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...

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