We were awake by 7 am, ate breakfast downstairs, packed the car and on the road by 8:15 am. We decided to take the slow roads today as time was not a factor…or so we thought. Love these French roads that are generally only two lanes…sometimes they have a passing lane on a hill…and roll through the countryside among fields of corn, hay…mostly freshly cut…vineyards and of course field after field of sunflowers! We were headed west and “the girls” were facing the morning sun in the east so I got some wonderful photos…even a “portrait” of one just for each of you to enjoy!
Just before we arrived in Pamiers, the beginning town for today’s Stage 15, we could see the snow dustings on top of the Pyrenees Mountains in the distance. This is the range of mountains between France and Spain and a favorite part of the Tour de France! The Tour will head there this afternoon. Our goal this morning is to catch them on one of the small hills just after the start from Pamiers.
Headed into Pamiers, ignoring the closed road signs and continued toward the center so we could get out of the other side of town before they really closed the roads totally….this could happen any minute as by now it was 9:30 am. We suddenly saw the RadioShack Tour bus outside the Hotel de France…the team was likely quartered here last night. The driver was cleaning the front of the bus and we stopped to say “hi” & “bonjour” to him but then decided to continue on. Wish I’d have thought to give the driver a card for Lance and to let him know we support him 100%! Maybe next time if we have another opportunity; this is the second time we’ve found the hotel.
Continued on through tiny streets until we hit a dead end; we turned around and faced a one way street the wrong way! Just then a taxi driver that I’d seen checking his GPS minutes before took off up the one way street … Jim pulled out and followed him…no one stopped us. The taxi was really moving and Jim stayed right on his heels as he headed down little streets that eventually took us out of the other side of town…the side we wanted to be on…and into the countryside. We almost lost him once but stayed with him until we were suddenly near a town and then he took what looked like a driveway! But, it wasn’t…suddenly we were at the road where the race was going to be coming through. A police woman stopped him….we hung back….no…she turned him around!
We discovered we were just outside the little town on Escosse, right on the route for the TDF. Not exactly what we wanted but we about seven kilometers from the start after a little hill. Nice French families surrounded us as it was 10:15 am and the Caravan was due at 10:45 am. I ended up walking up the road to see a display of flags when all of a sudden the Caravan arrived! Wow….I was all by myself with about twenty feet empty on either side of me. I had no problems gathering the treats that they tossed from the trucks; in fact I had so much I had difficulty carrying it all back to Jim when the last truck passed. He’d also done pretty well…we’re well supplied with snack food for several days!
We had another hour to wait for the race to come through but the time passed quickly and with our chairs it wasn’t all that bad. Because they were only a short distance from the start they were all together except for three who were a short distance in front. They opened the roads back towards Pamiers ten minutes after the last vehicle passed and we headed back towards Carcassonne. Had to make some detours along the way; the center of town was still tearing down from the start and had several streets still blocked. We ended up going back through Castelnaudary, stopped for a photo of the boats along the Canal Midi.
Just as we were leaving Castelnaudary I saw a house sitting right on the Canal and I remembered that when we spent a week cruising on this piece of heaven we saw (I’m sure) this house and we all joked about buying it and creating a “time share”. Good memories. I took some photos….Jim turned around so I could take them….and will look up the journal and photos from 1999 to see if I’m correct.
Another serendipity stop along the trip back was to check out a very old windmill that we saw from the road. We spent a lot of time following dead end roads to get a better photo but finally ended up taking one from a distance and then traveling on towards our new home for the night. We are spending our next two nights in Carcassonne on the western end of the city in a Balladins Hotel. Very nice one star…no air conditioning but they do have a nice big fan for us. Plus, we have our own bathroom. And…wifi is free and in our room also!
We arrived here about 3 pm and the race is just now finishing Stage 15. Andy Schleck had a problem with his gears and Contador took off…and took the yellow jersey with a difference of eight seconds. One of our favorite French Riders … we call him…little Tommy Voeckler…took first place on this stage. Not sure if it was 2002 or 2004 when he was very young and garnered the yellow jersey at the beginning of the race and continued to keep it day after day….it became a chant along the tour like the little train that could….
We’ve never forgotten Tommy and he is a National Champion now and still doing well. It was fun to see him win this stage; two days in a row that French Riders on French Teams have won the stage! The overall winners seem to be about the same except for Schleck and Contador switching the lead.
Tonight we’re going to splurge as Jim has seen the menu downstairs and it includes Cassoulet (special bean dish of this area of France with pork) and Canard (roasted duck). More fun to eat it here than in Paris….that was our last resort for his Canard if didn’t find it before we arrived back in Paris.
Hope you enjoy the new photos of the sunflowers…