Tuesday, August 21, 2007


I love racing 1/2 Ironmans. The distance is very challenging yet you can still have a busy life outside of the training for it. I have raced most of the big 1/2 IM races in the nation throughout the past 10 years, and one that still was on my to do list was Timberman in New Hampshire. I had heard nothing but great things about this race and mid July I was fortunate enough to weasel my way in (race registration had filled in February due to the popularity of this race). I left Monroe at 3:30pm on Friday evening so that I could volunteer at the sprint race on Saturday morning. Leaving at this time was a big mistake! I first hit traffic in Waterbury, then in Hartford, then on the Mass Pike, then the worst of it was from Mass up into NH on rt. 93. It took me over 6 hours to get there. Lisa and the kids stayed home and Mars (or Baker) couldn't make the trip, so I was riding solo.

When I was 5 or 6 years old, my father took a position with a company that relocated us up in Amherst, NH. We were there for less than a year, and I had been back to NH once since, at a race on Lake Sunapee in the mid 90's. Timberman takes place on the huge Lake Winnapasakee, which is beautiful and surrounded by hills. It's a shame that they had to taint this beauty with every fast food joint you could think of along with Walmart, Home Depot, and little strip malls. I, at the last minute, was able to get vacancy at the Landmark Inn in Laconia and upon arrival, I was glad that Lisa, although she's no prima-donna, opted to stay home.

My preparation for this race was less than adequate. I like to keep myself fit enough to jump into races when possible, but this isn't always a good thing. I had swam once since Lake Placid camp in June and my running was not up to par. I had not run while in France and then I didn't do enough specific bricks before or after France and it showed on race day. On top of that, I was feeling run down during the week leading into this race and didn't do any training on Wed, Thu, or Fri. Saturday, I awoke early and did body marking and then worked the bike mount and dismount line at the sprint race. It was cold Saturday! The wind was blowing and there were white caps on the lake. After the sprint race, I did all the day before stuff like cleaning and setting up my bike, picking up registration packet, going for an easy 30 minute ride and an easy 20 minute run... Dinner that night was my traditional pizza and a pint of Guinness and I was in bed early.

Despite being nervous (this was my first race since Hawaii last year and I felt less than prepared), I slept well. The drive up to the race site was long with a traffic jam from all the other racers, and this just sucked. I have mentioned before about how the worst part of race day for me is the 90 minutes before the race begins. I just want to get started and get moving and the anticipation and nerves can hang on you. Sitting in traffic during this just makes it that much worse. It was cold out, in the low 50's, but the sun was up.

The Swim: bottom line - I sucked. I had no feel for the water and just envisioned a rope running parallel to my torso that I'd grab and pull myself forward on with each stroke. I counted 100 strokes with my left arm, then 100 strokes with my right. I estimated that this was equal to 500 meters (the 200 strokes), and repeated this counting drill for four cycles and I was close to the swim finish. I swore during this swim that I'd quite the bullshit and making up excuses and get myself to the pool at least once or twice a week, every week throughout the year. I was depressed as I exited the water and saw that the swim took me 30 minutes and 30 seconds. Typically, I swim 1.2 miles in a race in 27 minutes so I was angry with myself and my laziness in swim training. The positives from this swim were that I found open water immediately. I was in the second wave, behind the pro men and women wave. I was in a new "Elite Amateurs" division and there were maybe only 30 of us in this wave, so it meant very little contact during the swim and the bike would be very clean. Also, I loved my new Nineteen wetsuit. I know - they sponsor me so I'm supposed to say that but here's the deal: Anyone that knows me knows that I don't plug things shamelessly. The neck line is wiiiiiiide and I had no chafing issues whatsoever. I usually hate full sleeve wetsuits and this one did bother me a bit but the least of any I have worn. I still don't know if I'm a huge fan of sleeves on wetsuits (or sleeves in general), but these were the least restricting. Finally, Nineteen and QR are the only two companies that use 5mm thick neoprene in there legs and it shows - the lower body buoyancy is amazing!

The Bike: I exited the transition area to see Chris Thomas right in front of me. I yelled some words of encouragement or profanity or something at him and forged ahead. The first 12 miles of this out and back course roll up hill. I had a wattage game plan to ride the hills at 350 and the flats at 300 and at any speed above 30 mph, I'd coast or soft pedal and save my legs. I felt pretty good and stayed controlled. There were a couple of young guys who I went by early on and they didn't like that so they would blast by me soon afterwards. I kept to my game plan and would recatch them and we played this cat and mouse game for 10 miles. Usually I'd get them at the top of a hill since they'd blast the lower part of the hill and then run out of gas, only to repeat this at the next hill. At the 20 mile mark, they fell off pace. I saw Bjorn Anderson coming back on his return trip with a huge lead over Simon Lessing who was in second. There was a strong head wind on the return trip and I still felt strong although I felt as though I was lacking that extra punch that you get after racing a few times in the season. That oomph that you only get from racing. The nice thing about this smaller wave that I was in was that it made for a very clean race. I carried two bottles with me on the bike - one with calories and one with electrolyte drink. This carried me to the two hour mark and I grabbed a gatorade at the last aid station, but that was the only aid station I grabbed something at on the bike. I rolled into T2 feeling pretty good about the time I had made up on the bike from my poor swim.

