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.
dominance. Hincapie kept at it for 2-3 minutes before Floyd took over. Unbelievable, the Blue team was firing in precise order. Sheryl looked incredulous. We all were. This was the move.
Lance was still in Postal blue but this was the drumbeat of dominance. George was pounding out the rhythm and the saints were following. Sheryl and all of us kept glancing down the open valley and calculating when we would make our break over to the roadside for a live shot of the riders coming by. Sheryl hopped a bit and tugged at her cheeks one more time as the Postal team official whispered in her ear. Then they turned and bolted over the ten meters to the cycling piste. At this elevation you have to deal with the Basque orange clad crazy fans and somehow share the road. Sheryl had her bodyguard to clear out a path, I settled on climbing up on a Jeep Cherokee and standing on the spare tire to get myself above it all. The sirens sang as the first motorcycle cops breezed through to part the sea of crazed fans. The throng immediately flowed together again and a new brace of flics sirened yet another split. Like all of us, Sheryl peered through the crowd as if to see only what she desired. She crouched and fidgeted uncertainly; ready to leap out of the way, like a toreador dodging a bull. Finally, a red TdF official car, siren blaring its signature singsong French blasts, somehow parted the crowd enough for Basso to spin by with Lance right on his wheel. I watched as the two motored up around the bend toward the end of a magnificent 163-kilometer ride. This time I was able to yell a bit. I noted that Lance was bareheaded and Basso had a CSC hat on backwards with his sunglasses on his forehead. This was back before there was the mandatory helmet requirement at the Tour. By the time I looked back to check on Sheryl, she was gone.
But, I had clearly solved the rider/spectator problem. I had witnessed more and understood more than any TV spectator could ever hope to convey. Merde, I know more than Phil and Paul. I had caught the quintessential moment of the 2004 Tour de France and confirmed that the major threat to Lance was going to come from Ivan Basso. I had managed to see even more of the drama and agony by seeing through another fan's eyes. It was going to be easy to say to friends back home, "You just had to be there, it was beyond amazing. I can't really explain it; you had to be there. Just look at the pictures. But they don't tell the half of it."
So this year, the hundredth Pyrenean edition of the Tour de France is going to climb the Tourmalet again, not once but twice. And again I will be there staring, yelling and thinking back to Octave Lapize who was first over in 1910. And I will think of Bobet from