I finally looked up the image that was taken by a commercial photographer on Alpe D’Huez and broke down and ordered a digital copy. The other 2 images are canned that came free with my shot.
Myrna and I watched the finish from the grandstand on the Champs Elysee, a great place from which to see the 8 laps that traditionally finish the Tour. We went direct from there to the Paris Dinner Cruise on the Seine.
With an extra day to spend in Paris we visited the Cathedral Notre Dame, the Louvre and took the opportunity to enjoy some slow meals off the bike.
What a trip.
Saturday found us in St. Armand Montrond for the crucial final time trial. Despite the hopes of thousands of flag-draped Aussies, the time trial changed nothing and Carlos Sastre was crowned the winner a day before the ride into Paris.
While we waited for the leaders, Myrna and I spent the afternoon exploring the small town of St. Armand…enjoying an impromptu picnic in the square.
The stage was won by Schumacher of Gerolsteiner, and a wasted Cadel Evans was only able to take 30s out of Sastre. CSC put its final stamp on the Tour, taking the White Jersey for Andy Schleck and the Yellow for Sastre.
We spent the night in Vichy, and we set out early to ride along the stage route through the feed station at St. Pourcain sur Sioule and then on to Chantelle. From there, Chris and I relied on our map and french skills to tour through the countryside and back to Vichy. A beautiful rolling ride by fields of sunflowers.
We returned to Vichy by 1pm, time to have a quick shower, meet up with Myrna and walk the 3 blocks to main street to await the tour’s passage.
Once the riders had gone through, we had time to spend pursuing other interests…shoes, chocolate and Vichy’s famous spas.
Today was the 3rd and last day of our Live the Dream package. After an early breakfast at the Hotel the riders among us flew down the 21 hairpins of Alpe DHuez. We then rode on to Bourg D’Oisans to enjoy VIP access to the Start Village and riders enclosure. Graham Baxter took us to meet the Caisse D’Epargne team and had Luis Leon Sanchez and Alejandro Valverde sign my jersey.
It was fun to be in the area, check out the bikes up close, and see how it all happens before a stage start. The riders have to push their way through an incredible throng to get to the start…stopping to take pictures with fans all along the way.
We were up early this morning, picked up from the hotel at 7am to make the trip to the top of the Col de Lauteret. Here is how the itinerary described the stage:
“the best is saved for last…as L’Alpe d’Huez (cycling’s mecca) will play host to the final alpine stage and what a stage it is going to be. It’s an absolute classic stage that takes in the monumental climbs of Col de Lauteret, the mighty Col du Galibier and the Col de la Croix de Fer before climaxing on the 21 hairpin switchbacks to the ski station of L’alpe d’Huez”
Luckily we were able to be a bit more picky, and our day of riding consisted of descending the 45 kilometers from the top of Lauteret, riding to the base of L’Alpe d’Huez, and then climbing L’Alpe. The descent was truly magnificent…45 minutes of freefall with turns. Lauteret descends through a series of tunnels as well…one long one with perfectly smooth asphalt and beads of light along its ceiling and each wall that had me feeling a bit like I was firing down an elevator shaft.
Climbing L’Alpe makes you feel pretty special. The road was closed to vehicles and by race start their would be over 500,000 people lining the route. Some had been there for a week or more camping with their families. With a drop to the valley over your shoulder, accomodatingly cheering and smiling throngs lining the road and an expansive view of the Alps all around you its hard not to wear a smile while you climb despite the effort.
The finish line is in the middle of the ski station and is packed with people…turning my anticipated sprint to the finish over the last 200 metres more like trying to walk your bike up to the stage at a Stones concert.
With the suffering over, I met Myrna at our hotel. After 3 star accomodation in Serre Chevalier we were happy to find a beatiful chalet with balconies overlooking the race course at the Grand Rouses. The Francais des Jeux team were staying there with us.