The Run: What was interesting was that I didn't feel that cold on the bike except for my feet. In hindsight, I should have put socks on for the ride. As I left T2, my toes were numb and especially on my left foot. My low back was tight as well and I was running, yet felt sluggish. I tried to keep my stride shorter and quicker and not force things, hoping that I'd loosen up by mile three or four. Well, mile six came and went and I was getting ready to begin my second run loop and I still had numb left toes and felt stiff. Right at this time, another elite male, Desiree Ficker, and Kate Major came up on me. Desiree and Kate were having quite the battle for first place on this day. The elite male and Desiree moved by quickly and I locked onto Kate. I stayed focused on her back through mile 7 and started to loosen up. By 7.5 miles, I was finally running and feeling good. I moved by Kate and told her to stay on me and that we were going to reel in Desiree. At mile 8, I could hear Kate breathing hard and told her to hang in there, we were making up time. I was running strong now and was excited yet questioning why it took 6.5 miles to loosen up. Kate fell off pace and i soldiered onwards. I caught the elite male who had passed me earlier at the 11 mile mark and ran right off his shoulder until the last 1/4 mile, where I made my move and surged to the finish line. I had negative split the run by almost 5 minutes.

At the finish line, I felt good. I used primarily coke, gatorade and water on the run and one gel packet and this worked well. Kate Major finished up and we ended up talking for 30 minutes or so. She is a really interesting and genuinely nice person. I'll have to root for her now at Hawaii this year.

It was great seeing a lot of familiar faces out on the course, including some of the athletes I coach. This was definitely one of the best triathlons I have ever raced. The organization was second to none. Keith Jordan and his crew do an amazing job, and all the positives that I have heard about this race were dead on. The course is terrific. It's an honest course with a diversity of good hills, scenery, shade and sun. I will come back to this race again, even if it is a big pain in the ass to get to. I'm encouraged now to get my swimming and running up to where they should be and even further by November.



Saturday, August 11, 2007

That's a wrap.

I feel that I've experienced some pretty cool things in my 40 years on this planet thus far. I try to put myself out there - in situations that are fulfilling and satisfying so that I don't have the "what if's" and "coulda shoulda's". Lisa realizes this and gave me such an unbelievable gift in this Tour trip. The fact that she enjoyed it as much as I did made it even that much better. I knew she would enjoy France and that her main concern was that I was happy with the trip. I'm not really into guided tour-type trips and this was a concern of hers. I think the perma-grin on my face out there was enough to give her confidence that I was more than pleased with the trip. Lisa loved France - the countryside, the villages, the shopping, the food and wine! But she also really got into the race! As Scooter put it, Lisa is definitely up for wife of the year.

France was really interesting. I always loved the little bike race there, and was fond of the food and wine myself, but was never really fond of France as a country before visiting. I was on a different page with them politically, and had heard that the French were snobby and rude. However Lisa and I found just the opposite with the people. The French in the south of France and Bordeaux could not have been more friendly. Not just the ones receiving gratuity but every French person we encountered seemed up, positive, and friendly. One of many occasions I remember quite well was the day I did the three big climbs solo. The staff had me nervous that I may get lost. I could understand knowing a lot of peoples sense of direction including some on my camp staff!!! Yet the route was very easy. In any case, I was rolling through some small village and there was a runner on the road. Nervous that I may be off route, I slowed up and began the conversation with what I always began my French conversations with; "Bonjour, Parlee vous English?" The man replied "non", so I just shouted "Col D'Aspin?" and pointed straight ahead to which he emphatically responded "OUI, OUI, OUI!!!" as he jabbed both hands forward pointing the way. He then yelled back "Tourmalet?", and I said "Oui!" which made him more genuinely excited and he shouted out a lot of French after this which seemed nice and encouraging. He could have also called me a dumb ass, but it sounded cool.

