Days 2-4: The rest of the 2011 Tour. Well…Almost.
The last couple days have fallen through my tight grasp. They are spun into my history now and somewhat unbelievable to recall.
So I finally did arrive to Bardonecchia, Italy on Thursday night after a very weary TGV ride and a thrifty 100 euro taxi from Modane to my destination (missed the last few euro bus by about six minutes). I went through the newly completed Frejus Tunnel– a hinge between France an Italy, it is a phenomenal 13k structure inside the Alpes. We sat down to eat with the team and staff at about 10 pm or maybe later. That has been a theme every night since. Even at these seemingly simple mountain conference style hotels, the food was more than solid. It hit the spot.
The next day we traveled back to Modane for the start of possibly the most famous climb in France: Alpe d’Huez. I was shocked when JV wanted me to ride passenger (with a mechanic in the back, of course, thank God). He and I both knew my terrible relationship with car sickness. Even if it seldom led to, well, ‘sickness’ per se, my body often escaped queeziness by immediately shutting down and invoking sleep. He looked like a kid who just finished learned to ride a bike for the first time, so eager he was–no, so proud–to show me what he does ‘out there’ and on one of the most memorable routes. I couldn’t say no. I was determined to overcome this character flaw.
Within minutes out of town, my eyes began to droop. Damnit! Stop! I cracked a window for fresh air. Ah crap… the bobblehead began. I kept catching myself dozing off, not twenty minutes in the stage. We began the first of three climbs up the Col du Telegraph, named appropriately for its evident use of telegraphs back in the day. It was then that I began to grow alert. Some of our guys were getting up in the breakaway, and we needed to keep up.
Weaving in and out of cars as we trudged up those climbs was an art form. We could never pass the race organizers without a permissable nod, making it a real game of give and take with all the other teams who were trying to get to their men. On the descent, we whizzed down and reminded the boys to eat up, as it is easy to forget as the stage unravels.
The next climb was possibly more daunting to the eye then Alpe d’Huez in hindsight. One switch back after the next, we climbed up the fatal face of Col du Galibier. To my right was a set of mountains that mimicked the ragged ‘teeth-like’ points of the Dentilles in the Rhone. Though the side we climbed was quite barren and sunburned, the back side of the descent was one of the most gorgeous clips of pure poetry I have ever witnessed. The mountains were dripping with wildflowers in full bloom as hundreds of sheep in the distance munched on tall, windswept grass; snow still capped a few naked mountain tops, and waterfalls creeped out in cracks and crannies. It was majestic. It was…
At this point, I realized we were whippin’ down this sensational mountain at about 85k. We were trying to make our way to our tired men with goo and water. Near brushing other cyclists and team cars, we would hover alongside their weary bodies and hand off fuel, zipping ahead to make way for the next car’s duty, all the while taking sharp turns and staying clear of riders. It was a thrill. At one point, I glanced again and the odometer read 100k. No longer was carsickness even on the horizon. Adrenaline had killed it completely. Turns out, I need to constantly watch my life pass before my eyes, and my stomache has other things to worry about than being uneasy.
The stretch of land before the feared Alpe d’Huez was a continuation of wonder. Here, more water fell from the rocks endlessly. The boys were working hard to keep up with the front–to break the time gap and join their club. Tommy D was fueling. Ryder was loading up. Christian was keeping steady and focused. These three knew it was up to them to preserve their top 10 GC spot as well as their #1 team classification.
The march up Alpe d’Huez was narrow. Crowds were screaming the entire 14k to the top. I have never seen so many men in speedos. In all my time living in New York City, I never saw so much public urination as I did that day. One guy wore a slingshot thong. Another actually walked around erect—and fully exposed. These people were nuts. They were drunk. Running out across the path with a death wish. As I worried for the small children in oversized jerseys on their dad’s shoulders, watching not only the epic race but indecent half monkeys running wild, I was more concerned that with 4k to go the road competely closed up. What was going through these peoples’ heads?! Move!!! We had to actually stop. Finally they cleared and we progressed. I am not sure how many feet we ran over that day, but I realize now I feel not one ounce of pity. This was madness.
Tommy gained so much ground on this climb. He deserved to be top 10. As JV said, there is a huge difference between 15th and top 10. They are reserved for the psychologically determined. The strongest mentally to withstand the endurance and pure anguish of this three week race. You have to dig deep and pull it out not just one stage, but each and every without relent.
It was as amazing as you could imagine. We walked that alpine village that evening recounting just how hard those guys worked. They earned what was coming on this final day…today. The time trial sealed the deal, as they maintained their positions.
Today, as I get ready to watch the race roll in from the Embassy, bubbles in hand, I am so proud of Garmin-Cervelo for meeting all their goals this tour (winning team classification, winning the TTT, having a guy in the top 10) and even surpassing some that were not necessarily intended (holding the yellow jersey as long as they did, or even at all). To share in this moment is an honor. It is somehow something more than history. It’s unreal.
Go Team Garmin as you bring it into Paris and drink Champagne on the Champs-Elysees!