Performance Tour du Jour: Watching the Tour de France

We thought that we would wrap up our Tour du Jour recaps with a series of posts about our experiences watching the last 4 stages of the 2011 Tour de France. Seeing the Tour in person is truly an experience every cyclist should do at least once, but hopefully our posts will give you an idea of what it’s like to see this crazy rolling sideshow live! To see more pictures from each day of our trip, check out the Tour du Jour photo albums on our Facebook page.

Stage 18 – Pinerolo to Galibier Serre-Chevalier

Since the climactic Galibier climb of Stage 18 was about 25 miles away from our hotel on Alpe d’Huez, we had the perfect opportunity for a great ride before we watched the pros rocket up the road. Our Europeds tour group was up early to beat the road closures – closed roads and diverted traffic are a fact of life when the Tour is in town. You never really know when the gendarmes will close the roads to traffic, sometimes even including bikes! Our ride began with a little known gem of a ride off of Alpe d’Huez, the Col de Sarenne – an amazing winding road that plummets off of the back of Alpe d’Huez, and conveniently enough serves as a shortcut to the Col du Galibier.

Once we regained a main road, it was pretty clear that we were headed in the right direction. As you get closer to the route of the Tour, you become part of a gigantic and unofficial gran fondo ride! The road is clogged with riders of all ages and abilities, and you find yourself hopping from group to group, tucking in to different pacelines as you go.  As we neared the Galibier, we were pleasantly surprised to find that our guides Charly and Brad had managed to sneak our support vans up ahead, to lay out this sumptuous spread to refuel us before our day of watching the Tour.

Once we finally intersected with the race route, all thoughts of riding were over – the gendarmes let you know that it was time to lock up our bikes and walk the rest of the way. As you can see, it gets awfully crowded as you near the end of the stage route. But, in reality, if you make your way past the big crowded areas (usually near the big screen TVs), it was never a problem to find a perfectly nice spot to watch the Tour pass by.

We staked out a spot on a bend in the road up the Galibier, and settled in to wait for the race to come to us. If you’ve only watched the Tour in the US, you don’t always think that the stages usually finish around 5PM in France – since we had started our ride early that morning, we had quite a few hours to wait for the race. But there is always a cafe nearby, and the people-watching is usually an excellent diversion as well!

One sure sign that he Tour is only an hour or so away is the arrival of the famous publicity caravan. Passing over the entire route of the Tour ahead of the racers, the caravan is a winding parade of crazy sponsored cars (literally miles long), blaring terrible music and throwing cheap gifts into the crowd. Somehow when they pass everyone turns into a little kid once again, and yells and screams for the chance to grab a free keychain or awful hat!

Once the caravan passes by, you know that the real race is getting near. Then everyone waits for the appearance of the TV helicopters, which swarm above the leaders like angry bees. Looking down the mountain, we saw the choppers swing into view first, then, just barely, we could make out a tiny line of riders headed our way. The excitement builds in the crowd, and the noise level climbs in tandem. Everyone starts to edge farther into the road to get a better look, forming that crazy closed-in pathway that you see on TV (where you wonder how he riders will ever find a path – it really does happen quite naturally when you are there). Then the lead motorcycles come roaring through, and suddenly the race is upon you! As you scream and yell despite yourself, the racers flash by, only inches away from you, in groups of 2 or 5 or 10 – some looking confident, others seeming downright despondent.

And just like that, your day of watching the Tour is over! Everyone starts packing up and heading down the mountain, only parting to let the stragglers in the “autobus” group (made up of sprinters and other domestiques who don’t contest the high mountains) pass by in their business-like fashion. The ride back to our hotel was quite an adventure though, as suddenly the roads were clogged with thousands of walkers, cyclists, cars and campers heading back home. There is no way to prepare yourself for the chaos after a Tour stage passes by – you just try to survive and make it to the next day!

