So our initial plan was to watch Stage 18’s finish at the summit of the Hautacam. The Tour riders would have to endure Col du Tourmalet and then make their way to the summit to finish at the infamous Hautacam.
Our plans changed on good advice from our host Dom. It was confirmed that it would be a logistical nightmare for us to endure the entire day on the summit without any vehicle or support with us. The road to the summit closes at 11am. The race finishes at approximately 5pm. You are not allowed to descend the Hautacam until 7pm. This would mean that we would stand around in the sun for minimum 8 hours and not be able to leave until late, with limited food and water. We would have anywhere to put our bikes. We sound soft, but we did have a plan B.
We instead decided to ride the Hautacam early in the morning and then ride home to watch the riders pass through Orincles – literally at our driveway. The Cote de Benejacq (2.3km at 6.7%) where the first King of the Mountain points were on offer provided the perfect point for our viewing.
Now Cote de Benejacq is not the biggest burg in the Pyrenees, but it sure is a pinch. It is 2.3km long and at 6.7% certainly would have woken the legs up of the riders who were only 50 or so km into the stage.
So we started the day off early, rode to the Hautacam. Now the climb was hard, well, not as bad as yesterdays Luz. It is a consistent gradient, steep – 13.6km at 8%. Purdie and I decided to ride this one together. The ride up was certainly a spectacle, we could not ride fast, constantly navigating people walking and riding up, standing on the side of the road, painting messages on the road, camper vans etc..all with the goal to get a prime position on the mountain to watch the stage finish. It was madness. By the time we got to the top, we were stopped by the Feds who with 100m to the summit, would not let us through. No Strava segment for us. Oh well. Now descending was a hazard too. On the brakes the whole way down, dodging just the same. We were relieved to get off the mountain. It would be good to ride it another time, without the crowds.
We then got home just in time to watch the Caravan go through. The Caravan we never see on TV in Australia. To put it simply, they are big floats, or cars that are covered in sponsors advertising that drive around the stage before the riders, pumping music and throwing free stuff at us. It is amazing, and so much fun. I waved my arms around like a kid in a candy store at the passing parade for an hour or so – gathering as much junk as I could and fighting kids for freebies!
After all that craziness, we gathered our loot and headed up to the KOM point. It was a 2km hike up to the Cote de Benjacq KOM point. Now I hate walking, so walking anywhere is a big deal. But the reward of the walk would be worth it, I’ve wanted to see the Tour live since forever.
It was awesome up there, hundreds of people lining the road, trying to get a good position to see the riders hurtle past. And that they did. The crowd starts off calm and quiet, then the tooting and sirens from the official vehicles starts. Then the Feds come through pushing the crowd back on the scooters, then the lead car, then the riders, then the crowd screams and yells and cow bells ring, then it is quiet again and the crowds disappear! The riders went through as a small lead group, then the main bunch. I guess they were all together as it was early in the race, so our viewing was over in 10 seconds flat.
It was so much fun. It was great to be a part of the fanfare that you see on TV. The atmosphere was electric and I had a smile from ear to ear all day. I have wanted to watch the race live all my life, and now I have! We rushed home to watch the rest of the stage on TV, they were on their way up to the Tourmelet… We’ll be tackling it tomorrow – double! Can’t wait!
We only did 65km today, albeit up the Hautacam on our rest day, but heck, it was our rest day and I had a race to watch.
PS. Nibali won.
PPS. Completed Rapha Rising!
You can follow me on Instagram @lowercasev. All photos taken on GoPro Hero 3+ Black edition. #GoPro #VSport