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.

If you don’t take a few “wrong” turns now and then, you’re missing out

Kevin and our bikes at the top of the Col du Soulor
Kevin and our bikes at the top of the Col du Soulor

The plan was to head up the Tourmalet and finish the job we started a few years ago, when an over-zealous Gendarme decried that “none shall pass” about three miles from the top of the mountain. Today we would avenge that. Or so we thought. Turns out that the annual citizens race, where 12,000 people get to ride a stage from the Tour de France a few days ahead of the actual race, was today. I had thought it was going to be tomorrow. So we get to the base and it’s clear, we need to do something else.

So I looked at Google Maps on my iPhone and saw this cute little road D13 quite near to us, which headed up into the mountains to a place named Lac Estaing. What I didn’t realize is that we need to make a left onto D103… so instead we looped around (in a stunningly-beautiful area I’d not ridden previously) until we eventually came upon… D918. That sounded familiar. We headed in the direction that I thought we should head in, and the surrounding started looking familiar. And soon enough, we saw signs indicating this was the road to the Aubisque/Col du Soulor. Kevin noted that it was only 2:30pm so, why not? Why not indeed. So our supposed-to-be-easy ride was now heading up into the clouds, both literally and figuratively, which then began to rain, and get really cold, and after a while what kept us going was knowing that we had warmer clothing with us that we could put on at the top, and the cafe.

Thank goodness the cafe was open, and even more thankful they had coffee! This was not a coke-at-the-top day. Inside were quite a few other cyclists, all of them ordering the same thing (coffee), all of them getting warmer (gradually) and most likely wondering how long the purchase of a single cup of coffee would allow them to stay. Met some really nice people up there, including Alan, from England, who knew all about Chain Reaction. I was sure he must have meant the mail order firm in Ireland, but no, he meant us! He’s read our site for some time. And of course I didn’t have the presence of mind to do a video of him recommending us, and not the “other guys.” Dang!

The descent, when we finally got to it, was cold & wet & not-very-fast. It didn’t really warm up until we were all the way at the bottom, at which point I was quite thankful for my Edge 1000 which could easily be asked for a route back and it magically displays, and actually readable on the much-improved screen! Gotta love that thing. But this ride wouldn’t have been nearly as adventurous, or fun, if we hadn’t taken that wrong turn early on.

Lots of photos & notes in the photo galley below. And, of course, details from Strava. –Mike–

Print Friendly

It’s Jambon Blanc w/beurre and a coke. No, it’s the awesome rides. No, it’s the way cars respect you. It’s France.

pont_espagneIMG_0136waterfallIMG_0142In the hectic weeks leading up to my annual trip to France, I start to wonder… why? It’s lot of work trying to make sure the shop is in order for my departure, and planning the trip involves a lot of stress in itself. ¬†And that first day there, one of those infinitely-long travel days that this time began at 5:15am in Redwood City and didn’t end until the next day at 6:30pm in France… why would anybody do that?

Because it’s France and you’re a cyclist, that’s why. Today we had a getting-to-know-our-bikes ride, a little 48 mile jaunt that included a climb quite a bit nastier than its billing. A twisty little road, accompanied by a full-blown raging river, up to a place named “Pont d Espagne” which if course is just what it sounds like; a place you can look across and see Spain.

Chasing down cyclists, one by one
Chasing down cyclists, one by one

It took a few miles to get into “Bike Friday” mode (our folding travel bikes); they’re a bit heavier and mine has a rack on the back with a seat pack weighing it down even further. So no, it doesn’t climb like my Trek Madone. Nothing does. But you get into the groove and it goes pretty well.

And when the road tilted upward, Kevin and I went into chasing-down-rabbits mode and were caught by no-one and passed everyone. Including this large riding club from Italy with their high-zoot $10k+ bikes and fancy pedals and such.

A few of the guys we passed. I'm not gloating. Yes I am.
A few of the guys we passed. I’m not gloating. Yes I am.

While Kevin and I got to enjoy stopping several times on the descent to take photos of things we’d seen on the way up, happily walking through muddy paths and over slippery rocks without issue because we had our SPD mountain-style shoes with us.

I do have a difference of opinion with Kevin though. On the way up, he’s telling me how much he enjoys rides like this for our first full day in France, rides that are difficult but not really tough. And I’m thinking, as the road went to 11% for a while, what’s his definition of “not really tough?” And I’m seeing watts on the power meter similar to what I see climbing Kings, and again thinking, “what’s not really tough?”

You can imagine what this is like going up
You can imagine what this is like going up

Which reminds me, this ride did settle, once and for all, whether you can put out as much power (wattage) on a less-optimal bike as you can on your favorite machine. The answer is yes. I didn’t feel awkward or forced putting 280 watts into the pedals for an extended period of time. Sure, I was going slower; I’m not as efficient as I’d be on a bare-bones bike that weighs nothing to start with. But it all works.

Just like Jambon Blanc w/beurre and a coke. It just works.

Kevin finishing his Jambon Blanc w/buerre
Kevin finishing his Jambon Blanc w/buerre

What’s so special about a ham and butter sandwich made with a too-tough piece of bread? I don’t really know. But it works. And why is a coke so much better on a climb than anything else, ever? I don’t know, it just is. It’s really easy for a cyclist to like this place. If you became independently-wealthy, you could find a place in the Pyrenees or Alps and spend a few years riding before you could possibly become bored and want to move on. Their idea of a “busy” mountain road is nothing like ours.

The only thing that doesn’t work well is getting change. Haven’t figured out the correct approach for getting 100-euro notes exchanged for 20s. The banks won’t touch you unless you have an account. And merchants don’t want to take bills that large.

Bathrooms remain a mysterious variable in France
Bathrooms remain a mysterious variable in France. Some are literally holes in the floor, while others are straight out of the Jetsons.

This is one area where I can see a very good command of the French language would help; you’d simply go into a merchant and ask them, in a friendly way, where would you go for such a thing? And after trying a couple, you’d likely find someone to help you out. Or not. After all, someone coming into my shop asking to break down a $100 bill would be cause for suspicion, concern that it might be a fake. OK, still working on this one. But if this is the worst ¬†France can throw at me, I’m likely coming back for more.

Print Friendly