A *VERY* eventful day following the TdF on Sunday (entry after this will explain)

I actually felt pretty good at the top, but not quite in the celebrative mood as Kevin, 5 fingers for the 5 big Cols this trip.
I actually felt pretty good at the top, but not quite in the celebrative mood as Kevin, 5 fingers for the 5 big Cols this trip.
View from the top of the Col du Grand Columbier
View from the top of the Col du Grand Columbier

Our spot to view the race was pretty spectacular, and should have been the most-memorable part of the day. The next entry will explain why that wasn't the case.
Our spot to view the race was pretty spectacular, and should have been the most-memorable part of the day. The next entry will explain why that wasn’t the case.

Finally got a chance to start catching up and report on quite the day last Sunday, two days and a world away.

Overall one of our best, and don’t want to say worst but certainly most-challenging day ever at the Tour de France. It started out well; headed out on an 8:30am train from Lyon to Culoz to catch the stage ending on the Col du Grand Columbier. Train was on time, and the route I’d mapped out worked great.

The climb is incredible; from the route we took, it starts out fairly “easy” (about like climbing Kings), passing through a number of tiny villages, and then beings to ramp up… and up. Thankfully you get a change to take a rest on grades maybe 7-8% before the next 14% grade hits you. I was watching my power and heart rate, trying to find a pace I could maintain and not end up flaming out like I did on the Tourmalet. For the first 2/3rds of the climb, I might have even had a bit of an advantage on Kevin, but as we neared the top, where you go around this corner thinking you must be near the top and then look up… WAY up… and realize those people wouldn’t be lining the hillside if that wasn’t the route… that’s where Kevin took off and I couldn’t respond, only watch.

If Elton John attended the TdF, this is probably what he'd look like...
If Elton John attended the TdF, this is probably what he’d look like…

We arrived at the top a good hour ahead of my plan (which was admittedly conservative and based on Kevin still having some knee issues, which thankfully didn’t materialize). This wasn’t our destination though, nor did it have food. The top of a huge climb at the Tour de France and no food? What’s with that???

We headed down the other side, continuing on the race route, stopping at the top of what would be the Lacets du Grand Columbier (the final climb) that the riders would loop back up before finally descending to the finish. One more time to do the Caravan thing and then we descended to find a good spot to view the race.

Afterwards we raced back down towards the train station, wanting to catch the earliest-possible train back to Lyon since we had to pack the bikes and try to get a few hours sleep before catching a 5:50am train to CDG (Paris airport). Didn’t quite work out as planned. That’s in the next entry, which should go live around 9am 7/21. –MikeJ

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2.5 hour drive to Lyon ends up being 5+… oh yeah, that was fun…

"Va Slovak" preceded by La Marseillaise, sung in Slovakian. Wished I had it on video!
“Va Slovak” preceded by La Marseillaise, sung in Slovakian. Wished I had it on video!
The day was looking to have few redeeming qualities to it about the time we FINALLY pulled up to our hotel in Lyon. Several spots of near stop & go on the French Superhighway between Avignon & Lyon and then, once in Lyon, ohmygosh… over an hour spent traveling about a mile. It was one of the few times I was thinking gee, an automatic wouldn’t have been so bad after all. Once actually on city streets it was another 30 minutes trying to find a way to get to a gas station you could see, but the maze of one-way streets, always seeming to go the wrong way, conspired against you actually getting there.

And we had a schedule to keep. The car needed to be returned by 3pm, and at 2pm, we were still wandering around trying to find the hotel, the hotel that’s supposed to be right across from the train station. Well, about that… it is right across from the station, but we were on the wrong side of the tracks. Doh! When we finally found it, the dread of trying to figure out where to return the rental car to was magically erased at the same time, as Sixt has a parking lot right behind the very hotel we’re in (Ibis Styles).

From that point on, things started going quickly in the right direction. First, this is a VERY nice hotel. Much nicer than you’d expect in a major city for about $100/night. Second, very nice staff. No problem validating the parking in their garage while we unloaded (you don’t get free parking in hotel parking garages in France). And the wifi here? It actually works.

The plan (remember? There’s always a plan) was to try and intercept the Tour de France by taking a local train after checking in and heading out about 20 miles or so. Of course, by the time we got checked in and settled, it was 10 minutes past the last train that would get there in time. However, logging onto the race reports, it turned out they were 20 minutes behind the slowest published times, which meant… if we took the next train… we should actually get there before the race! Which we did. For whatever reason we didn’t get any decent photos, despite being in what seemed like a prime location, on a corner with the sun facing into the riders.

On the other hand, how often do you get to hear a bunch of Slovakians sing La Marseillaise (the French national anthem), in Slovakian, and draw the attention of Peter Sagan’s support car, which pulled over to hear them? Peter Sagan is, of course, the Slovakian star of Tinkoff’s team. It was pretty cool.

IMG_0515icecubesThe Tour de France cooperated nicely and came through leaving us just enough time to make it back for the next train into town (3 minutes to spare), after which Kevin crashed for a bit (slept, not his bike), and later we had a great dinner. Amazingly, even got 4, yes FOUR ice cubes in our drinks! Normally 2 is the limit in France. Good pizza too.

Tomorrow it’s another local train, this time to Culoz, an hour to the north, where we’ll scale the Col du Grand Comumbier and wait for the race to come through, one final time on this trip. Then back to the hotel, pack the bikes, and pretend it’s possible to sleep for a few hours before a ridiculously-early 5:50am train to Paris CDG airport and fly home. It will be good to be home. We’re ready. But one more day on a mountain, this time, with the previously-absurd hope that Trek’s Bauke Mollema is in contention for a final podium spot. –Mike–

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