Our day at le Tour de France - Alpe d'Huez
The thrill of the race, the excitement of the caravan, the heat of the day, the walking up the mountain, the crazy mad spectators - this was a day to be remembered, and perhaps never again repeated! Certainly a special stage of the Tour, especially this year as it was the last stage before the final day in Paris. So this was the stage that could make or break it for the yellow jersey holder Chris Froome for Sky team. He had to hold onto his lead, which had been belittled slightly yesterday, the stage Alex watched up on Col du Croix-de-fer. Quintana could have taken the tour from Froome, if Froome had had a bad stage. But he didn't.
We always knew that today was about the Tour from the beginning to the end. It was planned that way. Our accommodation which took many many hours to find was all we could get even planning this back in March. People plan to come to the Tour de France, and especially this Alpe d'Huez (as I said, it's a special stage of the race - always is!) a year in advance and so there was absolutely nothing available on the mountain itself unless you wanted to pay 1000E a night. Truly. People go mad over this stage, as we were about to find out today in stark reality. We are so grateful to be this bit further away and in this town of Les Deux Alpes. There was no traffic jam as we headed home afterwards on this road heading this direction. But you should've seen the traffic headed for Grenoble. Oh my.
So we got up early (with the alarm mind you!), had a quick breakfast, had to basically drag Johanna out of her couch, a quick stop in at the Carrefour (Supermarche) for some supplies for our day and off to join the millions on the mountain.
As we were driving down from our mountain city, Les Deux Alpes, our brakes were making a heinous noise. That was a worry. We prayed for safety once more. There's obviously something wrong with our brakes and they need fixing urgently....
Bourg d'Oisans was as busy as you could ever imagine. Already at 8.00 in the morning the cars were parked along the highway and people were preparing to bike/walk up the mountain - crowds of people had already started walking up.
Our focus right now though was the car. It needs some urgent attention. We drove around through the traffic jams trying to find a garage. Eventually we stopped as we found a small car park right on a corner, so we parked there and asked a local about thee garages here. There is one, but of course, of course!!!! it's not open today.... oh.
So there's nothing we can do about the car today. We may as well just go and enjoy watching the Tour.
Of we start then, with all our bags, everything we might need for our day on the mountain. Join in the throngs. Past all the gendarmarie (never seen so many, even in Paris) and all the barriers. Past all the sellers of tour junk. Can see all the yobbos starting to appear. Past all the slower walkers. They had us being herded like cattle win only a small area guarded with barriers to walk in for quite a few kilometres. Uphilll - very steep. Loads and loads, thousands even, of cyclists cycling up the mountain. I know, just KNOW, that Alex wants to be cycling. But he's walking to be with us! Such sacrifices. He wants to bike up Alpe d'Huez, so seeing as he's not doing it today, he'll have to do it in the next day or two. It should've been today though. So many of them are. Even really little children on tiny race bikes. Other children (10-12 years old) are just on mountain bikes. There's mothers and fathers with children on the back of their bikes in bike seats. There's old people, really old people, on bikes. People of all sizes and shapes, on ordinary bikes. I look on with wonder and amazement. I can't imagine myself in their position. I would die. Literally die. And there's the rest of us, all walking up.... people pushing prams, people with canes and walking sticks all walking up this mountain in order to see the cyclists zoom past at incredible speeds. There's something about this mountain obviously!
We've never been in a sporting event like it. And probably never will again. We walk up quite a way, climbing steeply enjoying the views of the valley as we go. It's still only about 9am now and hard to believe how many people are already up here, considering the cyclists are scheduled to be zooming past around 4.00 this afternoon. There are 21 hairpin bends on this mountain road, about 14km of painful uphill. We always knew we weren't climbing to the top, Alex said just a few km up. So we stopped at hairpin no.15 (which means we had climbed 7 of the corners as they count backwards) which a. had shade (essential in this heat) b. had a good view of the cyclists coming up the road, turning on the hairpin and and going up c. had a wall we could sit on. Perfect. So here we are, 9.30am settled in for the long haul, the long wait for a glimpse of some lycra clad lads.
