Sunday, July 5, 2009

Tour de France

3 July

We woke up in Marseille to a lot of noise and traffic of a city. Huge city and is very, very busy. We slipped out of the hotel and walked to the port for some café au lait and croissants. It was polluted and very industrious so we left soon thereafter.

Once on the road we got off the Highway and drove through spectacular scenery through Provence. So lush and green with the hillsides and mountains in the back ground. Still very hot but we were having a great day. Few navigational challenges, especially getting out of Marseille. We managed, Riley turned up her iPod and soon we forgot the stress.

We wanted to follow the Tour de France route but realized 186K was a long drive and would still not get us to Monaco. We redirected and got to the highway…..a total of over 20 Euro to get us through the roads and we came upon Monaco.

Stunning country nestled on the cascading slopes into the Mediterranean. The entire city/country is very hilly and all streets, eventually, end near the waterfront which has a harbor filled with million and millions in luxury yachts. And this is where we say the Tour signs…. The start of the Tour is seaside where the Grand Prix commences. The village is massive with media, vendors and the team trucks. Did not get close as they were shutting down but it was so exacting. Saw a few skinnies cruising on bikes but hard to say if the are Tour riders. The town is alive and excited. Le Tour signs and merchandise is on every corner.

We came into Monaco to get the lay of the land and then planned to drive out of the city and find accommodations. I had done some preliminary work to find the hotels booked and over double the price. We found our way to the Tourist Bureau to get the lay of the land and understand the bus schedule and ended up booking a room 3 blocks from the Tour Start. Very low end and somewhat reasonably priced but all things considered decided it was worth it. The room is tragically small and with one bed but enough blankets to make a nice bed for Riley. She is a total trooper and agreed to sleep on the floor. The hotel is basic and very old and anywhere else would not work for me, but here, for the location and to be able to walk around, well worth it. Our first room was simply but spacious with 3 twin beds but no air condition. In this heat, that was not an option, so we opted for the tiny room and comfort in temperature.

John and I were captivated with everything related to the Tour but Riley is not too excited so we are balancing our excitement and ensuring she still enjoys her time here. I am going to get up early and go for a run and check out the city waking up for the start of the Tour. I can hardly believe we are here and get to see it all. We booked for 2 nights and will see the Time Trial and then the start of stage 2 to Brignolles. We will then head out and determine where to go next. We have a list to see 1- Start 2- Time Trial 3- Start of a stage 4- Finish of a stage 5- Feed Station and 6- hang out in a bar with locals when the tour comes through. The 7th is of course the peak of a mountain stage, but we have to leave before that. Oh well, we will be back, I am sure of that already.

So the question of the hour is…..where is Lance???

4 July

Tough night for us all- too hot, too cold and finally we worked it out around 3am and fell into deep sleep. I was up at 8 and eager to see what was happening. I slipped out early in my running shoes and headed to the waterfront. It was already humming with activity and I headed for the team busses. They were just starting to unload bikes and gear so I took off and ran along the waterfront. Amazing houses, yachts and a setting that is hard to covey. Already it was over 80 and humid. I explored some more of Monaco, was tragically lost and my short run was nearly an hour. All good and I have a good lay of Monaco. Came back to a sleepy room and John and I snuck out for some café and tried again for an internet connection. We met an Aussi who lent us a great guide and we made some copies and at 10:30 came to wake up Riley, still in a dead sleep.

By 11:30 we were enjoying croissants and café and started the day. We wound our way though the cities that was rapidly filling up and were soon near the team busses. Speechless….the amount of bikes, equipment and techs was stunning. Each team has at least one massive bus and most 2 and the doors roll up to bike after bike. The TT bikes were out and getting set up. We could practically touch the bikes and I was rapidly snapping photos. I was all but drooling over the amazing bikes and the aggressive set up. The Specialized bikes do not have a stem so the riders are so low it is amazing. All have discs and some are colorful and stunning. Checked out the Kuota’s, all are Queen K’s. So many more. The techs are working and some of the riders were spinning on the trainer. No one we knew but they all look skinny and fast. Biggest crows around Astana and Confides. As we pass Robobank a rider cruised in with and hopped off his bike. He took a sip of his bottle, waived to Riley and tossed her the bottle. We learned coming in that the coveted tour souvenir is a rider’s bottle. Well, day 1 and she has one. I’m going to have to wait or possible pimp Riley out to get me one.

We came back for a respite from the heat and soon hear cars and booming voices over the mic’s in French. We ran down our street to see the Caravan which drives the course and tosses out schwag. We missed a lot so ran down a few blocks and were soon in the thick of it all. 5 people deep yelling and reaching for the goods that were thrown. There was water and cycling hats, t shirts and some jerseys. We screaming and in it all. I ran down a bit to get a jersey and snagged one! Amazing how caught up you can get so quickly. The energy is tremendous and people are so excited. Lots of yellow Tour Gear all over and people wearing anything they find.

We left soon thereafter for the start. It was so amazing…we walked right to the start and were able to stand on a wall and see them line up and then roll into the booth for the start. One guy counts on his fingers 3,2,1 in front of the rider and they are off. We waited until Lance took off, #18 of 180, seated by last year’s tour. So Sastre was last, preceded by Evans, Contador and Cancellara. After Lance took off we ran up to the 3K mark, the TT was only 15K. We missed Lance but saw many others and then headed back to see more of the starts with fewer crowds. John took off toward the Team busses and phoned to say Lance was giving an interview right in front of Liquigas. We tried to run over but did not make it; he had jumped in a car and was off. We spent the next hour watching riders cool down, warm up….the 1st rider went off at 4pm and the last at 7:09 and the TT only took 20-22 minutes. So riders were starting and finishing for a few hours. We saw Levi warming down and waited to see Contadar warming up.

The one resounding factor of these guys is they are tiny and have zero body fat. Bulging veins in their arms, neck and if a shaved head in their necks. The sleeves on the jersey, probably size small, are loose on their skinny arms. All the mass is in their legs.

The bikes are stacked so deep it is hard to not drool and look at them. Each TT rider had a car with 3+ bikes, full carbon wheels chasing them. Oh to have a ride on one of them!!! The technology is top notch. When the TT was over the techies took the bike apart and spray washed the wheels, pressure dry, soaped and washed the frame and pressured dried and they were meticulous. The bikes went back in the truck nearly new again.

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