Tour de France: Making New Memories

Jens Voigt in his element: media interviews. He earned the KOM jersey in Stage 1 2014.
Jens Voigt in his element: media interviews. He earned the KOM jersey in Stage 1 2014.

This time last year I was having an absolute ball in Yorkshire with Trek Travel. This year the Tour is in Holland for the first two stages and I am watching it from California. Today in Stage 2 the wind, rain and nerves resulted in a split in the Peloton with a group of a couple dozen riders about a minute ahead of the rest of the Peloton. Crashes and pressure created a third group that fell off the back of the race for awhile. It was exciting to watch. One additional bonus was hearing Jens Voigt’s commentary scattered throughout the broadcast on NBC Sports.

When I arrived in York and met my Trek Travel tour guides I had a mental list of my cycling heroes that I definitely wanted to meet and ask to sign my California state flag. 1. Greg LeMond, 2. Jens Voigt, and 3. Fabian Cancellera.  Just 24 hours later I had all three!  And Jens Voigt and Fabian Cancellara struck me as opposite personality types. Fabian seemed almost shy whereas Jens is an extreme extrovert.

Cancellara's nickname is Spartacus and his Trek bike is tricked out accordingly.
Cancellara’s nickname is Spartacus and his Trek bike is tricked out accordingly.

Whereas Jens retired, I am still following Fabian Cancellera’s career. He had a serious crash at the beginning of the season and it was uncertain if he would make the Tour team. He is definitely coming on form as he came in third in the Stage 1 Time Trial. As he started Stage 2 he said in an post-race interview that he had not been thinking about winning the yellow jersey for the 29th day in his career. I guess it is possible that it was not a conscious thought, but he is such a canny cyclist that I do not believe that he had not figured out the scenarios where he could win the yellow jersey (fastest time overall).

The Trek Team must have given him a free pass to do what he can as he was the only Trek team member to get into the breakaway group. The three great sprinters were also in the group: Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan and Andre Greipel. (Of the four favorite GC riders only two made it into the breakaway: Chris Froome and Alberto Contador.) If Cancellara placed third, the bonus time in the sprint would give him the yellow jersey. Tony Martin was in a similar situation and he also made the breakaway. However, there is a difference between theoretical opportunities and having the bike skills, experience and confidence to execute.

Cancellara preparing for Stage 2 in 2014
Cancellara preparing for Stage 2 in 2014

The sprint started at 500 m to the finish. It may have been too early for Mark Cavendish as he was out fast and first. The Peter Sagan broke wide and poured on the gas. Then Greipel’s huge engine kicked in and he surged forward. But who was the only rider with them at the finish? Fabian Cancellara. And he took advantage as Mark Cavendish faded to take third place and grab the yellow jersey.

I am delighted. This may be his last Tour and I am enjoying the new memories he is making!

#LeTour2015: The Big Route Announcement

The 2015 Tour de France route was announced this week. It is moving counter-clockwise this year. The Grand Depart is in Utrecht, Netherlands. The Bon Voyage Utrecht organizers released the funny video above. Looks like the host city is putting the same level of effort that Yorkshire did in 2014. This video suggests it will have its own quirky personality.

If you are planning to watch a Tour stage in person and without a tour company, make your hotel reservations now. I suggest you focus on host towns that have a finish and a start.

The other big Tour news this week is the new point system for the green jersey. After three uncompetitive years when Peter Sagan repeatedly ran away with the jersey, the organizers have returned to an approach that rewards sprinters who win stages. You can read the details here.

Tough Day for Le Tour; Easy Day for Me

Blel Kadri won a very hard stage 8. Flat until the end and then some good climbs. The finish was up a 10% grade. It made me think of Yorkshire. Ouch. I loved watching him once he realized he had won. I bet you right now he is still walking a f

BF since 2nd Grade: we met in Mulhouse to watch the Tour
BF since 2nd Grade: we met in Mulhouse to watch the Tour

ew inches above the earth. He was transported. I watched it all on French television. Alberto Contador also clawed back a few seconds in the general classification.