As it turned out, we had plenty of entertainment. Firstly, it was the americans across the road. They were in a campervan, bikini clad and liked dancing. Firstly to their music they had blasting. Secondly even without their music. They were funny. We thought. Little did we know what was to come.
Yobbos. French ones. That's what they were. They started to appear on 'our corner'. We also had a big group of Australians sporting yellow banana outfits and australian flags. (We did feel like the little NZ cousins - I had a NZ cap on and that was all to indicate we were from NZ - and we were quiet - and trying not to be noticed unlike the ozzies). There were two groups of french spectators that really wanted to stand out and get the party rolling. Both had had a bit too much to drink I think. The green tshirt brigade had a leader (don't all gangs?) - he was hilarious to watch. Definitely entertaining. As the myriads of cyclists came past cycling up either to the top to the finish line or to another corner further up, he would run beside them, push them and yell "O, S" (that's what it sounded like - it must be a word, although for the life of me I don't know what it is. Hope it's not a rude word.) His group sported two portable picnic tables, lots of beer and a trumpet which no-one knew how to play properly. It was just to make noise. There was sure plenty of that!
The other group of yobbos had a drum and a megaphone, and all were dressed up - some as Asterisk, Wally, a nun etc. The antics they got up to! The whole day they were trying to get all of us 'normal' spectators to do mexican waves, do the makarena and other stuff. Their leader found out we were Kiwi and came over trying to convince us to show him the Haka. Alex wasn't interested at all! He's not a showman and certainly not in front of all those crowds on corner 15. Johanna was finding this all quite astonishing. I don't think she's ever seen people behaving like this. She'd hide herself in embarrassment under her scarf! We saw people of all nationalities on the mountain, either on our corner or travelling past us. We even saw a couple of young men sporting the NZ flags, although we saw them too late to acknowledge them. But the Asterisk men were giving them heaps about being from NZ. It was really funny.
Of course, as with all drunks, they just got worse and worse until by the time the caravan came past after lunch, the Asterisk men were now just wearing man-bikinis. Oh dear. Thankfully by this time we had bought a tour umbrella and Johanna had it up to cover her eyes. Disgusting!!! Their behaviour just got so depraved. Anyway, the caravan was exactly what Alex said it was yesterday, gaudy, and they were throwing cheap little plastic junk at us. Everyone was scrambling for the prizes as though they were something special to scramble for! The only things worthwhile getting were some t-shirts which we didn't manage to score, and some cycling caps which we did score on. They'll be cool to bring back home. Oh, and I had got a cold overnight somehow, must be getting tired. So added to the noise of all the entertainment, the caravan, the horns, the motorcycles tooting andthe yobbos was my many hours of sneezing. Didn't seem to make any difference. It was already noisy so who would've noticed!
Finally, the cyclists! What we've been waiting for all this time.... they arrive surrounded by lots of motorcycles with cameras, gendarmarie on motorcycles and team cars. The crowd literally goes wild! It's sooooo loud and crazy. Amazing to be there. These cyclists are flying past even up this steep incline. Impressive. Alex said their average speed for the entire race which was 110km (a short distance for the Tour) of steep up and down hills was 33kmph. They must have been hoofing the downhills! There were several break aways, and we saw Chris Froome in the yellow jersey surrounded by lots of other cyclists in the peloton. Then other small breakaways from the slower peloton came past, then the slower peloton with the sprinters in it, those who would've been winning the sprint stages and the sprinters jersey, then a couple of stragglers.
Before you know it, they're gone just like that. All the noise, the motorcycles, the team cars.... gone! And we've packed up our stuff in a matter of seconds and starting the long walk back down to our car. So quick. Just like that it's over and we're going home. How fleeting the joys of life are! How fleeting life is actually....
The rest is history so they say. Drive back up to Les Deux Alpes, don't use the brakes! Home, dinner, bed. Alex tries to work, but is too tired. He has some urgent work to get done, but oh well, tomorrow is another day. We need to find another night of accommodation in Les Deux Alpes so we can get the brakes fixed on Monday before driving down again. Will let you know how we get on tomorrow! xo