Stage 19 – Modane Valfréjus to Alpe-d’Huez

For the big stage that finished on top of Alpe d’Huez, we decided to try a different viewing tactic for the day. Throughout the morning we strolled around the top of the route to Alpe d’Huez (staying on top of the mountain made this a relaxing walk, as we didn’t have to battle any traffic), making our way down to the turn 1 (the last switchback). As you can see, the crowds were already camped out on the surrounding hillsides, ready for the madness.

But, thanks to an invite from our friends at Powerbar, our plan for the day was to check out the VIP trailer (l’Espace Tourmalet), located 50m from the finish line! With 3 levels of viewing platforms, the view from the VIP space was pretty sweet, plus there were free snacks, beverages and flat screen TVs to watch the progress of the race. Like we said, not a bad way to spend the afternoon (even if it did get crowded by the time the race rolled by).

As we watched the race develop on TV, we made the move down to street level, to subtly insinuate ourselves into a prime viewing spot along the railing (this takes some skill, since people tend to stake their claims early for the best spots). As you can see below, we got a great view for the final sprint to the finish, won by Frenchman Pierre Rolland, much to the delight of the home crowd (and if you listen closely, you can hear that the crowd still boos Alberto Contador!):

 But the best part about our VIP access came after the ride. As soon as all of the riders finished this grueling stage, they were directed down a road right behind our VIP space. We got to see most of the riders up close and at ease (well, as relaxed as they could be after this brutal stage) as they headed back to their team buses or stopped to give interviews. We even got to give a few words of encouragement to American Tom Danielson, of Garmin Cervelo, as he passed by (here he is saying “Thanks”):

VIP access gives you a different experience of the Tour than just viewing it from the side of the road – not necessarily better, mind you, just different.

Stage 20 – Grenoble Individual Time Trial

Next up was the pivotal time trial stage in Grenoble – the ultimate mano a mano test. Watching a time trial at the Tour is a more relaxed affair, since riders are heading out on the course over many hours. You can wander around and enjoy the atmosphere, then head over to the barriers to watch a rider or 2 fly by (they are usually spaced out at 2-3 minute intervals). However, one of the more interesting aspects of the race to watch is the pre-race inspection. As you can see below, UCI officials inspect and weigh every time trial rig right before the rider heads off, to make sure it meets all of the arcane rules as determined by the arbiters of the sport (all in full view of the public).

Reading the body language of the riders before they started, it looked like Cadel Evans was super confident of his ability to make up his time difference to the Schleck brothers in this time trial (as, of course, proved to be the case).

As the time ticked by, the crowds around the finish line grew, everyone glued to the big video board for time split updates.

Then suddenly it was time, and the leaders flashed by in quick succession. Here’s Evans powering to the finish line with the second best time of the day, with more than enough of a lead over the Schlecks to earn the yellow jersey, the first ever overall win for an Australian!

After the end of the stage each rider had to make their way through the scrum of fans, journalists, trainers and more. There was a small fenced in area for the riders to cool down and give interviews, but then they were unceremoniously dumped into the street to make their way back to the team bus (about 1km away). Andy Schleck was hustled off down a side street, but his brother Frank (wearing Andy’s skinsuit), was left to walk part of the way through the mass of people, until a team assistant brought his bike up so that he could escape. The look of disappointment on his face was clear.


Stage 21 – Créteil to Paris Champs-Élysées

Ah Paris, the site of the final, partly ceremonial, stage of the Tour de France. We strolled about “La Ville-Lumière” without much of plan on this, our final day in France. We caught the peloton just before they made it to the Champs-Élysées (where the race would finish with a series of laps). Cadel Evans, resplendent in yellow, was led onto the Champs in his place of honor, behind his BMC teammates.

Once the peloton hit the final circuits, the race really started! A breakaway forced the pace at the front, and the pack commenced the chase soon after. But the most entertaining part of this turn (right before the tunnel under the road from the Louvre), was watching the support cars roar through the corner at full speed, squealing their tires!

