19/7/10: Last night after I had written the blog we went into town and bumped into the Rabobank mechanics who were cleaning and servicing the team bikes in the street for everyone to see. It was fascinating to see inside the team bus where there must have been about £350,000 of bikes and wheels-we did the sums! They were cleaning them to the point of being spotless and had special stands for cleaning them that rotated in all directions. We started to day by heading straight into town (Pamiers) to see the start of todays' tour de france stage. We wondered around town for a while and picked up a few freebies before deciding we would wait 2 more hours until the riders arrived but would cycle along the road for a while and see them when they overtook us. Due to the barriers not being fully up at one road end we ended up on the wrong side of a barrier and soon had an angry gendarme shouting at us. He seemed to be incredibly angry considering the race didn't start for another 2 hours and there were people walking in the road anyway. I asked if I could possibly push across the road to get through a gap about 15m away on the other side instead of going back 1/2 a mile to the point I entered. He refused point blank and said I couldn't go back either. I replied with 'well what can I do' to which he proceeded to push me backwards quite hard! I was a little surprised by his manhandling as I felt I had been compltely polite throughout. He told me I would have to lift my bike over the barrier. Bearing in mind it weighs a huge amount with all the panniers on I asked him if I could move one barrier a little bit to create a gap and not have to lift it. He didn't seem to like this either, so fearing arrest I got Alex to help me lift it over along with his. We eventually managed to get out of town via a small, unclosed road. As we cycled out we met all 21 team buses coming into town with all the riders on board! We spent an good 20mins oggling at their bikes while all the team support cars slowly came past in the traffic jam of cars waiting to enter town. Most impressive was Lance Armstrongs' Trek Madone with the special paintjob and Andy Shlecks' truly bizarre Specialized Tarmac with weird writing all over it. It was funny to see how the teams obviously co,pete with their team coaches too-the high budget teams with darkened windowed coaches like the Saxobank one and the smaller budget teams with what look like school buses.
We cycled a way out of town and saw the tour 5km into the stage, it was fantastic and they were already moving so fast. It's amazing how into thw Tour the french are. We saw it at a small junction in the road and at least 250 people were there to watch. We then followed their exact route for the rest of the day uo unil the summit of the Col de Port D'Aspet where there is a campsite at the top. Along the way every single French group of people by the side of the road cracked the same joke 'Allez, ils sont deja passes' To the extent that it becme funny again after the 50th time.
We had a late lunch at 3pm as all shops had closed for the tour coming through. After lunch we climbed up out of St.Girons to the top of the Col to the camspite. It wasn't too big by alpine standards but still must have been double any climb in Yorkshire, so Alex was impressed! Total mileage today was 57.07 miles.
20/7/10: We started the day with a 6 miles descent from the campsite into the valley floor. It was a great way to wake up, but did mean we immediately went from 1400m down to 600m. The moment we hit the bottom the road began to rise for the Col de Mente. We chipped away at this for a good hour and a half and then enjoyed another 6 mile descent into St. Beat. We had only had 2 Lion bars for breakfast as the campsite sold nothing else and we didn't pass any shops. We bought plenty of food from a supermarket and had lunch next to a woman who was sculpting huge statues from rock. We were a bit surprised to see she wasn't wearing a mask despite creating huge amounts of dust with her powertools that she seemed to be inhaling! We stopped at a bike shop to pump Alex's tyre up a bit more, and despite having closed for lunch, the man who owned the place went inside and got us his pump. The road then lead along the valley floor to the start of the Port de Bales (a climb the tour did the day before.) We did some shifting of baggage to help on the climbs as Alex weighs a fair bit more than me, more the 'Chris Hoy' type in his own words so does struggle on the climbs but doesn't on the flats! We ground away to the top and met 2 English men on the way up who had ridden the Etape two days before up the Tourmalet (an enormous bike ride following a Tour stage on closed roads but anyone can enter.) They warned us of the difficulties of seeing the tour there as people camp up to a week in advance on the mountain to see it. From the top we planned to follow a small track that turned into a road after about 2 miles and dropped down into a town called Cadeac. However, this track was on my map but in reality was a small footpath! Having cycled a further 200m higher to reach this path this was a little annoying. We could have descended on it, and were keen to test out the ofroad abilities of our Tricross bikes but spotted a mountain we had to push the bikes over to then get down. It was about 7pm by this point and we had no food or a place to stay. Alex was pretty tired after the first 2 cols and didn't fancy another, and I didn't really fancy pushing my bike up a footpath either. We returned to the road and cycled 10 miles downhill in about 20mins into Luchon where Alex and I finally enjoyed the reward for our climbing efforts! We found a campsite and had a pizza for our efforts. As a result of this and not being as far ahead as I had hoped we are going to head out of the Pyrenees tomorrow and miss out the Col D'Aspin and the tourmalet. It's a shame not to do this famous climb, but we just have to change the route if we want to arrive in La Rochelle for the 28th. Instead we hope to go around the Tourmalet and see the tour set off from Pau on the same day. Total mileage today was 56.38 miles.