My parents came by our house the week after we returned to see pictures and hear some stories. They are interested in planning a trip to Italy and maybe France. My mother was asking Lisa how I did with the tour aspect of it (not The Tour De France, but the tour group). My father said that like me, he's not a big fan of guided tours and would plan his own itinerary. However, I have to say that if you find the right tour, this is the way to go. The places we stayed were incredible and had we tried to do this ourselves, we would have stayed probably in places that the Tour directly passes through. Nothing wrong with this but they weren't nearly as great as the places we visited and stayed at. If experts know the cool places to go, and provide you a bit of freedom to explore on your own, than you'll see and learn much more about the visiting area.

I will definitely do this trip again someday. I promised Ryan that when he turns 13, I'll take him on it and we can ride together. He holds me to this promise every day.

Thanks Lisa!



Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Leaving St. Emillion was tough. That place, the town, the whole atmosphere there was really something. We'll get back there someday.

Saturday was going to be another very busy day, and we weren't even riding. We left on the bus around 8am and headed towards Angoulame and the start village for Saturdays stage, the time trial. I was particularly excited about this since I love the time trials, and we had special access to the riders area before the start. The access we had was incredible. We were able to walk right up to all the team buses where the mechanics were setting up the riders bikes, and where the riders were warming up on turbotrainers. I had my picture taken with Thor Hushovd who is the big sprinter in the peloton. He looks quite big when watching the tour on TV, yet he came up to maybe my nose, and his shoulders were narrow. I was really amazed at how small all these guys are. George Hincapie, who they call Big George is tall at maybe 6'2" but is a stick. Levi Leipheimer is maybe 5'5" - maybe! Alberto Contador weighs probably about 125 lbs. Even Rasmussen who is incredibly skinny, yet looks tall on camera, is only about 5'10".

Being a bike tech geek, it was very cool seeing all the TT bikes up close. For all those triathletes out there that think that a slack seat tube angle gives you more power, The majority of the tour riders were set up steep. They have a UCI rule stating that if you drop a plumb line from the tip of the front of the saddle, the line must fall at least 5cm behind the center of the bottom bracket. How these guys get around this so that they can ride steeper is that many of them including probably the whole CSC team cut the nose of there saddles off! I have a picture on my camera that I'll try to post once I find the chord that allows me to download the pictures to my computer (it's MIA). I checked out Tom Boonen's new Specialized Transition. That bike, in my opinion, is very ugly aesthetically. It's a combo of a P3C and a Felt DA w/ a sloping top tube which I'm not a fan of. The new Orbea TT bike that the Euskatel Euskadi team was riding was a work of art however. I was excited to check out the new systemsix TT Cannondale that some of the Liquigas team were riding, and it didn't disappoint.

They had a section set up at the start center for sponsors where many of the tours past were wandering around like Bernard Hinault and Richard Virenque. They were serving coffee, mimosas, croissants and even making omelets.Once a few riders left, we made our way back to the bus to head over to a restaurant situated near the finish of the time trial. On the way to the bus, I ran over to a shed where there was a big yellow sign that read "Tour De France" with an arrow giving directions to the start village that is now hanging on Ryan's bedroom door. Hopefully, not too many got lost trying to find the start village! It would have been very difficult considering the noise and mass of people in site.
The restaurant where we were to view the TT riders coming through was situated in a perfect spot, at the bottom of a small hill with 4K left to go. It was right on the course and they served a nice buffet and also had a large flat screen inside showing the race. We'd watch the riders on TV, and then step outside to see them come flying by - how cool is that? The stage was an exciting one given the closeness of the first three riders in time. The contrasting styles of the riders was interesting. There were many, including Contador, who kept a very high cadence a la Lance. Then there were some like Levi, the stage winner, who were pushing a bigger gear at a lower cadence. It just shows that there is no one perfect technique. Right after the last rider (Contador) came through, we dashed across the street to the train station where we caught the Bullet train up to Paris, a 2.5 hr trip.

We arrived in Paris around 8pm where we hopped on the metro, there subway system, for a short stint to the street our hotel was situated on. As we ascended the metro stairs, the first thing that came into view was the Arch D'Triumph. Being our first time in Paris, this was quite impressive. It was much bigger than I expected, situated in the middle of a rotary. Our Paris hotel viewed the Arch. It was now 9pm and Lisa and I headed out to get some dinner. We ate at a cool open restaurant near the Champs D'Eleysees and were seated in the non smoking section which was indoors but right next to the open outdoor patio. Two feet away from us outdoors sat two women smoking one cigarette after another. We had a nice meal (We have fun deciphering the French menu's and guessing at what we haveordered), then made our way over to the Arch to see if we could take the elevator to the top of it. It was after 10:30pm now though and the elevator was closed. As we stood at the Arch, we could see the Eiffel tower lit up in the distance. It had a series of strobe lights on it that were flashing rapidly at the moment. Now, we have had a long, busy day up to this point and were quite tired but we decided to walk over to the tower. Lisa was excited about going and I said let's do it, we're in Paris. We can sleep anytime, and besides, it was a gorgeous night. The tower was much further than it appeared while standing at the Arch. It took us about 45 minutes to walk there. It gave us a chance to see some more of Paris. It's really a beautiful city. The architecture is amazing and Lisa and I loved the rounded edges of the buildings at the ends of streets and the detail on these old buildings. Everything sits quite low in Paris. There is one section of the city with some skyscrapers, but very few and I'd guess that most buildings don't go over six stories. The city is quite large, area wise.