We checked out a few different spots to watch the end of the race (except for the Champs itself, which was too crowded to even attempt), and then had a moment of inspiration and pure luck. We decided to try an aerial view of the racing from the Ferris wheel on the Rue de Rivoli, and (unplanned beforehand) we managed to be at the top of the wheel as the racers poured down the Rue de Rivoli for the final lap of the Tour de France! Below you can see Phillipe Gilbert and Thor Hushovd putting in one last effort, before giving way to the HTC train of eventual winner, Mark Cavendish.

It was a fitting end to 4 straight days of watching the Tour de France live and in person! We hope that you enjoyed our Performance Tour du Jour coverage, here on our blog and on our Facebook & Twitter pages. It was truly a great race to watch and we had a blast covering it with our friends at Europeds, who organized this amazing experience. Maybe next year we’ll see you on the roads in France!

Performance Tour du Jour: Alpine Wonderland

After a slight delay due to jet lag and foreign internet access, David & Chris are back with more Tour du Jour updates from their foray into France.  Our fourth day in France began, yet again, with a chilly and drizzly morning (there was actually fresh snow on the mountainsides above and around us). Everyone kept telling us that this frigid summer weather was highly unusual, yet it remained cloudy and cool for the start of our ride.

But we were here to ride, so we layered our warmest base layers under our Scattante Team jersey and Forza shorts and headed out (or in this case, down the Alpe d’Huez). After a somewhat white-knuckled descent of Alpe d’Huez in the mist, we reached the valley floor at Bourg d’Oisans and immediately noticed an improvement in the weather. Clearing skies and warmer weather made our plan for the day much more appealing – this was going to be our biggest ride of the tour, a 70+ mile loop over some lesser-known climbs in the neighborhood, with an ascent of Alpe d’Huez as a bonus at the end (if we were up to it). Here’s part of our crew stopping for a quick break in a lovely Alpine valley.

The first climb of the day was the Col d’Ornon, a steady 8 mile ascent up a forested valley dotted with fresh waterfalls and quaint villages (this is France, after all). Our group spread out along the road, but reconvened at the summit of the Col d’Ornon, which was really more of high pass than a summit.  But the best part about reaching the top of the col was that that meant we were about to drop down a 12+ mile descent!

We chased each other down the fast and flowy country roads, with hardly any traffic or towns to slow us down. The Devinci Leo really shined on this curvy descent, as it’s stable ride made the long descent super-smooth and fun (plus it was more than ready to respond if you wanted to sprint). At the bottom of the valley, we rolled across the covered Pont des Fayettes, our picnic lunch spot for the day.

And what a lunch was waiting for us! Charly, one of the Europeds guides, really knows how to lay out a spread. Fine French cheeses, bread, salami and wine (this being France, after all) were all there for our hungry peloton to devour. We tried, in vain, to balance our desire to eat everything in sight with the fact that we still had over 40 miles to ride! Even some pro cyclists were jealous of our spread, as the pro continental Skil Shimano team rode by on a training ride as we were eating and seemed very disappointed that they couldn’t stop for a snack!

Soon enough we were off again, this time heading up more idyllic Alpine valleys.  Here’s Chris posing on his Scattante CFR Team road bike, enjoying the sunshine.

Once we started climbing again, though, the clouds and cold weather rolled back in.  When we reached the top of our second big climb of the day, the Col de la Morte, the name of the pass seemed ominously fitting (the temperature swings on this ride were impressive, from the mid 40s on top of the passes to mid 70s in the valleys)!

Of course since we had just reached the top of a pass, that only meant one thing – it was now time to head back down (in case you haven’t noticed, there wasn’t much flat road on this particular ride). And by down, we mean down. The valley floor you see in the distance is where we would be in about 10 miles and 3,300 feet of elevation!

This being France, that meant some expertly engineered and swooping switchbacks were in our future. Yeah…  it was a pretty fun descent.

