Friday, July 26, 2019

A Day on the Col du Lautaret (yes, it rhymes)

A Day on the Col du Lautaret

Yes, it rhymes! That big race where they put the leader in a yellow shirt (we must be careful here as the organizers of this thing are very strict about using any of their many trademarked terms for Le Grand that trademarked too?) has been very interesting so far this year.

Unlike past editions that British team has not (so far) suffocated the race and when we left for France, 6 riders still had a chance to win.

We drove the Piedmont Cycling Resort support car into Briancon in about two hours, unloaded the bikes, hopped on and made our way up the Col du Lautaret, a climb the racers would take on later in the day.

Much later, but the same confusing, conflicting and generally illogical actions of the Gendarmes were on display, same as it ever was.

The last time we'd seen the race live was 2010 when BigTex' last hurrah fizzled out in Morzine, but some things never change - there's always a Gendarme with that "Barney Fife" complex who takes his instructions literally. Road signs indicated the route would be closed to traffic at noon, but nobody took that to mean cyclists. Except this guy! We lucked out by following someone with local knowledge down into the valley...and onto a double-tracked dirt trail. We were worried about flat tires but plenty of others were out there on road bikes, so on we went. 

Luckily the trail soon turned into a paved road that climbed up the valley and eventually intersected with the race route - where we were almost welcomed back onto the road! This was despite the fact the team buses were zooming up the climb with horns blasting as we rode.

We passed one more "Barney" but this one at least let us through - on foot, which turned back into on wheels as soon as we were out of his sight. We'll never know what safety or security issues were involved but we and hundreds of others continued up the road only to cheers of encouragement.

C'est la vie as they say!

The race is still popular, despite what some might have you believe and space at the top of the climb was tight, but everyone's in a party mood and one hears a lot of different languages, but all seem to speak and understand cycling at some level, whether they rode up there on a bicycle or came in a car or camper and hung around smoking cigarettes for a couple of days.

For some, the publicity caravan may be the highlight?

Ya gotta love some of the crazy creations the marketers come up with!

And then there's the majesty of the mountains and the thought that while this is a free event, you have to get up here somehow to see it.

This hotel was taken over by one of the big bike tour companies. Many years ago we'd stayed in the original, one that burned down awhile back. Their restaurant was open to the public so we scored some overpriced sausage, beer and of course - FRITES.

Anyone who considers him/herself a true bike racing fan needs to see a big race like this at least once in their life. You can watch every race on TV or via streaming and know facts and figures, but you will NEVER know what it's truly like until you are THERE.

Finally the racers arrived, with the breakaway group about 5 minutes ahead but disintegrating fast.

Those racing for the yellow shirt in Paris came by pretty much in formation.

A friend sent us this TV screen shot - our 1.5 seconds of fame?

Followed by those who'd done work for their team earlier and now had only to get to the finish under the time limit and then the rest who had only that last requirement to fulfill.

Once the broom wagon and ambulance passes, it's a free-for-all to get outta there, no matter whether you're going up or down. Luckily we were going down and the traffic wasn't too bad. We avoided any news of the race' outcome so we could replay it once back at Ariotto (and seeing ourselves at the roadside when the leaders passed the 27.7 km to-go mark - see screenshot above) like it was live.

A great stage, made even better by seeing it live, in-person!

Vive LeTour!

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