the French countryside again, taking in the scenery along the way. A break forms and car 2 is there to fill the void, so we continue along our way, moving far ahead in the caravan to allow time for occasional stops to greet friends of Lionel on the route.
A crackle comes over the radio, followed by something in French (go figure), and Lionel turns to me to say we’re swapping places with car 2. A Gerolsteiner rider, Markus Fothen, is having trouble with his transceiver, which has come loose, and they’re going to let me handle the service. But no. I’m seconds away from my first service in the Tour de France… and out the window, no less, when the Gerolsteiner car arrives from the main caravan and we have to hang back. C’est la vie.
The road began to go up, in earnest, and one of two Francaise des Jeux riders in the break of seven, Remy di Gregorio, takes advantage and solos off toward the Torumalet summit. Lionel and I move up and back, trading places on several occasions with the Francaise des Jeux team car to make certain both riders are covered, finish off the climb with Remy, and then do our level best to keep up with him as he tops 80km/h on the way down through the hairpin switchbacks of Tourmalet. (I learned later that a motorcycle went down, hard, on that same descent, behind the peloton. Unfortunately, it didn’t come as a surprise.)
The way to Hautacam, once again, opened a chink in the breakaway’s armor, slowly ending those fleeting moments of glory for the seven. With no place to go but forward, we carried on in the yellow Skoda, leaving the race to its own devices until the finish.
At the top, I spied a diversion that only later (much later) did I realize that I had time to partake while we waited in a queue to be allowed back down the mountain. They were four-wheeled buggies, like go-karts, sans motor, that were towed up the slope on a modified ski lift. Dumb fun – it’s the best kind.
Dinner was better on this night, at a restaurant just a short hop from the hotel. Salmon with pasta marinara – not your typical French fare, but I wasn’t complaining.
Which brings us back to today: relaxing at a hotel in the South of France. Okay, so it’s a hotel in the middle of an industrial park. I’ll still take it.
It’s been a while since I last rode Harold Parker; since the seasonal trail closure was lifted at the Fells, I’ve been siding with convenience for my occasional dirt excursions. Today I made the decision to take a drive back to Parker and see whether it was everything I remembered. It was.
We’ve had a steady parade of rain showers in the afternoons and overnight for the last several days, creating a verdant, almost surreal landscape for today’s exploration. I ventured out a bit further into the park than I have in the past and discovered more and more amazing singletrack - this place has it in spades and I’ve only scratched the surface. The moist soil afforded traction like you read about, and was counterpointed by damp rocks and logs that did their level best to remind me to always be watching my line. I was in heaven.
Despite being mid-day on a Saturday, and a holiday weekend, no less, I never crossed paths with another person in the course of my convoluted loop. I rolled my way over hill and dale, turning randomly at the various trail intersections until I reached a point where I decided to begin wending my way back. Still, with no prior knowledge of the trails I was on, no markers to indicate my position, and no map, the second half of the ride was as meandering as the first. I’m fair certain that this only added to the experience of the day - for me, the thrill of discovery is a large part of what mountain biking is all about.