After the long descent, we waited for a few other members of our group to catch up (and to get some feeling back in our hands) so that we could form a paceline for the ride along the valley floor back to Bourg d’Oisans and the base of Alpe d’Huez. We arrived just in time to catch the end of stage 17 on TV in a cafe (the stage was won by Edvald Boassen Hagen) . Inspired by Boassen Hagen’s solo victory, Chris, Dan and I (David) decided that we should finish our ride in style with a closing climb up Alpe d’Huez (after 70 miles of hard Alpine riding).

Let’s just say that climbing Alpe dHuez after that many miles in the saddle really gives you a new appreciation for what the pro riders are able to do day after day in the Tour de France. My legs were totally shot after the first 3 switchbacks, and I spent most of the ride getting passed by skinny pre-teens and folks riding commuter bikes with full panniers! I looked for any excuse to stop and take a picture, like the shot above of  the notorious “Dutch corner” about halfway up, complete with its own DJ and a steady supply of beverages (beer hand-ups were not uncommon).

But up and up I crawled, counting down the switchbacks as I went. Once again the record for fastest ascent of Alpe d’Huez was safe, but eventually I made it back at the hotel to meet Chris and Dan, who had pulled ahead on the lower third of the mountain. Exhausted but satisfied with our efforts, we got cleaned up and met the rest of our Europeds tour group for a well-earned hearty French dinner. You can check out more photos from Performance Tour du Jour on our Facebook page.

Performance Tour du Jour: Rainy day on Alpe d’Huez

Today dawned cloudy, cold and rainy on top of Alpe d’Huez, but that wasn’t enough to deter us from a ride up the mountain! Since our original ride had to be changed because of the weather, some of the folks on our Europeds Tour Trip decided that a quick assault on the 21 hairpins would be enough for today. While some of us loaded our bikes and gear into the vans for a valet ride down the switchbacks, a few folks from our group braved the slick descent (difficult enough on a dry day). Below you can see our mechanic, Brad, prepping the bikes for the day, as Spencer and John get ready to load their bikes into the waiting vans.

After a few of our crew decided that discretion was the better part of valor, we set off with John for a wet ascent of Alpe d’Huez. Nothing like a constant cold drizzle to make the ride up even more challenging than it already is!

Over the course of the 8 plus mile climb, the road to Alpe d’Huez averages about an 8 percent grade (although it gets shallower at the corners, and steeper in other sections). If you’re having trouble picturing what this grade looks (and feels) like, just take a look at the picture below.  That’s a pretty big gap from one bend of the road to the other!

Up and up we climbed once again, to be rewarded with fog-shrouded vistas overlooking the snaking course of the lower switchbacks that we just finished climbing.

Here’s a shot of David powering his way up to turn 3, where barriers have already been laid out to protect the pros from the hordes of fans sure to descend on the mountain on Friday! But today we had the mountain pretty much to ourselves, except for the handful of other cyclists brave/crazy enough to attempt this climb today.

Once we reached the top, the weather and the view weren’t much improved. The drizzle got heavier and the temperature dropped down to 36 degrees Fahrenheit as we crested the climb! Nothing like summer in the French Alps!

After heading back to the hotel and warming up with a hot shower (and trying to dry out all of our wet gear), we headed out for a tasty lunch and a little shopping (after watching the exciting Tour stage finish, of course – Thor Hushovd is just amazing!) We found a great little bike shop called Cycles Huez, run by a friendly English/Australian couple, that sold cool Alpe d’Huez jerseys. Check them out if you make it up here one day!

Tonight it’s off to a dinner of traditional Alpine fondue, and then to sleep with dreams of better weather tomorrow!

To keep up-to-date on what we’re doing next, or to get in touch with us, be sure to follow Performance Bike on Twitter and Facebook. We want to hear from you as we head into the Alps!

