Plan B- A shortened, more-intense solo trip to the TdF

What makes this so compelling to see in person? The mad crush of the crowd, the noise, the hours spent waiting beforehand… it’s not something a sensible person would keep going back for.

There’s very little chance of my “traditional” trip to France for the ‘Tour this year, which, 7 of the past 8 years (2007-2016) has included my son. He’s got some school obligations to take care of, and it’s not likely the bike shop can spare us both. That “traditional” trip has typically been 11 days, leaving on a Thursday and arriving home two Mondays later. So for example, last year Kevin and I left on July 6th (ok, that was a Wednesday) and returned on Monday, July 18th. We actually squeezed in an extra day last year.

This year, it’s possible an abbreviated version could see me leaving on Sunday, July 16th, and returning just a week later on Monday, July 24th. This would allow me to see the stages in the Alps, the time trial in Marseille, and, if I desired, the finale in Paris. Alternatively I could skip Paris and spend another day or two riding in the Grenoble area. the itin below doesn’t require a rental car; transportation is entirely by train (or, in one possible case, bike!).

The schedule would work out like this-

Sunday, July 16th, fly from SFO to LYS (Lyon, France), arriving Monday about 2pm. Yes, you lose a whole day flying east. Hate that! There are hourly fast trains that leave directly from Lyon airport to Grenoble.

Monday, July 17th, arrive Grenoble about 5pm and check into the fantastic Appartements Residilaverde Gare. 85 euros (about $90)/night for a very large apartment just 100 meters from the train station. Incredibly, not just a full kitchen (not that I’d be cooking though) but also a washer/dryer combo. No need to bring more than 3 days worth of clothes. How great is that? Monday evening build the Bike Friday, eat dinner, SLEEP!

Tuesday, July 18th,  is a “local riding” day. No option to catch the ‘Tour, which is too far away to be practical. There is some AWESOME local riding in the Grenoble area though.

Climbing the Galibier during an epic loop several years ago. I’d be passing through here again if I go this year.

Wednesday, July 19th, take a train at 6:37am (but who knows what time it would actually feel like) to Saint Michel de Maurienne, arriving 8:37am. This puts you right at the base of the Galibier, on the long side… the side the ‘Tour will be climbing about 6 hours later! Stage details here. Climb to the top, see the stage on one of its most-iconic mountains, then head back down the way I came up, catching the 7:42pm train that arrives back in Grenoble at 9:27pm. Arriving “home” this late might require having dinner at the apartment rather than eating out, although it’s quite likely there would be enough time prior to the train’s departure to catch dinner in Maurienne.

Local and regional trains are a great way to get around France with your bike.

Thursday, July 20th. This is where it gets interesting. For me, the most-important stage is the one going over the Izoard. Doing this without a rental car is tough. The best plan I can come up with is a two-day bike “tour” where I’d take the 8:10am train to Montdauphin, at the base of the Izoard, and ride to the summit to see the race. The route is shown here. Trouble is, there is no train available to get me back to Grenoble afterward! So, if it’s possible, I’d carry an extra day’s worth of clothing and, after seeing the stage, ride down the “other” side of the Izoard and spend the night in Briancon. This leads to-

Friday, July 21st. Leave Briancon and ride back to Grenoble via the Col du Lauteret. Route shown here. 72 miles, 7200ft of climbing. This would be a tough ride without carrying overnight stuff. With it… could be a long haul! The Tour de France would be doing a pretty flat ride that day, so not missing much there.  After dinner, time to put the Bike Friday back into its suitcase; it won’t be needed anymore.

Note: The itin could be modified to include a rental car for access to the Izoard, but it’s a very long drive in each direction. I’ll look into this a bit more though. Fortunately Grenoble has an excellent Sixt location near the train station.

Saturday, July 22nd. Take the 9:30am TGV train to Marseille to watch the time trial. Arrive 12:20. See Time Trial, return on 6:21pm train arriving back in Grenoble at 9:48am. Since these are TGV, it’s likely not practical to bring the Bike Friday, which would have made it easy to ride around the course to get pictures.

Sunday, July 23rd. If crazy enough to want to see the finale, then I’d probably take the 8:21 train to Paris, arriving about noon (there’s a much better direct option that leaves at 10:15 but it’s 1:15pm arrival in Paris might be a bit late). Leave at 7:41pm (unless this will be a night-time finish finale) and arrive back in Grenoble at 10:42.

Monday, take train from Grenoble to Lyon airport and fly home!

Intuitively, doing this solo wouldn’t seem to be nearly as much fun as doing it with someone else. That shared experience thing makes it a bit more real. The times I’ve gone on my own in the past were spent, most of the time, with tour groups, and maybe just 3 or 4 days completely solo. But I’ve got a biking friend who moved to France recently, and it might be possible that some bike dealers I know might have an interest in sharing a room with someone known to snore. 🙂

More memories of Lance… the Version 2.0 reboot

Lance Armstrong getting a kiss from his girlfriend, who’s holding their new child, immediately after winning the 2009 Nevada City Classic.

I created this post after going through photos I’ve taken over the years, looking for something that might catch my eye, maybe something to use in a promotional email.

Of course, I’ve got a ton of photos dealing with past trips to France, and that being on my mind a lot lately, I started focusing more on photos that were personal (meant something to me) as opposed to strictly business stuff. Below is the result, initially posted in a bicycle racing group on Facebook.

Lance’s new beginning, Version 2.0, began quite symbolically. The photo above came just moments after winning the 2009 Nevada City Bike Race. A new baby, a kiss from his girlfriend, and all looked quite on track for a comeback. And there was this feeling that maybe he was doing this to prove it could be done clean this time. Were we naïve? I don’t think so. It played into his hubris; this idea that he was so arrogant, so believing in himself that he was going to show the world it could be done without doping. Without, of course, admitting that he’d doped for the previous TdFs.

Initially he was an open book for testing, before shutting the door on the science that he claimed would prove he was clean. We’re still looking for answers on that; Lance still, to the best of my knowledge, claims to have raced 2009 clean, taking 3rd in the TdF.

2009 was the second year I brought my son to the TdF. Curiously, Lance didn’t mean that much to him; he was more caught up in the spectacle of the TdF in general. To my son, Lance was “just zis guy, you know?” It was a year later, 2010, that things became more interesting, as Lance’s fall from 3rd to pack fodder saw Chris Horner waste his best shot at a TdF podium in service to a guy who just didn’t have what it took.

I believe Lance could have stopped after taking 3rd and likely gotten away with his records intact. The French were happy; they had their perfect story. The heroic effort that fails. They celebrate effort more so than success, and that was the big flaw in the Lance story. Until 2009 when all that changed. But Lance V 2.0 was still built upon the core code of Lance V1.x. It was destined to fail, because Lance couldn’t help but fall back to his vindictive nature and desire to use every trick in the book to win.