Tour de Pez: A Lovely Jaunt Through The Pyrenees
Roadside St.16: ‘I think I’ve talked enough about that!’ says Nico Roche. About what? Team mate John Gadret riding past his leader and refusing to give him a front wheel when the young Irish man was stopped with a puncture. The day got off to an inauspicious start in Bagneres de Luchon, but from there it was all, well, uphill. Read on!
That’s a pity, we wanted a story to rival the Andy “Chaingate” scandal.
We’d hoped to canvas opinion on the now talked to death episode; but grid locked traffic saw us late in to Luchon – probably just as well.
We barely had time to do a quick dash through the start area to see what we could see.
Awarded points for cool were Johan Van Summeren, Maxime Monfort, Martijn Maaskant, Sandy Casar, Mathieu Perget, Lars Boom and Christophe Moreau.
Management wise, Matt White looked for customers, Sean Yates chilled, Jean-Paul van Poppel just wanted to drink his coffee in peace whilst Erik Breukink, Patrick Lefevere and Jean-Rene Bernadeau had to deal with those pesky journos.
Meanwhile, Andreas Klier and David Zabriskie stressed their mechanics.
Carlos Sastre went through the motions, Chris Horner gave an interview, Roman Kreuziger hydrated, George Hincapie showed us his varicose veins and Lance went for a warm up – the Peyresourde starts at the town line, after all.
Time to go and have a look at the Pyrenees – the Peyresourde bites from the flag, steady to start but soon constantly changing in grade to make this a very tough climb.
The hairpins slicing across the hillside endorsing that fact. The view from the top is stunning and there’s no false summit, the descent starts immediately; open and fast.
On the valley road, we grabbed L’Equipe, ‘Contador without mercy’ says the headline. Yesterday’s edition carried a headline which Andy Schleck would be well advised to take note of, ‘Menace fantфme’ – Menchov.
The Aspin is next, not too severe to start but going narrow and steep all too quickly, the crowds are big and the views ever more stunning as the altitude increases.
Again, the top is the top, straight into a technical descent which Sammy Sanchez will love. The sunshine flickering through the trees makes it even more tricky.
The Tourmalet is a bona fide Tour legend, the race will climb it again on Thursday and we’ll talk in more depth about it then. The start is innocuous enough, easy for the gruppetto, waterfalls provide little havens of cool air but there is no respite, up, up, up. Every camper van in Europe is up here, it seems.
La Mongie ski resort is a couple of K from the top, the prices are jacked for the day and even the baby is in on the act.
The fans cover a wide spectrum, from those with political motivations to ‘crazies.’
The Norwegians are probably the maddest, we had to listen to a verse or two of the Boasson Hagen song.
Astana are well represented, too.
The summit is the highest point of the whole Tour and carries the ‘Souvenir Jacques Goddet’ prime for the first man over.
It’s a long, long way down the valley road to the Aubisque and it’s 29.2 kilometres at 4.2% which kicks off in Argeles-Gazost.
The crazies are out up here, too.
The summit is reached over the Col du Solour, which carries no K o M points and drops into the final approach to the Aubisque, a world of tortured rocks.
Time to set up camp and see some racing. There’s a break of seven, it contains royalty – Lance is tagged on the back whilst Barredo leads.
There’s no one else in sight, way down the mountain – except Sandy Casar who was dropped and is fighting to get back.
It’s nine minutes before the maillot jaune group appears at ‘truce pace.’ Astana lead, Schleck shadows Alberto – white is no good after you’ve worn yellow. Gesink struggles, Nico Roche hurts and amazingly – Thor dangles on the back.
Group two is well back, the strain shows on Mick Rogers.
It’s 30 minutes ’til the gruppo winds up the hill like a funeral cortege; Fabian leads, Julian Dean can only see the wheel in front and Jez hurts.
Ale Jet is a little way back but looks strong enough, maybe he was back at the car?
But he’ll almost definitely lose that nice green jersey, tonight.
Boasson Hagen is dieing, stone last – we guess the song didn’t work, then?
For the riders, 60 downhill K to the finish – for us, a joust with the amateur cyclists back to Argeles-Gazost.
Wish us luck.