Performance Tour du Jour: Arrive a l’Alpe d’Huez

Day two here in France began with a walking tour of Grenoble, as our Europeds Tour group wasn’t meeting up until the afternoon. As it turns out, Grenoble can be an incredibly pleasant place when it’s not raining and you’re not pulling bike cases 1.5km to your hotel! Nestled in an Alpine valley, Grenoble is filled with lovely cafes, quaint streets, and this peripherique (cable car) that went to an overlooking mountainside.

But soon enough it was time to head back to the train station to meet our tour group (luckily we discovered that Grenoble has a highly efficient tram system that ran right by our hotel, so we didn’t have to drag our bags this time).  We loaded up our gear and headed up to Alpe d’Huez with Charly, one of the guides.Once on the road, we finally saw our first sign for the Tour de France (OK, it was  a warning about road closures, but we knew we were getting close!):

Just about the moment we arrived on top of Alpe d’Huez, we tore open our bike cases and set to work getting our bikes ready to ride! It may have been late in the afternoon, but when you get a chance to ride Alpe d’Huez, you go for it! Here we are at the bottom of the climb, in matching Performance Ultra jerseys and shorts, with Chris on his Scattante Team bike and David on his Devinci Leo bike.

So what can we say about the climb up Alpe d’Huez?  Well, it’s pretty darn hard and unrelenting, but it’s definitely climbable.  You just find your rhythm and count off the 21 hairpins as you go up – the pitch of the road varies a bit, but really it’s a fairly constant (if steep) grade.  But don’t get us wrong, we were still maxing out our bike’s gearing range! Of course we felt a little less impressive when we passed this guy on the climb… towing his child in a trailer!

The payoff for all of your hard climbing work was the view – checking out the hairpin bends from above, after pedaling your way up, was a totally rewarding experience.  Plus there were already tons of folks camped out on the side of the road cheering you on – especially a Dutch contingent who even brought their own DJ (we hammered out a little sprint as we passed this crowd, just to give them something to cheer about)!

Finally, after a little over an hour, we crested the summit of Alpe d’Huez – although it turns out that this isn’t really the top of the climb for the Tour riders, which is really about 3km further up the mountain! But it does give you some sense of the crowds of folks already filling up this legendary climb, in anticipation of the big day!

Here we are after our little jaunt up Alpe d’Huez, with a pretty amazing vista in the background.  All in all, not a bad way to spend an afternoon. Tomorrow rain is in the forecast, but we’ve got our fingers crossed that we’ll get to share another epic ride in the Alps with you!

Performance Tour du Jour: On the ground in France

As should be expected when traveling from North Carolina to Grenoble, France, we spent most of the first day of our voyage on airplanes, in trains and trying to cram bike cases into tiny elevators! The flight to France was long but uneventful, with a few movies watched and not much sleep to be found. When we arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport, we ran in to many cyclists ready to ride and watch the Tour, much like ourselves.

We met a nice family on the train – we had met the dad at the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race last year and were pleased to meet his family. We traveled through the airport with them and even competed to see who could fit the most people with bike cases in a tiny elevator:

As you can see, they won.  Eventually we made our way to the famous French high speed train, the TGV, for our high speed escape to the Alps. It was a pretty cool train ride flying through the French countryside, but we have to say that th TGV was not designed with hauling bike cases in mind! Our bikes ended up stacked right by the door of the train, in front of the bathroom – not exactly the best spot for storing some pretty sweet road bikes!

But eventually we made our way to Grenoble (with our bikes), our stopover spot for the night. The weather was wet and rainy when we arrived, but before the day was over (and we passed out from our exhausting day of travel), the clouds cleared and we were treated to our first view of the surrounding mountains where we will spend the next week.

Tomorrow (Monday), we’re off to meet up with our Europeds tour group and head up the Alpe d’Huez for the very first time. Yeah, you could say we’re excited! Or, as the sign says, we’re “fous du tour”:

To keep up-to-date on what we’re doing next, or to get in touch with us, be sure to follow Performance Bike on Twitter and Facebook. We want to hear from you as we head into the Alps!

