Again, It's Not About the Bike
? or how three amateur riders experienced the 2002 Tour de France
I chatted a bit and climbed on. For the two of us, this was the culmination of conversations we had shared for nearly ten years. I had dreamed of coming to the Tour de France and riding some difficult portions of the mountain stages. I alternated in and out of the saddle to keep comfortable and made sure I was technically smooth for the long effort. I made a mental note to keep my torso still and let the bike rock naturally. I pulled through each circle to ensure that I wasn?t just mashing the pedals. Passing through a small village and five or six switchbacks, I was gradually starting to feel it. I was dipping into my reserves, built up over a summer of New England riding. As we ascended, riders were thinning out. However, there were increasing numbers of picnicking fans scattered along the roadside. I caught sight of a group of 20-30 Postal fans who saw my blue and white faded US Postal hat and hollered, ? Go Lance! ? That was surprising and very lifting. I zipped around the bend with a turbo charge of energy.
By the 11 th or 12 th kilometer I was starting to labor, but I had been keeping up with Peter. He is fifteen years younger, and had been a professional cyclist in France for many years. When riding with Peter, I know my place--always behind him a bit, but hanging on to his wheel as long as I could. He pulled ahead by 100 meters during a tough 11.3% gradient stretch. Thankfully, we had no traffic to contend with. The tradition seems to be that the entire mountain road gets closed off to all but official traffic by 2PM the day before the Tour comes through. It makes for great riding and all the fans are free to paint the road with their favorite rider names while they picnic away. Whenever I started to really drag, I figured out all I had to do is stare over at a group sitting at an elaborate roadside feast and say, ? Bon appetit .? When you are slowed to 7 or 8 kilometers an hour it takes awhile to pass a group, which is how a glance becomes a pleading stare. This is one of the advantages of absorbing a foreign country on a bike. The pace on the bike perfectly serves up a series of tableaux for the rider?s visual feast. Invariably, the picnickers smiled and responded, ? Merci, bon chance .? Or if I looked really terrible to them, they chirped, ? Bon courage .? It always picked me up and I learned to go to that resource as often as I went for my water bottle. On the near 90-degree day on the Aubisque, that was often.
Peter and I pulled into a small mountain village and started jabbering about the climb being