The Eiffel Tower is a tourist thing to do, but a must do. Lisa and I arrived there sometime around midnight and the elevator and stairs up it were closed, but viewing it from the ground was quite impressive. It was crowded there with tourists and vendors trying to sell you crap. We hung out for a bit and took some pictures than made the walk back to our hotel.
The next morning, we had a quick breakfast and then made our way back down to the Tower. We didn't want to leave Paris without making it to the top of the Eiffel Tower. The Tower opened at 9am and we were there by 8:50am and there was already a long waiting line. The elevator ride up was like an international convention. There were maybe 20 people piled into our elevator and maybe 6 different languages going on. Lisa is scared of heights, so this was going to be interesting. Again, going to the top of the tower is a must do. You get an amazing view of the whole city and they have a map that circumnavigates the observation deck and notifies what you are viewing. We spotted Notre Dame and The Louvre, two other places we wanted to check out before we flew home the next day (Yes, we were hitting all the tourist spots on this first trip to Paris). It was incredibly windy at the top of the tour. In fact, we later learned that they closed down the top deck around 10am because of the wind! Lisa did great though.
In the afternoon, we were to view the final stage of the Tour on the Champs D'Elysees. The riders do eight 5K laps around the champs at the end of the days stage. The Champs is a beautiful, busy cobblestoned street and they had set up guard rails blocking all access to the street. The riders weren't due to come through on their first lap until around 3pm, yet by 10am, there were fans lining the road. By 2pm, the sidewalks were stacked probably 10 people deep from the guardrails. The Custom Getaways group arranged two side by side suites situated in the middle of the Champs, six floors up. This was where we viewed the final stage from. They served hor d'ouerves and champagne and wine and had the race showing on TV's inside the suites. The balconies of the suites hung out over the Champs. We watched as the riders approached on television, then headed out on the balcony to see them race by heading up towards the Arch then making a u turn and coming back down on the first of their eight laps. Again, how cool?! The thrill and exhiliration of being at the final stage of the tour was mixed in with the sadness that this was coming to an end. It's been quite an amazing ride thus far.

When the Tour stage ended, we fought our way through huge crowds trying to get back to the hotel. The amount of people pushing and moving on the sidewalks were scary. My main concern was that Lisa didn't get trampled. We made it back and had a short time to get ready for our last dinner.
Again, it was another beautiful evening, and we all walked down to the Seine river where we boarded a large boat with tables set up for our dinner cruise! We had yet another fantastic meal. Lisa and I sat with John and Erika, two Australians that we really enjoyed getting to know on this trip, and with my boy Eric. As we ate, we floated past the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, a smaller replica of the Statue of Liberty. It was a very memorable dinner.

The boat docked and we said our goodbyes to the staff and most of the new friends we met on this experience. We met some very interesting and fun people who contributed to our incredible experience.

Our flight out on Monday wasn't until 5pm, so our focus that morning was on getting to the Louvre. After breakfast, we took a short metro ride there and waited for it to open. The Louvre is massive and the buildings are incredibly impressive. Again, there were long lines waiting to get in and I would guesstimate that 70% of those waiting were Asian. As soon as everyone enters, they make a b-line for the Mona Lisa. We did as well, but checked out a few other famous sculptures along the way. I like viewing the sculptures, but I'm not a huge fan of the era of art displayed at the Louvre.
Our flight home was uneventful, and we were both looking forward to seeing the kids and sleeping in our own bed. It was the best trip that we have been on though, without a doubt. I will write a final summary soon of my thoughts on the whole thing if anyone still reading isn't bored to death, but again, I'm journaling this trip for my own memory so I don't forget it.

Friday, August 03, 2007


After regrouping at the top of the Tourmalet, we took the sag vans down the other side to Luz A'rdidan (an amazing drive with spectacular views) for lunch, then made the long drive to Cahors. I was a bit sad leaving the Pyrenees, but was excited at the same time to see what's next. Just outside of Cahors is a small village called Mercues where our next hotel was located. Again, this hotel was a very old castle with the rooms being modernized. It was an amazing place.

