The Tourmalet - A Hundred Years of Climbing
Over the many years I have attended the Tour de France I have been aware there is a problem.
gods. I saw Lance yelling at Roberto, but could not make out the word. It sounded like Andale, Andale! (Later, I read that Lance was really yelling for him to slow down as he was about to blow up.) Lance went on to take the Yellow Jersey that day and hold it on into Paris. Per usual, historically speaking, it all hinged on the Tourmalet.
A couple of years later it happened again on the Tourmalet. It is different as it is every time you ascend this monster of the Pyrenees. This was the 2004 edition of the TDF and it was a doozy. Remember some girls back when Lance was with Sheryl Crow? Well, she on was on the Tourmalet that July day but I don't think she pedaled up.
What I encountered as Lance and the Postal team were zipping up the Tourmalet that glorious day in July may shed a bit of mountain light on the conundrum: how can one get really close to the Tour de France and still see it.
I led a group of Thomson Bike Tour riders over the Col de Peyrosoude earlier in the day. We were after the best viewing spot for the first major mountain stage of the 2004 Tour de France. We started our plodding ascent fourteen kilometers up into that day's overcast finish at La Mongie full of anticipation and just plain tingle at being on the big mountain. The patchy cloud cover and cool weather made the climb bearable. Tens of thousands lined the route picnicking and painting the names of their favorite riders on the pavement. I wore a faded Postal cycling hat that drew favorable comments from many along the roadway. (I still have that hat six years later and wear it for special rides- like today the six week mark since my open heart surgery.) At the top, Thomson Bike Tour riders herded their bikes into the adjoining woods and began the wait for the climbing gods due in four hours. Most of us broke out sandwiches or snacks we had hauled up in our jersey pockets or in small daypacks. We all donned windbreakers or rain gear as the temperature started to drop and the clouds thickened. Then it started to drizzle; soon it was full rain. We scooted back further into the overhanging branches of Norway spruce.
There was a small encampment where we were located just 2 kilometers below the finish. This was the perfect viewing spot for what promised to be a pivotal day in the three week race. This was the first huge mountain stage and Lance might choose this to make a statement on the nature of this year's race. The spot even had a Kronenberg Beer tent, which also dispensed snacks and coffee. As the afternoon wore on many of us sought refuge under the small overhang of the circular tent covering the serving area. My business partner, Peter Thomson, insinuated himself into the functioning of the snack tent and translated orders for the beleaguered bartenders. The rain increased