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.
and got colder. There was a spot of hail. Eventually I talked to some French cyclists and obtained the time-honored emergency gear of a garbage bag to stem our shivering.
Peter had pushed further into the tent to make room for more freezing patrons. He was behind the counter when someone in our group poked me in the side and whispered, "Isn't that Sheryl Crow over there?" I barely looked and shook my head no, then paused for a better look. I pulled out my glasses for this. Sure enough, not ten feet away Sheryl was elbowed up to the bar with a US Postal team official hovering right over her. She was staring intently at the TV, which was in black and white and got its reception signal from some bent rabbit ears. The commentary was in French and Peter helped the circle understand the race progress as the rain pelted down. The peleton had descended the very course we had ridden that morning and were now starting the ascent up to where we waited. They were following our lead, albeit a bit faster. Participatory cycling is a combination of amazing effort and numbing waiting. We all babbled and whispered discreetly and Sheryl stared at the TV, apparently riveted by the drama unfolding. Thankfully, nobody interrupted her intense concentration, as we all knew she was a cycling enthusiast. Cyclists abide by many unwritten rules and at the top of the Tourmalet nobody was about to waver no matter who the celebrity. To pester for an autograph now was to risk being hurled off the mountain by thousands of respectful cognoscenti, cycisimo amore.
By the time the peloton reached the halfway point of the climb we could hear the helicopters, which only add to the excitement. I could not see the small TV very well and found the rapid-fire commentary stretched my rudimentary French skills, but I did have a perfect line of sight to Sheryl. Without even really making a conscious decision, I figured I could best watch this drama through her eyes. Ten feet away she was alternating between grabbing her cheeks and holding her hands in front of her chin as if in prayer. The rhythmic pounding of helicopters signaled the impending arrival of the lead riders and Lance. It was clear that the US Postal Blue Train was in formation to make a major move. Between kilometer seven and five George Hincapie took an amazing pull with Floyd Landis and Lance just off his wheel. As the pull went on second after interminable second Sheryl seemed to be overcome with some unknowable paroxysm of emotion and start silently crying. How could this veteran monster of a domestique be pulling this high up on a climb? For many years, Hincapie was a rider who pulled the lower portion of a climb and then fell away like a huge spent rocket booster. The TV just stayed on this lead group, which included, Richard Virenque, the polka dot jersey, and Ivan Basso, the chief threat in the 2004 TdF to Lance's