Monday, 23rd July, 2007
On Monday, the Tour de France was coming close to us. Audrey, Paul and Greg set off mid morning. Monica and I followed a little later. The tour was finishing in Loudenvielle, which is where Audrey, Paul and Greg managed to stop. We couldn't go that way, and so parked on the route itself and walked up toward the Col de Peyresourde
On the way to our destination, we drove over the Col d'Aspin. Lots of cyclists were heading our way, and they, like us, stopped on the Col to admire the view. A herd of cows had the same idea, and one cow took objection to the people milling about, nudging them gently as if to say 'go away'. This wouldn't have been a problem except for the big horns!
We found a spot by the roadside, about 1km short of the Col de Peyresourde and settled in for the duration.
It was a bit of a wait, we were there for some ours (during which time Paul and Greg cycled past, went down the other side of the Col, then climbed it again to pass us going the other way.
Eventually, direct evidence of the Tour started to appear.
The first thing to appear is the convoy, essentially these are vehicles from the sponsors (and there are a lot of them!) As they go past, they'll often throw out 'goodies' - mostly junk though. Unfortunately, Haribo didn't see fit to send anything our way - though we did get a hat from Sköda!
As we were standing on the edge of a steep slope, several items went straight over the edge, we recovered most of them, but had to leave some - it was a very precarious operation!
We waited a little longer, and then we began to see the helicopters tracking the Tour - finally the riders began to appear.
As we were on a downhill stretch, these guys were really shifting.
At one point, the TV helicopter hovered next to us, with nobody near us, and no cyclists passing at that point, I wonder if we got on TV?
We didn't see one big peloton, instead, we had several mini-peloton (for want of a better term) - we were at the end of a stage with several big climbs, and the riders had been spread out.
At the end, we stopped for a drink and a small bite in the restaurant 3km from the Col, we couldn't drive off as all the amateur cyclists were tanking it down the slope, confident that the road was still closed. Eventually, the road opened and we drove back. The cloud cover had lowered though, which made the drive a little more difficult.
Col d'Aspin was just below the cloud layer, but Tourmalet was most definitely above it. As we climbed the mountain, we passed through cloud. Driving through La Mongie was particularly difficult as the road is wide at that point, with no road markings - and so you just have to go slow until you see something through the mist which you can then follow to the narrow road continuing upwards.
Breaking through the clouds was most welcome, it was a tiring drive due to the concentration required. We found a safe place to stop and watched the clouds moving about in the valley (unlike another car, which stopped on a blind bend as the cloud level raised further).
We didn't stay long, as the clouds were moving higher, and we didn't want to lose the good visibility just yet.
We stopped again at the top of the Col du Tourmalet, and got some fantastic views of the clouds in our valley. The clouds filled the valley almost as foam fills a bubblebath - it really was magical. There was hardly anyone else there, though a support vehicle from the Tour did stop to admire the view. One of their number got caught short, and decided to relieve himself. He didn't take into account the strong wind on the Tourmalet and made himself a little wet - to the amusement of everyone about, and his embarrassment.
Decending, we stopped in a restaurant called Auberge La Couquelle, above Barèges, where we were joined by the other three guys. It was a nice little place - in the cloud when we arrived, but under the cloud when we left. Good food. It was warm in there, the place would be a good place to eat in the winter. It was situated close to the base of the ski lift.
It was a good day. I wouldn't want to see the Tour too often - lots of hanging about - but I'd certainly consider going again if there was a nice spot to watch it from.