The Queen Stage in St Lary

Thomson Bike Tours regularly stays at the Mercure Hotel in St Lary Soulan for the Pyrenees portion of the Tour de France. This year it just so happens to be on the course of Stage 17 and a quick gondola ride up to the finish line. 

Thomson Cyclists rode their bikes the 10 km straight up to the finish line. Spectators took the gondola. We all messed about this morning watching the finish village come together. Jacinta introduced us all to Phil Liggett and I scored his signature. He is a huge favorite with all of us and he was very down to earth and lovely about posing for pictures and giving autographs. I returned to the village and hotel and did a couple of chores and then checked in on the race in the bar.

It was fun watching it with the Thomson cyclists and other hotel guests. When we thought the caravan was passing, we left the comfort of the bar lounge and stood in the hot sun for more swag. Then we returned to watch the race. It was an exciting day. Although only 124.5 km, it included 3 category 1 climb and ended with an HC finish in St Lary Pla d’Adet.  When the leader “Kiri” had 20 km to go (a quick descent into St Lary Soulan), we dashed back to the roundabout right by the hotel and waited.

The race leadership got rejiggered on that descent and suddenly the breakaway was consolidated and Kiri was no where to be seen. We waited for the yellow jersey and then dashed back to the hotel lounge to watch the finish. The newly anointed polka dot jersey (King of the Mountains), Rafal Majka with Tinkoff Saxo, was in the lead. We could not tell exactly how close everyone was on the last climb because the announcing was all in French. Finally, it was clear that Majka earned his 2nd stage victory and the 3rd stage victory for Tinkoff Saxo. 

After some fun kibbitzing with my fellow spectators, I walked outside to find the team buses. It took a while to walk there and I decided to gravitate to Trek and Cannondale. I arrived at the Trek bus at the same time as Jens Voigt! Someone grabbed his bike from him and took off the computer and put the bike on top of a team car. Jens signed an autograph and jumped on the bus. 

I turned around and found Jacinta and Lisa at the Cannondale bus waiting for Peter Sagan’s return. All of the riders rode back down the last climb because it is faster than dealing with the crazy traffic jam. Peter has to receive his green jersey on the podium and do media interviews before he can ride down. All the other team members had already returned and showered on the bus by the time he returned. Lisa did not get a picture with him; however, she and Jacinta had a ball talking to the mechanics and other riders. 

It is good to grab a slice of pizza on the way home and have an early night. Tomorrow we are up with the robins to drive to within 1.5 km from the finish on Hautacam. Tomorrow the racers go up both Tourmalet and Hautacam. I really look forward to riding my bike when I get back to Davis, and I am perfectly content being a super fan and leaving the riding to others in the Pyrenees.

 

Stage 14: Depart at Grenoble

IMG_2357IMG_2427Having VIP access at a depart is just the best. Thomson Tours delivered us to the Village where we ate a few snacks waiting for the team buses to arrive. The access to riders is phenomenal. We watched as the bikes were unloaded. Soon the cyclists rode past to sign in and then they would return to the bus until the start. There were lots of opportunities to learn more about the teams and gather a few signatures. 

IMG_2393I decided to focus on team BMC and I overheard someone from NBC Sports arrange to interview Tejay Van Garderen at about 11:20. So I cruised around taking lots of pictures and then returned to the BMC bus in plenty of time. 

I chatted with Ian the professional mechanic for BMC. He started his career as a mechanic in a bike shop in Alaska. He worked his way up to the prized full-time mechanic positions on the European bike tour. Although he will head to Utah and Colorado next with the team, he is based in Belgium. He said there is not real off season. It is a peripatetic life and not for a weak constitution. 

Ian suggested I stand near Tejay’s bike (No. 141) so I would have a better chance to ask for an autograph on my California flag. I repositioned and had a chance to speak with an NBC Sports cameraman. His life is a lot of hurry up and wait. He is pleasantly surprised how competitive the Tour is this year. He suggested I ask for Peter Stetina’s autograph. Peter is very obliging and complimented my Cali flag and even though his bio says he’s from Boulder, CO he said he is from Santa Rosa, CA. 

Soon Tejay emerged from the team bus and gave his interview. Then he was rushed by another group of journalists and they had to share an interview with him. His handler then cut it off. Tejay graciously signed my flag and then kicked off to sign in at the main departure stage. IMG_2458 IMG_2442

I moved up to the Cannondale bus because I really hoped for Peter Sagan, the green jersey’s signature. His nickname this year is the Wolverine and he has a cool wolverine on his bike (and look closely at the top of the helmet). He was the last member of the team to emerge from the bus and he fiddled with his bike for quite a few minutes and then just as he was kicking off he stopped at my unfurled flag and signed! 

I went to the line to watch the riders migrate to the start line. Vincenzo Nibali, the yellow jersey, rode directly in front of me! This is one of the many reasons cycling is such a fun sport to follow.

James in our group is living with a serious illness and continues to challenge himself. He came on this tour to be able to run a HC category climb. We dropped him at the bottom of the Col yesterday and he ran to the finish line. He had a wonderful interaction with Greg and Kathy LeMond just past the finish.

James also brought his real wolverine hat and so we have been calling him Wolverine. At home in Minnesota he wears it when he encourages marathoners from the sidelines. He has danced and shouted encouragement on the Col and then today to the racers as they headed to the finish. It was fun watching their reactions. Most smiled and laughed. James is irrepressible and a delight. 

It is our last full day as a Thomson Spectator VIP group. Tonight we will celebrate the Thomson cyclists who are still on the road as I write. We have a bag full of sponsor swag to share and some funny awards and songs. 

At the end of the stage, Nibali is still in yellow. Teejay moved up to 5th overall.