Last year was the 100th edition of Le Tour de France, so a group of localish riders decided to head out to Alpes d’Huez for this historic event + 5ish days cycling, especially as the Tour was coming up the hill twice. We named our group Le Tour de Farce, and Tour de Farce it was in some ways.
Edinburgh airport, we were all assembled for our flight, bikes at the ready, the queue kept building up, nothing was moving. Finally they came to tell us all the ticketing computers had gone down. Aghghgh, slight panic – cars to collect at the other end. After 2 1/2 hours things were sorted (manually) and we left the ground.
Arrived at Geneva, got bike off the carousel, wandered through customs & passport checks to wait for the others. No-one at first, then some came out – 2 bikes had gone astray and 1 set of luggage, complete with biking gear. Aghghghgh – more slight panic. Decision time, some of us were sent off in one car, while the rest stayed in to see if things could be retrieved.
A few hours later in Alpes d’Huez, we went for a bite, a pizza – darkness coming, so too late for that first evening cycle. Apparently after midnight the rest of the gang arrived having achieved not much.
Next day the bikes were loaned out, but I was left with mine. The gang decided to go down the hill & then pootle back up (if that’s the right word for a 3,00 foot, 21 hairpin climb averaging too many %)
So I got on my bike & climbed up to the twin lakes a mere 1,100 feet above. I had had a break in my riding as my granddaughter had come over from S Africa for a month and we spent so much time together, so I knew this trip would be a struggle – but slowly, slowly . . . . . .
The after noon arrived and the 2nd group set off with me in tow to climb over the Col de Sarenne & then Alpes d’Huez. Fabulous weather but hot, hot, hot. On the way up to the Col we had to take to grass riding/ pushing to bypass the folk laying down fresh tarmac for the Tour coming through in 2 days time. We paused at the top and I stayed behind to take photos & videos of the team tentatively going down, then wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!! A fantastic descent for the fools like me and with the temperature at 90 degrees + (32+C) a lovely cooling off period. I managed to overtake everyone on the descent so not bad for an old fool.
The it was into Le Bourg d’Oisans at the foot of the big one for a well earned drink & pâtisserie. Then off to climb ‘The Hill’. I set off a tiny bit before the others, but most had passed me by about the 7th bend. Masses and masses of cyclist were toiling upwards. I then suddenly realised I was totally out of it, I was meandering all over the road & with not much between me and the drop beside me I decide recuperation was the order of the day. I later realised the temperature had reached 102 degrees (39C). So I hid under a bush for 20 mins, with a butterfly to keep me company. Once I continued I drank even more & doused myself with water under the roadside waterfalls. I’m from Scotland – we don’t do this sort of heat! But eventually made it back.
Then off for a pizza, now when in France I love to eat nice French food, in a lovely restaurant, but ‘the gang’ had other ideas. Not sure about the general Europop around the village either, but hey?
Next day the delayed bikes had arrived & it was the big one. The Col de Galibier beckoned. This time a mere 7,000 ft of ascent. At least the start was a a blast down from Huez and a lovely French breakfast in the village below.
Several hours, 26.7 miles and 6144 feet later we were at the top, feeling fabulous.
On the way up we had views of the Meije Oriental, which I had climbed nearly 30 years ago. Then it was wooshing away back down. We stopped at La Grave for a late lunch and as we finished a huge downpour started. But, it was warm, so we set off anyway splashing our way down. I wimped out of the Huez climb again having already 70 miles and a car being available, but the others were braver than I. That night pizzas (though I opted for Lasagne), beer and Europop – no comment.
Next day, the great day arrived. Whizz, down to the bottom, breakfast at the cafe then the ascent before the Tour arrived. There were probably 20,000 or so of us peddling up those hairpins and 250,00 of spectators on the slopes. With my white beard & Scottish flag flying from the back of the bike I was greeted with cries of Ah, Le Diablo Ecosse (after an eccentric Italian who follows the Tour every year nicknamed Le Diablo). Loads of bravos, cheers, europop blaring out, manic Dutch corner, wee pushes and a wee diversion near the top away from the final finish. A really great but bizarre experience.
A quick sandwich & the down to the village to see Le Tour come through, accompanied by Europop, cheers that drowned out the music(?) and a fantastic atmosphere.
Then up to our apartments to watch progress on the TV & Le Tour coming through a second time beneath out balcony.
Then later, back down to the village for more beer and? (I’m sure you can guess by now)
Next day, up too late for a final ride, bikes dismantled the night before, then smooth progress back to Scotland.
An amazing if strange experience, would I do it again? Well this year it was the Giro d’Italia starting off in Dublin & I declined, But I’m glad I experience Le Farce & I’d try to be fitter next time.