Wednesday morning, we headed out on a destination ride to the town of Sellat (sp?). It was a rolling ride through very scenic country. The roads were great for riding and it was another beautiful day. About 10K in, there was a longer climb (not compared to what we climbed in the Pyrenees, but about 5 minutes) and at the top, I turned to see just Michele and one of the Florida boys, Mike. We had a fun, fast downhill then zipped along at about 40K/hr for the next 40 minutes before realizing we were lost, but Michele figured it out and took us on some cool back roads and soon we were back on course. the rest of the ride remained at a pretty good tempo.

We had Foi Gras and ducks legs for lunch, then walked around town before viewing the rest of the days stage from a small pub in the town. This was the mountain stage that Rasmussen won, only to be kicked out of the tour later in the evening by his team.

Dinner was to be on our own this evening, with a bus dropping everyone off in Cahors, but after a long, busy day, and week thus far, Lisa and I were pretty wiped and decided to stay at the hotel. In fact, we grabbed a baguette and some cheese in the town after leaving the pub, and picked up a bottle of wine from the hotels wine cellar/vineyard, and that was dinner!

Thursday was another destination ride leaving from Mercues and through rolling countryside. We were all grouped in the parking lot ready to roll out, but I was having some shifting issues with my front derailleur, so Michele stayed back with me and everyone else moved on. 15 minutes later, Michele and I headed out to try and bridge the gap up to the group. About 10 minutes in, we descended a small hill that took us onto a bridge over the river. the bridge was about 100 meters long and was made up of metal planks about 8 inches wide with a 1 inch gap between each plank. I hit the bridge first at about 35 mph and my tires popped into the small 1 inch groove and I started fishtailing all over. I regained control only to fall back into the groove again and start fishtailing some more. I still don't know how I stayed up.

We caught the group about 10K and on a long winding climb, Eric and I took off. The rest of the ride was a lot of fun - we had one descent that was a series of big s-bends - like 12 of them, and you could keep your speed up on these without breaking too much. There were sunflower fields everywhere on this ride. At the top of one climb, I turned around and the land below looked like a sea of yellow.

After the ride, we changed at the bus, had some lunch, then made our way to the finish of the days stage. We had a private viewing booth set up at the 50 meters to go mark, perfect for viewing the sprint. It was a hot day, and the booth had air conditioning down below, plus coverage up top. They also had screens to watch the race as it approached the finish. They provided us drinks and snacks including ice cream. Not a bad way to watch the tour! Lisa and I did some more shopping while waiting for the riders to come in. We picked up Ryan a full Predictor Lotto team kit, a yellow jersey and a polka dot jersey.

The sprint was great - there was a 4 man breakaway that included Jens Voight, or as the French announcer yells his name "Jensaa Voightaa!". Also in this group was Daniello Bennati who took the sprint.

We headed from here to our next host hotel in St. Emillion. St. Emillion, and the hotel there, was Lisa's favorite place. The hotel sat in the middle of the vineyards. We were still in the Bordeaux region and there were vineyards everywhere! Every vineyard was perfectly manicured, with the rows evenly parallelled and each plant looking exactly like the next. We had a great room with a balcony overlooking these vineyards.

Friday morning was our last ride of the trip. Saturday was a busy day of viewing the time trial then catching the bullet train to Paris, and then Sunday was the finish in Paris, so there was no riding scheduled over the weekend.

It was yet another perfect weather day - high 70's to low 80's and sunny. The first 40K of this ride took us through once again some beautiful country side with rolling hills, vineyards and more sunflower fields everywhere. We then rode a bike path for the next 25k that went through the vineyards. It was great - paved nicely and no cars! I was stung by a bee on my thigh, but I'm not allergic. In the final 8K, we rode through the town of St. Emillion which is all cobbled road. I don't know how the pro riders do a race like Paris Roubaix and ride cobbles for a good portion of it. After 1K on it, I could feel the shattering in my teeth!

We went into St. Emillion after the ride to get some lunch and then we went on a tour of a vineyard and did some wine tasting - good stuff! Then I packed up the bike and floated in the pool for a bit, before heading back into town for a great dinner. We entered the restaurant and were escorted through it to a courtyard in the rear that was gorgeous. The food and company were nice and Lisa and I were getting quite relaxed in St. Emillion. Tomorrow though, we were headed to Paris.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Pyrenees

After finishing up the first ride of this trip, Lisa and I packed up. We were to go down to the intermediate sprint location and view the race come through, before boarding the nice coach bus and traveling a few hours to our next host destination, a small town in the Pyrenees Mountains called Luchon.

