Ride a mile (or 161.5km) on my bike

Posted: July 13, 2014 in Musings, Travel
Tags: , , , ,

Walk a mile in my shoes.

OK.  I can do that and when I’m done, I’ll understand you better.  But if you really want to understand even a small amount about what a rider on le Tour de France goes through, drive with us over a bit of the route they will ride during the 161.5 km on Monday’s stage 10 from Mulhouse to La Planche-des-Belles-Filles.

One of the stages this year is not far from Melisey where we’re staying and  four days prior, my s-i-l drove us over a large section of the route.  Some stages, or at least parts of them, take place on wide (relatively speaking) roads–flat, open areas where riders chat in the opening minutes and look fresh and happy.  Not so here.

We turn sharply off the main road onto a paved track that gradually becomes barely wider than the Land Rover.  Thick forest and undergrowth crowd both sides along the steep road, while in many places the right side drops precipitously, sometimes on the other side of a low, stone, moss-covered wall just the right height to pitch you over should your bike tire hit it.

photo 1(79)

We spend much of our time shaking our heads and exclaiming incredulously, trying to imagine the hoopla of the Tour attempting to squeeze through here–lead cars, motorcycles, breakaway group (the easiest to get through with only a few riders), the crush of the peleton, the team cars and media.  We meet a TV truck followed by two riders shrouded in rain gear (did I mention it’s been raining all day/week?), looking less than trilled to be out checking the route along the “easy” way-downhill.  We try to imagine all this going uphill at racing pace and probably fail miserably.

photo 2(78)

Green, lush beauty surrounds us, beauty that will go unseen and unnoticed by the laboring cyclists and entourage: flowers, rushing creeks, several waterfalls and quiet, although the latter will be gone on race day.

photo 3(63)

Suddenly, we rejoin the main road at the 5K marker.  The road is wide(er), the pavement smooth.  But between here and the cloud-wrapped finish line at La Planche-des-Belles-Filles, the Plank of the Beautiful Girls, the grade veers between a “mere” 6% and 22%!!  And all this comes at the end of hours of racing and just under 157 km.

photo 4(41)

Legends has it that during the Thirty Years War, the Swedish soldiers were raping and pillaging.  The girls of the area decided they would rather die than be raped and drowned themselves in the lake.  A soldier, possibly the captain, who had fallen in love with one of the girls, carved an epitaph for the them on a board (hence the “plank.)   No one will carved the name of the winner this Tour stage on a board, but his name will go down in Tour history.  Locals are pulling for Thibaut Pinot , not only a local but a young Turk of French cycling.

Enormous carving by a local artist of a bear holding one of "the beautiful girls"

Enormous carving by a local artist of a bear holding one of “the beautiful girls”

The empty spaces on race day will be crammed with fans, the two of us among them if all goes as planned.  One couple has already staked out a spot-in a small pull-off near the top, complete with camper, trailer and satellite dish.  We come away with a much deeper understanding of the stamina and mental attitude needed to compete at this level of the sport…as well as an inkling of why men would be driven to find ways to cheat, to make the ride just a bit easier, something that has been going in various ways since the Tour began.

  1. We had the Tour once in our village I never saw so much people in our street :o) Have fun, hope you will have no rain :o)

  2. Indira says:

    You are having all the fun. Enjoy.

  3. Janet thanks for sharing piece of the route. It really is some difficult riding. I used to train with olympic cyclists in the mountains by home. (sea level to 1000 ft elevation in about 20 miles.) The rain makes roads really hazardous for those athletes. Viva la Tour de France

    • Turns out that they didn’t go on this stretch, but in a few days I’ll have another report on our day at today’s (Monday’s) stage. It was amazing!! And the end of the route has the steepest grade in the entire Tour.

  4. words4jp says:

    Enjoy the race – if it rains, tough it out. Remember – it is a hell of a lot harder for them to ride in the rain than being an observer watching and they really appreciate the energy and excitement spectators bring – it is like instant speed;) (I raced a full Ironman – my entire bike and run leg was in the rain. Believe me, I really needed those spectators who braved the weather)

    • We did tough it out, through cold and rain, rain and more rain..with sunshine just at the end. There were thousands of people there and it was amazing. Blog report in a few days when I have a bit more time.


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