A great day out to watch the Tour! This was our local stage (Pau to Peyragudes), passing only a few km away through the town of Tournay – so we were naturally torn between seeing the race pass through our back yard, or going to see the stage finish at the Pyrenean ski resort of Peyragudes – we opted for the latter.
We wound our way along the course of the Neste river, sharing the valley road with one or two other cars and camper vans today, through the medieval village of Arreau to the head of the valley and the pretty spa village of Loudenvielle, where parking was available… just….
From Loudenvielle we “enjoyed” the scenic walk up to Peyragudes Station – it was hot, it was steep, but we had plenty of company as Tour fans from all over the world made their pilgrimages up the hill, a deeply unscientific survey proved that the Spanish fans were the most enthusiastic, and loudest. Finally gaining the top we wandered around the tour finish area, sectioned off by barriers from the press and race organisation compound; TV coverage gives no sense of the sheer logistics of the Tour de France, the coordination and effort needed to bring such a huge amount of lorries, staging, commentary boxes, team buses etc etc. has to be seen first hand to be fully appreciated… and its all for one day only, tomorrow another mountaintop or small town… then repeat… for three weeks.
Impressed and overwhelmed we calmed ourselves with a refreshing beer and found our spot bang on the barriers 300 metres from the finish – not a bad pick it would turn out…
Waiting for the tour is a rite of passage every Tour de France fan should go through; you have to get there early and then brave the three or four hours in the sun catching whatever handy – or just plain bizzare – souvenirs you can as the caravan goes past. Then its all quiet. And the expectation builds. Then you hear the first helicopter in the distance, and I defy any true fan not to feel some adrenaline the first time you do, and before you know it you hear the crowds lower down the slope erupt and the approaching roar of motorbikes accompanied by the familiar musical tones of the Tour car horns. And this day we were lucky, we were right there on 300 metres when Chris Froome cracked, a defining moment of this year’s Tour which signalled that he was going to have to dig deep to win it. And he did – Chapeau! The stage also saw a great victory which really announced Romain Bardet as a star of the future; and the pain etched into the face of the great Alberto Contador as he passed not two feet away showed an athlete at the end of his career, who was going to fight every last second of the way….
And once the winner and leaders have passed you get to experience the rest, again not always clear on TV coverage, and that’s just how much the teams have given to get their top riders to the finish; exploded groups trickle in made up of pale, drawn, shattered men who just want to stop now – top level pro cyclists with their legs barely turning as they grind up this final hill, minutes and minutes down. It’s this secondary story, not only the winners, which makes the Tour not just special, but legendary.
After all the excitement, we were offered a lift back down the hill by a complete stranger and took it gratefully, the Tour is like that; having been to quite a few stages now, the atmosphere is always great – friendly, sociable and fun.
Can’t wait for next year already, so watch this space as (really soon now !!) we will have details of our Tour special week to see what the Pyrenees throws at the race in 2018 and to help you experience as much of it as possible, on and off the bike – watch this space….