Saturday, July 25, 2009


Stage 20 of the 2009 Tour de France begins in the city of Montelimar, about half way between Valence and Avignon. The riders will head southeast and then circle back to the northwest after mile 70 in a long loop for the approach to Mont Ventoux for a total of “make or break” 103.8 miles. This is the first time a difficult mountain stage has been planned for the day before the final ride into Paris.

An early break away of 16 riders, including Tony Martin, set a fast pace and soon they were eight and half minutes ahead of the Peleton. The weather is beautiful for today’s ride, only a forest fire near the route caused concern because of the smoke that could affect the riders and also the fire equipment using the same roads as the race.

As we neared the base of Mont Ventoux the Peleton began closing the gap to the break away group as the top riders began dancing on their pedals. The last time the Tour de France climbed this mountain was in 2002, and we were there…our story follows today report for your enjoyment.

At 27 km Team Astana, all 8 riders, broke the Peleton apart to begin the attack on the mountain as the winds changed from a tail wind to a cross wind! All of the leaders made the break with Astana with the exception of last year’s Tour winner, Carlos Sastre. The split is only about 5 minutes at the base, giving the new break away the advantage and they will soon pass the initial group as Astana, Saxo Bank and Garmin-Slipstream teams rotate the lead up Mont Ventoux; a grueling hour’s ride. Slowly, one by one, the workhorses dropped off after completing their share of the load of leading the top riders up Mont Ventoux; closing the gap to the original break away. There are nearly half million people on the mountain to watch the riders make this famous stage…many, like we did, walked the final miles to the top to be there for the finish.

An exciting finish with Juan Manuel Garate of Spain taking the Stage with Tony Martin coming in a close second. The third group in was lead by Alberto Contador with Andy Schleck on his heels. Lance Armstrong also finished in the lead group following Alberto who today proved to be a great leader and a great teammate!

The leaders are:

#1: Alberto Contador

#2: Andy Schleck +4:11

#3: Lance Armstrong +5:25

#4: Bradley Wiggins +5:36

#5: Frank Schleck +5:59

Our Jerseys were awarded today to:

Top Team Overall: Astana

Maillot Jaune: Alberto Contador

Maillot Vert: Thor Hushovd

Maillot a Pois Rouges: Franco Pellizotti

Maillot Blanc: Andy Schleck

I thought that I’d pull the journal from our trip in 2002 when we followed parts of the 2002 Tour De France during our three months in Europe. Our story started on July 8th in Paris and we caught up with the 2002 Tour de France in Vannes on July 13th. We continued to catch stages as we traveled through France and arrived for the Mont Ventoux stage on July 20th.

2002 was the last time that the Tour de France has raced up Mont Ventoux.

Sunday, July 21st, 2002, was the climb up Mont Ventoux on the 14th Stage of the 2002 Tour de France; this was the Stage that Jim wanted to see more than any of the others! This stage is legendary as the scene for one of the most grueling climbs in the Tour de France bicycle races. It stands alone and is visible from nearly all of Provence, and the minstrel wind sweep down off of its barren slopes.

They were closing the roads early so we left by 9 am and managed to get up the back side of the mountain to a parking space along the road that was ONLY 7 km about 5 miles from the finish line at the top of the mountain. The hike up actually wasn't too bad as we had shade most of the way. Most of the road was only about a 5% grade with a few tougher spots. We had an American from Philadelphia ask us if we had band aids when he heard us speak English. He was totally unprepared as he'd come from some business meetings in Belgium and thought that this would be a good way to spend the weekend. I have been carrying a roll of adhesive tape in my purse for blisters so he was very grateful. Saw him several times during the day and he said it worked wonderfully on his dual blisters. We also shared our sunscreen with some girls from Texas.

The weather was great....very hot, about 85 degrees but the winds kept us cool. We used lots of sunscreen as there is absolutely no vegetation at the top. You can see this mountain from miles around and it looks like year round snow as it is totally white due to the limestone rock summit. The race came here in 2000 and the wind was so bad that everyone froze in July. But we never put our jackets on today even though we did bring them along because of the possibility of a weather change!

Arrived at the top about noon (a two hour walk) and found the portable toilettes which were already nearing their max. We then located a good spot on the hill above the road which was at the 200 meter mark for the finish. We could also see a good piece down the road. We found some flat stones about eight inches square for seats and moved the surrounding rocks so that the points were down. This was our "stadium" seats for the next five hours. I did bring an umbrella that gave us some shade as we passed the time people watching and reading. We put our American Flag out in front of us...I think the helicopter filming crew got it several times. Also, people would stop to chat knowing that we were also Americans.

The caravan came through about 4 pm and the riders arrived at 5:30 pm. Lance was 2 minutes behind the leader in third position. It was a very exciting finish. A Frenchman won and you can just imagine the excitement in the crowd. Lance is still in first place overall, but he would have loved to win this mountain also! We headed back down the mountain as fast as we could and I managed to stumble...only a bruised knee and some embarrassment.

I was so tired and Jim was also, that we drove straight home, showered and went to bed after our five mile walk back down the mountain to our car. Plus navigating all of the traffic as people headed out for the next spot on the Tour; the same town that we were staying near.

We continued to follow the 2002 Tour De France for a few more stages but none so thrilling as today’s stage on Mont Ventoux. After a day of rest, the riders started from Vaison La Romaine, the town where we have been staying, so we witnessed the beginning of Stage 15. We followed the race into Chamonix before heading south towards Nice and into Italy to continue our three month tour of Europe; catching the race on television until it arrived in Paris less than a week later. Hope that you’ve enjoyed our little story of our adventure on Mont Ventoux in 2002.

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