Thursday, September 18, 2008

July 14 Tour de France - Hautacam

A dream come tue to be at the Tour De France at a mountain-top finish. At 9:15 in the morning I began cycling up the Hautacam. The Hautacam is a mountain with a ski resort at the top with the same name. The climb is very difficult and long. Over 14K / 9 Miles. Quite a bit of the climb is at 10%. I carried one of my panniers loaded with clothes and food. The race wouldn't reach me until 5:15 in the afternoon.

The climb was very challenging, but fun as well. There were thousands of people walking and cycling up the mountain to find a spot to watch the race go by. Truly a party in the making. Those with seats already would cheer those of us still climbing up. The last 2K has barricades along both sides of the road to allow the competitors the ability to pass one another at the end of the race. Up until then the racers pass through an ever-opening funnel of fans who just move out of the way before getting run over. I was one of those fans on Hautacam.

After completing my climb (race officials stopped cyclists 50 meters from the finish line) I descended back down just below the 2K banner to a spot I could see down onto a hairpin turn and then see the cyclists coming up a steep grade. Well, at least that was my intent. I was positioned on the mountain with the Basque. The Basque are, how do you say, crazy fans. Once the riders arrived there was no seeing the 100 meters down the steep grade. All you could see was solid mass of people parting like a wave. Then about 5 meters before the cyclist gets to you a hole opens and there is the cyclist baring down on you and fully expecting you to get out of the way. Just enough time to snap a photo and jump back. I'm sorry to say I missed my photo opportunity of the two lead riders because I wasn't ready for the speed of them coming at me.

Before the riders arrive a caravan of race sponsors parade by for about an hour throwing things to the fans like hats and decks of cards. Even before the last of the racers comes by those who have finished already begin to cycle down the mountain parting the fans in reverse. Pretty crazy I thought. Once the race is over guys on road bikes are trying to find TDF racers to descend with off the mountain.

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