Luchon was one of my favorite places. It’s a ski town sitting in a small valley between many mountains. It’s about 10k from the Spanish border. In fact, there was an optional second ride planned for Sunday that was a short but steep 10K climb from Luchon up a famous mountain to the Spanish border, and then descending back to Luchon. Only three of us plus Eric and Michele took this option. We arrived in Luchon around 6:30pm and headed out for the climb around 7:30pm. It was a steep climb and took me about 40 minutes to reach the peak. Michele rolled up next and took some photos of me standing with one foot in Spain and one in France. The ride back to Luchon was a blast and took only 15 minutes. The switchbacks while descending seemed much steeper than when ascending. Believe me, they were steep when climbing, but your back is turned to the drop offs and views. This climb that we just did was in many previous Tour De France races and it was cool thinking about the great cyclists who had ascended this climb in race battle. I rolled back into Luchon to find Lisa with some of the group enjoying a glass of wine on the patio of a nice restaurant. I showered quick and then joined her for dinner.

Monday’s agenda was quite busy. There were two rides planned, one longer, leaving at 8:15am and going over the new Tour climb, the Hors Category Port de Bales, then going over the Col De Pesourdes, before descending to the actual finish of the stage that day. The shorter ride was skipping the Port de Bales climb. After another late dinner and lots of vin d’rouge, I did something I don’t do that well – I slept! I awoke in our room to look at my watch and see 8am. I flew out of bed and dressed quickly and grabbed my bike, skipping breakfast, and headed down to the lobby to meet the long ride group. It was just myself and Erika, a fun Australian, along with Michele. Erika was very nervous about the long ride and was going to skip it and I said to her “Erika, what are you here for? Take your time but go experience these climbs. It’ll make your dinner taste that much better tonight.” So she headed out with us. The first 30K rolled through a valley, and after 15K, we were on the official tour route for the day, which is marked with yellow arrows. Michele stopped us and pointed at the arrows and then at me and said “you follow jaune ayrow, oui?”

I headed onward and soon turned onto a road with a sign that read “Port de Bales, summit 20km”. This was one bitch of a climb. The hardest climb I road on this trip. Until last year, it was a dirt access road that they paved specifically for this years Tour. It starts out gradual, winding through forest. The road was closed off to traffic since the previous day yet it was crowded with spectators. There were tents set up all over the countryside, and rv’s parked wherever they could fit. There were families with tables set up, having lunch feasts and anticipating the action they would soon encounter when the Tour roared through. There were tons of cyclists ascending the climb. I witnessed lots of kids dressed in full cycling kit, some bungeed to their dad’s bike, pedaling away. There were men in their 70’s dressed in team kits, no helmets, and big backpacks, some with huge baguettes strapped to their back. As I ascended, mostly all of them clapped for me and yelled “allez, allez!”. The energy was infectious.

This is a long ass climb and with around 8 k to go, it gets steep. The last 5 k really kicked up. With 3 k to go, I see James, one of the staff who is driving sag, pulled over talking to a bunch of Frenchman. James is from France, but speaks great English – very proper, and lives in Venezuela where he teaches language at a university. He is extremely generous and helpful and funny. I called him welchy since he had an uncanny resemblance to Greg Welch. James refilled my water bottles and then gave me a push and a pat on the back as I restarted on the climb. I felt for a second like a Tour rider!

The descent off the Port de Bales was crazy! Steep with switchbacks and no guardrails. After dropping for what seemed like an hour, I merged right into the next climb, the 14 km Col de Peyresourde. This is another famous tour stage and it doesn’t disappoint in views. As you reach the 5k to go sign, you look ahead and can see your road in front of you, zig zagging across the mountain in a series of dramatic switchbacks. The Peyresourdes was way more crowded than even the Port de Bales with fans, riders, press, … Many fans were painting there favorite riders name in the road as I climbed. I reached the summit in slight drizzle, the only rain of our week really, besides a little bit in Paris. Lisa was waiting at the summit outside a sag vehicle, with a huge smile on her face. She said to me “this is unbelievable!” I knew I would have a blast on this trip since this is my passion, but I was excited to see Lisa so caught up in the action. She was having a great time.

We descended and all regrouped with 3 k to go. From there, the sun came out, and we had an official tour escort as we rode the final 3 k of Monday’s stage, crossing the official finish line. This was a big deal since the last 3k of road in the stages are closed to riders, walkers, and spectators. The road is barricaded off and lined with fans. I raised my arms when crossing as though I had just won the stage. We were all standing with our bikes at the finish line when Giil said that we could go up on the podium if we wished. The group stood there, a bit hesitant at first, wondering if this would be goofy with all the spectators watching. I didn’t hesitate and jumped up there and raised my arms again like a goofball. Everyone from the group soon joined me.

