Today the ‘other’ Tour had a day off. But not me! My mission was to find a wireless broadband card so that I didn’t have to pray that there was an open access point, and also make my way to the huge Col de Madeleine, which is the last climb of tomorrow’s stage, stage 9.
I spent the night in a rest stop just outside of Morzine. I woke up and as I drove out to the next stage I could see a lot of the pro teams out on their training rides. Apparently they try and ride for 2 or 3 hours just so their body doesn’t shut down. I can only dream about how good of shape someone must be in where a 3 hour ride is a ‘recovery ride’. It was so cool to seem them all kitted out. There were also a bunch of recreational riders tagging along behind them. Next rest day I am definitely going to try and ride with the pros – what other sport can you do something like that?
I stopped in the town of Cluses, which was beautiful, and managed to get a wireless broadband card.
From there I made my way to the Col de Madeline. This thing is a monster – 22 kilometers of switchbacks, that is like 14 miles of climbing. It was officially a two lane road, but each lane was almost the size of a bike lane. I had the van in second gear the entire way up, and often times I’d have to back up for several hundred yards if another car was coming my way to find a place where they could pass. I am definitely getting my stick shift black belt.
A big climb for me is 3 miles, but this is like nothing I’ve ever seen. The drop offs were so steep that I had constantly had this fear I was going to drop off. The mountains are so tall and so grand it felt like I was driving on the moon or in the heavens. And the ENTIRE 22 kilometers up every spare space of roadside was covered with parked cars and campervans. This isn’t even a main stage and people must have gotten here days in advance to get their space. I had to drive up the entire thing and then 3 miles down the backside before I could find a spot, and I only found one because a kindly French guy directed me up a hairy side road that led to a bit of a clearing. Here are a few pictures of the climb and my spot. You can see how many camper vans there are everywhere. How cool would it be if cycling was this big in the US?
I got settled around 8 pm and decided to stretch my legs for a ride. I did the 3 mile climb up, to the top, then descended 3 miles to figure out a good place to run, and then climbed three miles. Even the day before everyone was cheering for me as I road. It is a total party on the roadside, basically the equivalent to a football game tailgate on the side of a mountain. Everyone was drinking and hanging out and painting the road.
One particularly interesting scene was of a mannequin with an interesting choice of clothing. I had to stop and get a photo. The mannequin owners were a group of 10 Italian guys who clearly had been drinking the vino all day. They introduced me to their plastic friend, whose name is “Andro”. They also showed me this poster of them with Andro at various bike races and other social settings. Wow.
So they let me take a picture with Andro, but only if I agreed to drink a small cup of wine. I can’t turn down Italian wine, and Clean Bottle had been looking for a good mannequin to sponsor so I had to oblige. Those Italians are crafty though, because after I drank the cup of wine they gave me a huge wine glass FULL of wine as you can see here:
I had just turned around, which meant I had 3 miles to climb before the top. I was faced with a choice: accept the challenge and drink the wine or back down and have a sober climb up the mountain. In one motion I grabbed the glass, chugged the wine, wiped my lips and handed it back to them. They were left speechless and then started clapping. I even thing Andro smiled at me. I got on the bike and the Italians handed me a Salami sandwich so I could ‘survive the climb’ they said. They gave me a good push up the hill and off I went, my pride and the honor of the USA and Clean Bottle intact.
The first 500 yards of the climb were great. I even thought Tom Simpson may have been on to something when he used Cognac as a performance enhancer. The rest of the journey was a little bit rougher. But I was buoyed by the cheers of the fans as I summited the final three miles of my own personal Tour de Vin, although I am fairly certain the Italians spiked the wine with Absinthe because toward the top a lady in a Porsche drove by and yelled to me in full German Dominatrix voice “I like your ass”. No way that happens in real life.
In all seriousness, it wasn’t that bad. I think I was just so amazed by the incredible scenery and the surrealness of it all. I have so much more respect for the pros that do this. They probably will have ridden 60 miles of climbing before they even hit this mountain, then to climb 14 miles and then do a 14 mile descent all out on tiny roads while they are probably cross eyed from the heat and exertion. Unbelievable.
Next day is stage 3. Wish me luck!