Day 4 - Stage 16 - Gap - Part 1 - The Ride
Today we leave Orange.
Though its nice to be going to Alpe d'Huez and every challenge that involves, it's a melancholy day, as it reminded me that this trip will have an end in Paris.
As usual, breakfast at 7. I've become accustomed now to a chocolate croissant and breakfast with my cereal. That and the coffee. I'm sure it's just your standard grocery store coffee, but its a much fuller taste than the normal coffee back home.
At 8 it was time for our departure fictf. Our luggage was gathered in the entrance of the hotel, and we milled around waiting for Damien to bring the coach around, and did our best to help Brackie, Will and Jourdan load the van, much to their protestations. With a friendly and gracious and including group of Acadians, the tour guides were going to be helped whether they needed it or not.
After one of our group having lost his wallet and then been handed it back by a complete stranger a couple hours later, it was a reminder that I should take a photo of my Passport information page so that if I did lose my passport, I had the information stored somewhere should I need a trip to the consulate.
Most of the group was geared up for riding; today was a two hour drive as we left the Tdf in Orange and drove ahead of them to Salles, where we would ride 44km on the route of the Tdf.
The ride was incredibly picturesque.
As we rode more towards the Alpes, the road became hewn from the rock rather than laid on top.
We drove along the L'Eygues (Pronounced "Eggs") river, the hills encroached and encompassed the route.
This was one of the reasons why I wanted to come visit; it's not very easy to find mountains and hills that tower over a highway the way they do here in France.
Eventually we made it to Salles, and stopped at Les Chambons, a gas station/garage. There was also a couple of lessons to learn there as well.
First, that in France, it's normal to find a bush and relieve oneself. The only places you can't is at the city hall and the police station. So after a 2 hour ride, I became a French cyclist.
Second, that because I was the only guy by himself (well, one of the guys on the tour is a bachelor, but he was travelling with his brother) attracts a lot of attention from the women on the tour.
We all spend the time preppting our bikes, putting water in our bottles, and adjusting our bikes.
And bidding everyone adieu (even the folks who were looking to get to Nice, but were fearing the road closings), we took off towards Gap, the Gateway to the Alpes.
There were two long straightaways as we rode at a fairly leisurely pace, but there were some stiff crosswinds that I thought might affect the stage. Also, the majority of the route was uphill, at a 1-2% grade. Though early in the ride we were rewarded with a small descent. I know I don't descend as well as the others on the tour, but I guess there's something about my aerodynamics or extra mass that accelerates me quicker down hill. I went off the front and just soft pedaled a while until fI was caught and passed. I fell back in the pace line, keeping 3rd Or 4th wheel.
Passed several fields filled with lavender.
The later it was getting in the morning, and the closer it was getting to the time the tour would arrive, the folks parked on the side of the road increased. I noticed a lot of Dutch, with chants of Mollema as we passed. The norweigans were also well represented, though Bosan Hagen had crashed out of the tour earlier in the race.
Each town we rolled through had their own little displays up to greet the tour. There's a competition for best display that goes on every year that helps to spur these displays. Not sure if this was Veynes' or not.
Veynes also had a VIP section setup, which unfortunately blocked the view of a picturesque church.
Just before we rode into Veynes, I noticed a PMU banner in the distance with a truck putting up the stadards; this was the intermediary sprint. After passing through, Will joked with me that I let him take the prize. Another km later, another PMU sign said that there was 4km to the spring point.
After passing through Veyenes, I kept an eye out for the 1km to go banner, and got ready for the sprint. The road pitched up just a bit, and the road surface went from ok to horrible. I thought to myself that if there wasn't a breakaway and and it was going to be a bunch sprint, this was a bad place to do so.
At 250 meters to go to the sprint point, I geared down and called to Will, "Under 300 to go!" I looked back to check for cars, then took off. Will humored me and looked like he was going to go, but In the end I crossed the line alone, and then coasted and soft pedaled, that was all the hard work I wanted to do he day before Lauteret and Galibier.
I did get a nice ride under a row of trees as I waited an amazingly long time for the group to catch me. I now understood how a breakaway can stay away so long, that you just need to exert a larger amount of power than everyone else to get off the front, then do the same amount of effort as the peleton to keep thhe break away.
We stopped in La Roche-Des-Arnauds to wait for the gang to catch up, and spent some time drooling over the Team Cofidis truck and its wrench guys setting up the Look time trial bikes for tomorrow's stage.
More Caravans. Lots of French out on the road.
There were more and more people lined up as we got to the final descent into Gap.
The descent down into Gap was amazing. Curves were gentle, road surface was perfect, traffic was non-existant, and the sightlines where easy. After stopping in a round about, we went down another descent into the heart of Gap, to where the Tour would be finishing, though we stopped there, instead of turning left and climbing the Col de Manse.
Then we made it back to the bus, changed out of our kit and into civvies to wander the streets of Gap and go watch the Tour.
Continued in part 2...
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