We were given special access bracelets that got us behind the scenes at the finish area and also given access to a spa that was within walking distance to shower up, or use the spa services. Typical Europe – the spa only allows men to wear Speedos in the pools, no “trunks”. We roamed around the finish area, watching Phil Ligget and Paul Sherwin broadcast and purchasing some souvenirs. They had a roped off section for our group directly at the finish line and we watched the race come through. Vino one the stage – this was the day before he was kicked out. After the riders came through, we caught many of the riders at their team buses. I’m a bike geek and loved checking out all the rides on top of the team vehicles. I snapped Lisa’s photo with Jens Voight and Johan Bruneel. We then boarded our bus and headed back to Luchon for a great meal. What a day!!!

At dinner that night, Giil was discussing the agenda for the next day. The Tour was having a rest day, so we were going to pack up, then take the bus to the bottom of the Tourmalet and ride up the Tourmalet through La Mongie to the summit, where we’d reboard the bus’s and head to our next destination in Mercues. I knew that there was a route from Luchon that took you over two major climbs, the Col de Peyresourdes once again, then the Col D’Aspin, before reaching and ascending the Tourmalet, and if I could do this. After some discussion, they decided they were cool with this. I told them Giil that I knew he had to keep things organized and tight and on schedule, and that I am quite independent and would be fine and not hold them up. I told him that I came on this trip to experience everything I possibly could and needed to do this ride. Their main concern was me getting lost so they gave me a bunch of maps, co2’s, bars, and electrolyte drink and wished me luck.

The next morning, I awoke at 6am, downed 2 cliff bars, prepped my bike, packed up my suit case, and by 6:45am I was riding. I put my Ipod on for this since I was alone. As you leave Luchon, you begin ascending the 14k Col de Peyresourdes right away. The clouds were sitting low in the mountains, framed in by the blue sky and The Foo Fighters “best of you” was playing in my headphones. I thought to myself “how cool is this!”.

What a contrast from the day before on the Peyresourde. All the rv’s were still there yet everyone was sleeping. The road was empty of people and cars. It was as if I had the road all to myself. What was amazing is that there was no litter on the road at all – remarkable considering the chaos that took place there 15 hours earlier. My legs felt pretty good, especially considering the amount of climbing I did the previous two days. Next up was the Col D’Aspin. This is another famous climb of the tour and the fainted painted names still on the road proved it. There was “Go Lance” painted in a few spots and many “Virenque Allez”. This climb winds around the mountain up through the clouds. Its gradient wasn’t bad at all and I was in a nice tempo. One side of the mountain would be bright and sunny and the other would be thick with clouds. Huge cows wandered the roads as I ascended. The descent of the Col D’Aspin was one of my favorites. It went through pine forests and switchbacked and the views were fantastic. I didn’t have to break too much and hit 60 mph in a few spots.

Two climbs down, one to go – the infamous Tourmalet.

The Tourmalet is a 20K climb that goes through the ski town La Mongie and it has quite the history in the tour. The switchbacks between La Mongie and the top were tough, due to not only the gradient but the high altitude and wind. The group was to meet on top at 12:30pm and I reached the summit much quicker than I anticipated, getting there at 10:45am and quite cold since I only had my “eh” vest. (Funny, I wore my “eh” uniform all week (no, not the same one) and received some great compliments. On top of the Tourmalet, one French guy asked me “Vat iz dis “ehhh”?”.) There is a small restaurant on top of the Tourmalet and I ducked in there to get out of the wind and cold (it was in the 40’s on the top of the mountain) and had a double espresso. As I sipped my coffee, I took in the pictures framed across one of the walls of the restaurant. There were pictures of Eddy Mercx, Greg Lemond, Miguel Indurain, Lance, to name a few, all ascending the Tourmalet. Again, it was another surreal moment. I thought I’d head out and ride down a bit and climb back up with some of the group but when the wind and cold hit me, I headed back in for another double espresso. Between the time I arrived and noon, there must have been 1000 cyclists that came up both sides of the mountains – no exaggeration. It was cycling mayhem. After my third double espresso, I started to descend to see if I could ride up with the group. I was shaking so bad the first 2 K, a combination of the coldness and the caffeine. Thankfully James came rolling up in the sag! Lisa was there as well.

Pretty cool that in 36 hrs, I did some great rides with over 80 k of climbing. We were leaving the Pyrenees for the Bordeaux region of France later this day so I had to take advantage of my time in the Pyrenees…

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

European Vacation

(I am blogging this as a self journal to remember my experience. It will be in a few parts. My apologies if someone visits to read some somewhat interesting tri stuff and instead ends up with boring vacation stories.)

