Saturday, July 9, 2016

Watching the Tour from the Col du Peyresourde

Stage 8 of the Tour promised to be a monster, climbing four cols in the Pyrenees.  We parked in a small village and planned to ride our rented bikes up the final test of the day, the Col de Peyresourde as far as our legs, the fans, and the gendarmerie would let us.

 We rode up a few miles and the gendarmes stopped us from proceeding further on bicycle, so we walked for a little while and came to a steeply graded section of the route just after a switchback,   which allowed us to look down the mountain to see the riders approaching before they were on our section.   I had never ridden with so many cycling enthusiasts everywhere cheering us on.

The first group winds its way up the Peyresourde.
Sky led the first group containing all the major contenders up the climb.  After seeing the riders whiz by in no time the day before, we were happy to be able to be much closer to the action.

Team Sky leading the peloton, as per usual.

The men in black seemed to be setting a steady pace, not quite setting fire to the group, but putting it on a slow simmering boil.

Eventual winner, Chris Froome, taking a swig from the bidon.

It’s difficult to pick out the individual riders, even at the slower pace of climbing, when they’re in the groups, but looking through the photos afterward reveals who’s in each group.  It was rewarding to see that I got a pretty clear shot at future winner, Chris Froome.  Indeed, it was on the descent from this climb that he took the maillot jaune.

Great French Hope, and eventual second overall, Romain Bardet.

I was also able to get a fairly decent shot of the man who would place second, Romain Bardet.  Unfortunately, not all of the big names are represented in the photos, as they are often behind teammates or other riders.  Such was the case with Quintana, Contador, and Sagan.

Once the first group rode by, riders started appearing at irregular intervals, sometimes in gruppettos but often alone, which offered the chance to see some very distinguished riders whose specialty just isn’t the high mountain stages.

Multiple World Time Trial Champ Tony Martin falling back from the first group.

Multiple World Time Trial Champion Tony Martin was using his signature mouth agape “basking shark” breathing technique to come in just behind the lead group.

The other Great French Hope, Thibault Pinot had been in the early break.

We had heard whispers in the crowd about great French hope Thibaut Pinot being in the early break, but it was apparent the move had not paid dividends for his GC hopes.  He came through to great cheers from the locals in the crowd, though it was clear they were disappointed by his position relative to the others.

Tom Dumoulin looked to be pacing himself.

Vuelta nearly man and Dutch hope for a future grand tour win, Tom Dumoulin, seemed to be pacing himself and not really suffering.  He would go on to win two stages of this Tour.

Maillot Jaune, Greg van Avermaet suffering.

Future Olympic Road Race gold medalist Greg van Avermaet was the bearer of the maillot jaune that day.  He looked to be in a world of hurt while toiling behind one of the groups.  It appeared that he had gone very deep into his reserves to retain the yellow jersey on a day that didn’t really suit him and was now meeting the man with the hammer.  Perhaps the effort on this day helped prepare him to hang with the group on the Olympics course that also wasn’t supposed to favor him.

Spartacus, in his last tour, pacing one of the groups.

Multiple Cycling Monument champion Fabian Cancellara paced up one of the groups containing many riders who weren’t suited for the terrain, on his Spartacus branded Trek.  He, too, would go on to Olympic gold in his preferred discipline, the time trial, and this would be his last Tour as he’s to retire at the end of the season.

A great place to dip one's feet.

Making our way back down the mountain with the hordes of folks driving, walking, and riding down was quite nervous and hair raising, but being on bike was definitely the correct call, as the cars and camper vans were stuck behind At the end of a hot, sunny day of riding and spectating, it was a great relief to dip our feet in the cold mountain river back in town.