My day was much easier. I rode the train from Nancy to Strasbourg and then changed to Mulhouse. Met up with Harriet, Brian, Grace and Nora Watson Lovell also known as the WatLoves. Great to hear of their adventures in Germany and to see Grace after an exchange year.

We are staying at Les Jardin du Temps. It is a beautiful lodge in a vast garden in a suburb of Mulhouse (Illzach). Very quiet and beautiful. We will watch the finish tomorrow afternoon and the start the following morning. Then they go on to Switzerland and I travel to Lyon to meet up with Thomson Tours for the Alps.

 

Yorkshire Rocks Stage 1

Everywhere we went today there were cyclists and walkers and drivers headed to the somewhere along the Le Tour de France Stage 1 route.  Estimates range from 1 million to 3 million people lining the course. At the end of the race Paul Sherwen said that the racers will not be dealing with sore legs so much as sore ears from the crowds shouting all day. There were a few occasions where the fans did not leave enough room for the peloton. Overall the atmosphere was fantastic and Yorkshire should be proud. 

We cycled from the top of the moors (14 miles) to West Tanfield. Brian and Gabe did the full 52 miles today but the rest of us chose to give our legs a break.The scenery was even more breathtaking today and the weather cooperated. If you saw it on the telly–the photography was untouched. It was really that beautiful today.

Trek Travel arranged for a private room at the Bull Inn in West Tanfield with a television, lunch service and easy access to the course.  The first “rush from the room” was for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, aka Prince William and Kate. It was lovely to see how thrilled all of the Yorkshire people were to have their support. It was fun to observe how great both of them are at meeting and greeting people, especially children. One person overheard Prince William jokiing with a young boy who ran round to get in line for a second handshake.

Trek Racer Jens Voigt broke away with two other riders from the start. Then Jensie shed those two after the first big climb. The last climb of the day did him in and the peloton caught him before West Tanfield. We were about 30 kilometers from the finish so the peloton went by very fast. It was thrilling. How can they go that fast on these hills???

In the last 500 meters Trek Racer Fabian Cancellara made the race even more interesting by charging past the sprint trains and going for the finish. Unfortunately he ran out of gas before the line. The stage was won by Marcel Kittel of team Giant-Shimano. For me this was completely overshadowed by Mark Cavendish’s crash. His injuries have most likely taken him out of the Tour.  I am disappointed for him and le Tour. It will be less exciting without him.

We had quite a hike to the car (parking was some distance from the village, thus incentivizing bicycling to the race). We had time to shower at the Timble Inn and meet up on the patio for canapes and drinks. Another delicious dinner was on offer but I was still full from the Steak and Ale pie at the Bull Inn (yum).

Tomorrow is an early start and I need to pack. Good night.

Brilliant Day in Yorkshire

On the eve of the Grand Depart of the Tour de France, Trek Travel gave me a taste of the wicked hills of Yorkshire. 

 

We met below the Timble Inn (excellent ***** accommodation) and got fitted on our bikes. Love the all carbon bike with the new shifting system. Sorry I do not know all the names of the bike model and gear–I am saving that brain space for remembering the names of my fellow riders!

Off we went with our trusty directions and 2 guides, Sam and Gabe.  Ilona was driving the van and she kept reminding us the van was our friend. How true! First she gave me a lift through A59 so I did not have to cope with the traffic whilst going uphill. Then she helped me get the last 3 miles to Grassington so I could eat lunch before 2:30.  It was a long day of hilly climbing. The amazing Yorkshire countryside made the suffering joyful.

Even though there were snacks and drinks galore, I could barely take on water from the heartburn. My fellow rider Laurie thinks it from all the time over our handlebars. We stopped at Boulton Abbey along the way and I met a group of riders near the restrooms who are from all over North America and New Zealand, met on a ride in India, and reunited to ride in Yorkshire and watch the Tour.

We enjoyed Grassington and had a lovely sandwich in a pub next to a table with 2 giant yellow labs and a Schnauzer. The atmosphere was fun from all the cyclists who have come into the County to see the Tour de France. 