In 1994, I made a list of 5 "must do's" before I die, one being to follow some of the Tour De France and ride parts of the course as well. Lisa helped me check this one off by giving me this trip for my recent birthday. She planned our trip though a company called Custom Getaways - they specialize in planning vacation packages around the Tour, and now the Giro as well.

The itinerary was to fly out to Toulouse on Friday, July 20th, arriving on the 21st, where we were to be picked up by someone from Custom Getaways and driven to Carsacomme to begin our adventure. We left our house on Friday afternoon around 1pm for Kennedy airport, only to sit in traffic for an extra 90 minutes. Three hours later, we were dropped off at the terminal and scurried through to make our first flight to Brussels. They began boarding the plane, only to pull everyone off about 45 minutes later because there was a mechanical issue. 4 hrs later, they reborded, and then we sat on the tarmac for 2 hrs. We knew we would miss our connecting flight to Toulouse, and they only have one Toulouse flight per day leaving out of Brussels. We reworked it so that we would go to Frankfurt from Brussels, and then on to Toulouse getting there 5 hrs late, but getting there. the issue was that our bags and my bike were checked to go to Toulouse from Brussels on the flight the following day.

We were not off to a good start and Lisa was really upset. We somehow managed to get them to pull our bags in Brussels and reissue them on our new flights. We finally arrived in France AND with all our luggage! Aline picked us up at the airport. She is a young, cute French woman who is part of the Custom Getaway staff. She races bikes and is very feminine, yet tough as nails. I rode with her the next day and she is elegant as a rider, yet unafraid to spit if necessary or mix it up with the boys in a sprint. I like that.

Carsacomme was to be our first destination, hotel wise, in France. The place is unbelievable! It's a medieval city built around 1 AD and resembles a huge castle. There is a huge wall built around the whole small town and as we pulled up, I joked to Lisa that I forgot my grappling hook. The hotel was inside the castle and was amazing - modernized inside, yet keeping the oldness and history of the place. We were wiped out from the two days of travel, yet went to meet the rest of the group at dinner. There were 20 people participating in this tour, 16 Americans including Lisa and I and 4 aussies. There was a young couple (ok, young, being relative - they were close to our age) from the DC/Virginia area that we met on our drive from the airport. The poor couple waited with Aline for 4.5 hrs at the airport for us to arrive. There were three guys, from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida who worked together for a marketing company. There were six from the Philly/New Jersey area, a couple from Chicago, and a couple from California. Everyone was in there forties or fifties for the most part. A few in there late thirties.

After a late dinner (which set the tone for this trip - most dinners began around 8:30pm and ended around 11+pm.) that was excellent, with lots of red wine (another tone set for this trip!), two staff members, Eric and Michele, assisted me in putting my bike together. Eric and Michele were from France. Eric was a super nice guy from Cannes in his early forties with a ton of cycling experience. His French mannerisms and broken American language cracked me up. Michele was a serious cyclist who lived in the French Alps. This guy was a climbing goat and looked more comfortable on a bike than off one in everyday life. He spoke very little English, but tried hard, and he also was a super nice guy. In fact, all the staff was. I referred to Eric and Michele as "my boys", as in " Lis, I'm going to ride ride with my boys now", or "Let's sit with my boys at dinner tonight". As we unpacked my bike, Eric whistled, cooed, even letting out an "oohh, la, la!". "You are too strong to ride with us" he mentioned. I replied back " you've never even seen me ride yet Eric! I could be a total poser.". It was now well after midnight, and we were riding 50K in the morning. By the way, I'm digging kilometers! When I am climbing and climbing up a Pyrenees mountain and I see a sign out there that says something like "Tourmalet 10" and it refers to kilometers and not miles - that is a cool thing! Plus the math conversion gave me something to do brain wise while climbing.

The morning ride agenda was to ride through rolling French countryside, much of the ride being on the actual tour course for that day. There was an intermediate sprint in town that day and we would get to ride through it some 3 hours before the Tour riders attacked it. The ride was beautiful, as was the weather. In fact, the weather all week was perfect. About 30 minutes into the ride, the group split up into 5 of us up front - the three Florida boys, Aline, and myself. I was keeping things very easy, staying mostly in my small chainring, anticipating some big climbing days ahead. The Florida boys were having some fun attacking and sprinting. The streets were beginning to get crowded with fans preparing for the Tour entourage that would soon be coming through. Most of them would cheer for us as we rode which was silly, yet fun. As we rolled back into Carsacomme, Cliff, one of the Floida guys, says to me "wait until your wife sees the grin on your face!" It's true, I was smiling ear to ear. I was realizing that I was in Southern France, riding my bike, on the actual tour course that they'd be riding later that day! It was very surreal...