Category Archives: Tdf trip planning

Information on seeing the Tour de France in person, including the process I go through myself each year- figuring out the TdF route, finding places to stay, rental cars, trains & more.

Passed on the TdF (3hr drive each way; too far); did the Col de la Morte instead. And cooked in the sun again!

Yes, it really was 101.8 degrees. What's missing is the stiff headwind we were fighting at the time.
Yes, it really was 101.8 degrees. What’s missing is the stiff headwind we were fighting at the time.
Any real Star Trek fan should appreciate the dedication on this memorial. ST:Voyager anyway.
Any real Star Trek fan should appreciate the dedication on this memorial. ST:Voyager anyway.

Today’s original plan had been to see the Tour de France stage finish, or something near the stage finish, in Pra Loup. But the combination of a 3 hour drive each way, plus forecasts of “serious” thunderstorms, turned us away from that plan. Well, not so much “us” as me. Kevin was still ready to see the TdF, but then Kevin wouldn’t be he person driving. He’d be asleep in the car virtually the whole way, while Dad’s getting stressed driving winding mountain roads and hoping to find a parking place. Kevin kinda sorta understood the logic of that, so we settled for a nice little local ride.

The view from just half-way up the Col de la Morte. Still a long way to go!
The view from just half-way up the Col de la Morte. Still a long way to go!

Today, this mountain pass lived up to it’s name. It’s not the steepest mountain we’ve climbed, not by far. At “just” a 6.6% average grade, you won’t even likely need your lowest gear. Nor is it the longest, at “just” 15 kilometers (just over 9 miles). But it’s continuous, it was a very hot day (so there’s the added stress of wondering if your bottles will last all the way to the top), and there were lots of little junk climbs preceding it that took you down a notch or two.

But it is very pretty; mostly tree-covered (not too many great views but you’re thankful for the shade), and there are a couple places at the top where you can buy a coke. Or two.

Rare photo because it includes not just Kevin but myself as well, at the summit.
Rare photo because it includes not just Kevin but myself as well, at the summit.

What’s not pretty is getting there. Getting out of and into Grenoble by bike, in any direction but down the river (kinda South?) means dealing with endless stop lights, confusing bike lanes that become bus lanes, and pretty choppy pavement. Grenoble itself is very popular with “lifestyle” bikes (people who use them to get around or just like to feel the breeze in their hair, you know, riding a bike because it’s fun?) and I suppose it all works very well for them. But higher-performance bikes on bad pavement at decent speed aren’t all that much fun, and you deal with that both coming and going. A real shame, because Grenoble is surrounded by incredible mountain roads!

On the return we actually modified the planned ride a bit, navigating to the Vizille train station about 10 miles from Grenoble, in hopes of hitching a ride the remaining distance. Unfortunately we missed the train by about 15 minutes, and, since they run every two hours, it made sense to just keep riding. And that we did, into the previously-mentioned nasty headwind and high temperatures and bumpy pavement.

This photo worth clicking on to enlarge. You had to be there to see it. That kid rocked!
This photo worth clicking on to enlarge. You had to be there to see it. That kid rocked!

Oh, right, I left something out. As Kevin and I were descending the Col de la Morte and feeling pretty good about our effort, we see this young kid pedaling a mountain bike, pulling a trailer behind, a home-made sort of trailer with what looked like training wheels. And he was smiling, having a great time, heading up the road. Unbelievable!

Tomorrow we WILL see the ‘Tour, on the Lacets de Montvernier, a sort of ultra-compact version of the Alpe d’Huez with a lot of switchbacks packed into just a few miles. Except… oh my… just did some last-second research and it appears they’re not going to allow any fans… at all… on that section of road! Yikes. I’ve been looking forward to this since I heard about its inclusion in the Tour de France. It’s worth viewing this video to see what all the fuss is about. Looks like I need to start working on yet-another Plan-B! Kevin gets to sleep; Dad gets to stay up late trying to plan. And yet this is something I look forward to, year after year.  –Mike–

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Another fun day in the sun

IMG_1425no_error

This is how it starts; a civilized train ride to put us in position. No rental car (yet).
This is how it starts; a civilized train ride to put us in position. No rental car (yet).

Not a whole lot of room for error! But this is what we came for, this is why we rode up some gnarly hill of mostly 9% grade (sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less) in 90 degree heat (up to 97 degrees a bit later in the ride). I’m not convinced this was the ultimate of the remaining “cliff roads” in this region, but it was pretty cool, especially watching the small birds playing in the air currents, going straight up, straight down, and sometimes just motionless, and then zooming right past you as if you weren’t even there, on their way to their nests (which are built into the “ceiling” of the rock overhang).

At least on this one, Strava gave an “extreme” suffer score. And I was suffering. The heat doesn’t make my breathing worse per se, but the effect on the need to constantly drink are extreme. The more you breathe, the more water you loose, so as I’m gasping for air I’m also losing water and it’s hard to convince yourself to drink as much as you should when the water in your bottle is 90+ degrees. Nevertheless I’m getting lots of practice at it and getting better.

IMG_1409false_hopes
Kevin’s smiling because he didn’t realize this was truly a false summit; quite a bit more climbing still to come!

Kevin’s rapidly recovering from his time off the bike and having to hang back a bit on the climbs for me, but I blame most of that on having to be the pack mule, with a rack and bags on my bike so I can carry extra water, cokes, whatever. I do recall several times on the climb where I was wondering if I’d have to get off and walk for a bit (I didn’t, don’t worry). The Col de Romeyère was a bit tougher than expected, but probably not much different from the Col de la Machine we did either 2 or 4 years ago, I forget which.

One thing’s for sure.  As much as the heat gets to you on the climbs, that long flat-ish slog “home” at the end seems even worse. About 20 miles along the river back to Grenoble, the beginning of which Kevin was going super-strong but eventually it just starts wearing you down, mostly your butt, then you start to feel a little leg cramp coming on, which you nurse until it goes away.

It's pretty amazing, staring over the side of the cliff roads.
It’s pretty amazing, staring over the side of the cliff roads.

The main downside to these excursions into the Vercors region is they don’t have little taverns/bars at the top of each climb, like you have in the Alps and Pyrenees. No 3 Euro cokes that you’d gladly pay double for. You have to pack in your own, or survive without. Doesn’t seem very civilized!

Tomorrow’s plans have been modified a bit by weather and distance; it’s a 3 hour drive each way to where the Tour de France will be (Pra Loup) and the forecast is for pretty gnarly thunderstorms. Not sure that makes sense, so we’ll do something semi-local, semi-epic, but absolutely positively whatever we do, it will have a bar or tavern at the top of the climb!

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