We got a lift in the van to the Timble Inn and had time to shower and rest. Then met for our coach to the Trek Racing Team’s hotel in Skipton. Gabe downplayed what we might see since on the eve of the Tour the team had a lot on their minds. We met the team liaison Nathlie and she gave us an opportunity to see the Trek Racing Team vehicles including bike mechanic/kitchen van and the team bus. The German members of the team were watching the Germany-France World Cup game on the big screen at the front of the bus. Thankfully Germany won and there was much cheering. 

The bus is fascinating–a motorhome like interior with every inch cleverly providing some function. Not a lot of comfort though when you think about 12 people are in it when they are on the go.

Then Nathlie arranged a meet and greet for us. WE GOT TO MEET THE ENTIRE TEAM. It was awesome. The staff came too. Afterward the people who spoke with the chef shared that the racers have a calorie count on their computer and it is his job to replace those calories everyday. Sourcing wholesome nutritious food is easy now that he has done it a few times.

We then went to dinner and enjoyed traditional Yorkshire pudding with beef and gravy. Yum. This is not what the team ate. They had quinoa and salmon with lots of vegetables. Jens Voigt was telling us that he will start the race at 4.5 body fat and drop to 3.9 by the end! 

It made us feel better when we heard the racers say Yorkshire is hilly! Even to them.

Then it was off to the the Timble Inn for a much better night’s sleep than I have had since I left the States. Good thing because we have another challenging day of riding ahead to get to our viewing Pub on the course. Cheers!

Meeting Amazing People at Le Tour

I am so weary from riding in the Yorkshire Dales today. Do not underestimate the difficulty of Stage 1 and 2 in the 2014 Tour De France. I rode until my legs went from screaming at me to just laughing, as in “you’ve got to be kidding”.  The hills are steep (some 18% grades today!) and come super fast after a descent, so the winner tomorrow will be really good at shifting gears.

 I brought a California state flag and a sharpie to ask cyclists to sign. I had a short list in my head of who I really want to sign the flag. The top three were Greg Lemond, Jens Voigt and Fabian Cancellera. Leaving the Leeds Arena I saw Greg Lemond astride his bike outside! My Trek Travel teammate Sandy and I asked for autographs and and her husband Brian snapped photos. The first US Tour champion, and three time winner was super gracious. It was a thrill to share with him that he is the reason I am a cycling fan.

Last night Bob Roll signed my flag (that is Sandy and Brian posing for a photo with him). Then today I met the entire Trek Racing Team. They signed including Jens and Fabian. My top 3 and the Tour has not yet started! Plus Sandy spotted Alberto Contador in the hotel and he signed. I am elated. Thanks Trek Travel.  Now I am expanding my list: Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome, Andrew Talansky.

People of Yorkshire Raise the Bar for Grand Depart

I am so impressed with the level of effort the people of Yorkshire have made to host the Tour de France. It is more than decorating windows and dressing the Black Prince statue in a yellow jersey (shout out to yarn bombers: nice job). They seriously raised the bar by staging a team presentation show both exciting and heartwarming.

The Leeds Arena held 10,000 fans cheering for 22 teams and some really interesting entertainment. Hosts interviewed a couple of riders from each team so we got to cheer madly for Mark Cavendish and Jens Voigt and see Peter Sagan’s new hairstyle (huh?). The final team to appear was Britain’s own Team Sky and the crowd went wild. 

During the warm up local television hosts talked about how proud they were of Yorkshire. I hope they get a boost of self-confidence from this because they have done themselves properly proud.

I had a lovely chat with the man on my left, Leigh and his friend, both avid cyclists.They are not from Leeds originally but they love living here and stepping out their back door and into a countryside that still looks like the set of All Creatures Great and Small.

Several teams alluded to the fact that their recon trips for Stage 2 have been much more challenging than expected. Stage 1 and 2 should be very exciting. When you combine tricky roads and a lot of short 16 degree descents plus nerves, there should be some crashes and a lot of strategic racing.

Stay tuned.