Tuesday, July 13, 2010

On the Mountain for Stage Nine!

We were out the door by 8 am and found a beautiful clear morning with a great view of the French Alps that tower over our hotel. The rain storm last evening cleared the air and the humidity level was way down! The temperature reads 20 degrees which translates to 70 degrees in the USA. We headed towards Albertville along the river banks on the slow road feeling very secure about our directions since we’d had a trial run yesterday. Made all the right turns and suddenly realized we were way off course; somewhere the navigator made a wrong decision…opps…that’s my job! Ended up spending about an hour but we finally did find the correct roads, not sure just how we did but the important is that we did!

We arrived at our destination on the road that winds up the Col de la Madeleine just before they closed the highway to traffic. We parked the car up against the hill and I climbed out the driver’s side as I was not able to open my door. Jim hiked up to check the lay of the land and came back in less than half an hour: success….we’re only about twenty minutes from some perfect seats on a corner.

Packed up our supplies and headed up the hill on foot at about 11 am. We found seats on some flat stones against the hill; laid our red poncho over the dirt and weeds and we were settled in for the long wait. The riders would arrive between three and four o’clock this afternoon.

Information on this particular mountain: Col de la Madeleine is a 25.5 km ride @ 6.2% grade….from 374 to 2000 meters. They will have ridden over two smaller mountains before they arrived at our spot and had to complete this climb and then one more before the end of the today’s stage.

People watching is great on days like this. One overweight man at least seventy in yellow shorts, a beer belly wearing his Sunday leather shoes! Twice we saw groups using roller skies going up the mountain. Lots and lots of bicycles; about ten percent of the riders were women. There was a couple of tandem bikes….one had set it up so that the partner faced the back; very unique and will probably catch a photographer somewhere today. Many people had flags of different nationalities on their backs. We had our American Flag on the hill beside us and had some strangers take photos. When the race came by we held it up between the two of us and got lots of thumbs up and horns thanking us for displaying the flag. We’ve not seen as many American flags this year as compared to prior years!

The Caravan arrived about 2 pm….we got so many things: about 7 hats, key chains, a jersey, 3 bottles of water, and many other things! Lots of fun as they are tossing them at you as they go by about twenty miles per hour and you’re expected to jump up and down and waive your hand for them to toss their give aways at you…then it’s a mad scramble to beat the fellow next to you!

About 3:30 pm the first group of riders came by….only about six….then another larger group and I got a good look at Lance Armstrong who was in that group at that time. Also his coach, Johan Bruyneel, was driving one of the support cars and gave a thumbs up to our American Flag…lots of fun.

We gathered our things and headed down the hill as the stragglers followed the leaders up the hill. They’d all passed us by the time we reach our car. Bumper to bumper but Jim had done a great job; parked it downhill and had left a bit of space in front. We pulled out and headed back to the hotel; arrived in time to see the last half hour of the race!

The winner of today's Stage Nine was a French rider named Sandy Casar of the FDJ team. The new leader of the race overall is Andy Schleck of Saxo Bank Team with Contador of Astana in second place. RadioShack's Levi Lepheimer is in sixth place overall and less than 4 minutes behind the leader. Lance Armstrong finished strongly today but is way back in the field over all. But, the French love a loser who comes from behind so more of them are cheering him today! Only time will tell where he will finish!

It’s evening now and we’ve finished our dinner. We’re talking about driving into Chambery to check on the route tomorrow; the race begins here and they head for Gap in Provence. We’ll see the start and then enjoy the next two days here in Chambery.

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