Ready for Le Tour

What can we say, other than we’re ready for the Tour! We’re ready for all 3 weeks, 21 stages and 3471km of the La Grande Boucle; from the Passage du Gois on Stage 1, to the Team Time Trial, to the sprint stages, to the Alpe d’Huez and the 100th anniversary of the mighty Galibier, to the finish on the Champs Elysees:

We’re ready for exquisite photo albums from legends like Graham Watson, with shots of gorgeous scenery, of epic suffering, and especially of dream-worthy bikes, all immaculately clean and ready to ride before every stage:

We’re ready for the favorites, the underdogs and no more excuses:

We’re ready to read expert analysis, BikeSnobNYC, and anyone else who’s sharing their insight and opinion!

We’re ready for our daily dose of  Bobke, Paul, Phil and their suitcase of courage.

We’re ready for the scenery, the fans, the publicity caravan, and the excitement of seeing the Tour in person during the Europeds Tour Trip, presented by Performance Bicycle:

We’re even ready for Didi the Devil with 1km to go!

Yeah, you could say we’re ready… bring on the yellow, green, polka dot and white jerseys! It’s time for the biggest stage in cycling. It’s time for the Tour de France!

Europeds Tour Trip: Alpe d’Huez

Alpe d’Huez… the iconic climbing test that every cyclist wants to try at least once! One of the coolest parts about our Europeds Tour Trip is that you will be staying right at the top of l’Alpe d’Huez for 5 nights, in the small alpine resort town.  You’ll get the chance test your legs on this legendary climb every day if you want to,  right before the pros come thundering up the mountain, during Stage 19, to the roar of the thousands of fans who will line the narrow mountain road like a natural amphitheater.

L’Alpe d’Huez may not be the steepest, longest, or highest climb that is used in the Tour, but it’s definitely the most famous.  With it’s numbered 21 hairpin turns (each named after former stage champions), even those who don’t follow cycling have heard of this legendary ascent.  From the base of the mountain to the finish line above the town of Alpe d’Huez, it’s 13.8 km at an average gradient of 7.9 percent.

Each turn records the exploits of a legendary champion, from the first winner, Fausto Coppi in 1952, to the likes of Joop Zoetemelk, Bernard Hinault, Andy Hampsten, Marco Pantani, Lance Armstrong, Frank Schleck and Carlos Sastre (the last stage winner, in 2008).  The Alpe d’Huez has been included in the Tour 25 times since Coppi first won there, and on 20 of those occasions, the rider who ended the stage wearing the yellow jersey has gone on to win in Paris (as chronicled in the book The Tour is Won on the Alpe). It’s definitely the place to be when the Tour comes rolling through!

Photo of Alpe d'Huez by Eric Walthall (which he earlier posted on the Performance Facebook page, from a trip he took)

There have been many iconic moments on the slopes of l’Alpe d’Huez, including the famous scene below of teammates Greg Lemond and Bernard Hinault finishing the stage arm-in-arm in 1986, the year Lemond won his first Tour.  Notwithstanding the smiles in the photo below, their relationship wasn’t exactly what you’d call friendly that year, as Hinault, the defending champion, attacked every chance he got even though he’d pledged to support Lemond in his bid for the yellow jersey (as told in the book Slaying the Badger).

One of the most famous recent memories has to be when Lance Armstrong gave his German rival Jan Ullrich “The Look”.  After feigning fatigue on the lower slopes, Lance gave Ullrich this famous backwards glance, and then rocketed away from the German after turn 16 of the climb, just past the church at La Garde. If you join us on the Europeds Tour Trip you can try this trick on your climbing companions, but more than likely you won’t be feigning fatigue at this point of the climb!

There’s still time to book your spot on the Europeds Tour Trip, presented by Performance Bicycle, but there are only a few spots left, so book today!  We hope to see you in France, on the slopes of l’Alpe d’Huez!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 174 other followers

%d bloggers like this: