Almost Live from the Tour de
I seem to have made a habit of ditching the real world in favor of
France for a week or two during July each year; this will be my 7th
consecutive trip, beginning in 2000 when this guy named Lance was
going after his 2nd TdF win. Who'd have known he'd keep it up and
eventually get 7 wins? But Lance isn't the reason for going; perhaps
he may have been an excuse that first trip, but it took very little
time for me to fall in love with not just the Tour de France (an
institution I'd pretty much ignored my entire cycling life, which
seems a bit odd for an ex-racer) but with France itself. I'm hooked
on the place. It's hard to explain why; I'm dreadful at foreign
languages (not so tough to read the, but when it's spoken or, worse
yet, when I try to speak it...
BUT DID I GET THE SHOT?I'll have to let others decide that
one, but if it wasn't the shot, it was at least very close.
I'll have to fill in the details later; it's 1:48am and I have a
shuttle that may, or may not, be arriving at 7am to take me to the
airport. But that's yet another story.
If I can stay awake on the plane, I'll have plenty of time to work
on things, and literally over a thousand photos to go through.
But yes, our group found its way to the right place, at the right
time, after the race was over. We'd tell you where that was, but
then everybody would know and we'd never get there again, would we?
But what you're looking at is Floyd Landis immediately following the
team's victory lap on the Champ Elysees. For Floyd, a pretty darned
--Mike-- (Who's hopefully returning from Paris shortly, but whose
track record isn't perfect in that regard).
FINAL TIME TRIAL
There was all manner of drama going on during the final TT at the
Tour de France today, but people seem to care about only one thing.
"Did you get any good pictures of Floyd Lanids?"
So yes, I found a place on the
outskirts of town, about 3k from the starting line, where there were
very few people and pretty good sight lines (so only a few of my
photos show hands clapping into the face of a rider). And I took a
zillion photos, although this time I was a bit more methodical about
things, reviewing them as I went along and modifying settings to see
And yes, to the several pros that came up to me and gave me some
pointers, I'll probably use flash next time. But I'm a cyclist
first, story-teller second, and photographer comes way down
the list in terms of things I'm good at.
Tomorrow (Sunday) it's on to Paris and the finale on the Champ
Elysees which, to tell you the truth, I'm not really looking forward
to. It's crowded beyond belief, but this year I'm going to try a
spot lower on the course. Film at 11, as they say.
And that Floyd Landis guy? Impressive. How US Postal (later to be
Discovery) let him get away is a crime. --Mike--
GREAT DAY IN FRANCE!
Yes, Floyd Landis probably guaranteed his overall victory
with a great time trial ride today, and yes, I've got lots of
photos, but you'll have to wait a day or two for me to get to them.
Things are heading to
close for both this tour and my trip, so there isn't enough time in
the day to get everything done. But what I did get done was
my best day on a bike while here. We had a great ride from our hotel
in Beaune to the Time Trial course, probably around 40 miles,
meadering through the hills & valleys of the Bourgogne wine
(called the Route des Grands Vins). Very nice area, with literally
hundreds of wineries dotting the countryside. Too bad I know nothing
about wines, but I do know something about nice people to ride with,
great roads and, finally, cooler temperatures.
In fact, we had a thunderstorm in the morning and it didn't get
about 80 degrees until 11am or so... and never got higher than 90 on
the return. A bit humid, but so much nicer than days past. It
finally felt like a day that I really enjoyed the entire time spent
on a bike... and now it's time to hang the bike up and return. No
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM (Day before the big Time Trial) PLUS- SCENES FROM THE FEED ZONE
Almost-live from the Tour de France!Yes, there was a stage today, yes, it
was won by Matteo Tosatto
Italian sprinter that nobody really knows (or, sadly, cares about...
he's a lead-out man for World Champion Tom Boonen). And yes, I was
there on yet another scorchingly-hot day, getting the only picture
anybody does care about right now... Floyd Landis.
Tomorrow the race will be decided, with a lengthy time trial that
greatly favors Floyd Landis. He's just 30 seconds behind the
Yellow Jersey (although in the photo above Landis is the guy holding
the water bottle, directly in front of the Yellow Jersey), and
should be able to make up that gap, and then some. Meantime, about
the only thing really interesting watching this stage (in person) is
to observe the spectators, like the French family in the photo above
right, with the kid in the King of the Mountains jersey, holding an
American flag. Let me say it one more time again- the French love
heroes, period. They don't have to be French (although they'd love
for a French hero to come along!). Right now, they're immensely
impressed by the heroics of Floyd Landis, and the fact that he's an
American isn't a problem.
Right now I'm charging up all manner of batteries, phones &
computers, getting ready for another long, hot day taking photos.
Hopefully I'll be able to find a good spot in the shade. In all
seriousness, the heat here is oppressive, and it's just amazing that
the riders can go on as they do, day after day. 7 days of this will
have been enough for me, and I can ride whatever speed I want, stop
whenever I want, and even not ride for a day if I want. But Floyd's
heroics have made it worthwhile. This has suddenly become a Tour de
France to remember.
People gather around the feed zone (the area where the cyclists are
handed up food & water bottles), so naturally the Caravan, with its
combination of freebies & stuff to buy, stops in for a visit.
Above right you see a guy who just missed out on snagging some
worthless little trinket that he'd likely throw himself under the
car's wheels to get (seriously!), and above left you see one of the
official vendors selling their $20 Euro package of a hat, umbrella,
and a couple other items.
George Hincapie, wondering what
happened to a Tour de France that he was considered to be one of the
favorites for. This has obviously not been the race the Discovery
boys had been hoping for.
Two riders behind is Michael Boogerd, who always seems to be wearing
a huge (but slightly funny-looking) smile. Or maybe he's just got
strange teeth. Whatever the case, he had a much better Tour de
France this outing than George.
I wasn't sure what I was looking at when I was looking over my
photos... the shot to the left appears to be Cadel Evans, er, well,
to heck with subtlety, it looks like he's blowing a snot rocket. In
the middle of the feed zone!
Obviously not, I'm misinterpreting something. Until I look at the
next shot and see him wiping his nose with his glove. Yep. That was
one bona-fide snot rocket. This being a feed zone, I'd say Cadel has
seriously-deficient table manners!
A larger shot of the photo shown earlier, with the kid wearing a
Polka Dot (King of the Mountains) jersey and, in fact, looking to
have a more-than-passing resemblance to Rasmussen, the actual King
of the Mountains!
A CIVILIAN TODAYas I pass on riding my bike from our
hotel in Aix Les Bains to the feed zone on the course. Not a bad
ride, at maybe 50-60 miles with no real climbs, but I need to get
more work done on the photos I've taken so I can get the website
updated, and take care of an ankle that's got some pretty good
blisters around the heel caused by too many hours walking & standing
in cycling shoes. Oh, and there's a side-benefit that I won't be all
sticky after another very hot ride... making the 2.5 hour bus ride
to Beaune a bit more tolerable! Yeah, wimp, that's me. But tomorrow
will be a pretty big day (and the last chance to ride) as I head out
from Beaune (by bike) to watch the time trial, then ride back to the
Did I mention that it's hot in France? I'm probably a bit
more at odds with the weather than normal, given how mild a spring
we had in the SF Bay Area. Plus, back home, if you want different
weather, you don't have to drive very far to find it. Here, the heat
is pervasive, pretty much across most of Europe. You get a different
perspective on why Europe is so much more strongly aligned towards
doing something about global warming; one gets the idea that doing
something about global warming is already busting thermometers and
that you're giving people hope... even if it were to be proven that
it isn't from all the stuff we put into the air.
FROM THE COL de la COLUMBIERE AT THE TOUR de FRANCE
Almost-live from the Tour de France!From yesterday's total meltdown to
today's resurrection, Floyd Landis is a story that outdoes anything
Hollywood could possibly come up with.
Those danged arrogant bastard Americans are at it again! You can
feel the frustration among the Europeans; for the past seven years,
they've watched one of their favorite sporting events become
dominated by an American, and this year, they feared it was possible
again, especially after so many favorites were thrown out in the
Spanish blood-doping scandal. But Discovery faltered (badly), and
Landis looked poised to take up the slack... until his disastrous
ride on Wednesday. That was then, this is now. Landis made up the
lion's share of his losses from Wednesday's stage in a spectacular
breakaway, and is now just 30 seconds out of first place.Nobody thought this could possibly happen! Including me,
surprised as everyone else, when Landis heads up past me, way ahead
of all other contenders, on the Col du Columbiere.
The photo on the right is of Chris Horner, who spend a year
of so out here riding for Webcor, and is now living every racer's
dream... and showing it on his face, every single day.
The details- I slept in this morning... until 7:30. Too bad I
didn't get to bed until well past 1am. Some very loud music at the
hotel that was bothering everyone else, but not much trouble for me
since I was up anyway, working on photos and the website. I'm not
the typical tourist, to say the least.
We took the bus out to Annecy (one of the most-beautiful parts of
France) and rode from there to Grand Bournand, where we joined the
TdF route. Thankfully not as challenging a ride as days past, since
the Col de la Columbiere is a relatively-mild 12km climb at only
5.8% average grade. Overall, it's like climbing King's Mtn twice,
both in length and grade. I can do that! And the weather was milder
too, never getting over 95 degrees... and to say I'd learned to
indulge in fluids is an understatement. Quart containers of orange
juice are easily downed at one sitting, along with large amounts of
Cytomax (which, I'll admit, doesn't taste quite so good when it's
been baking in the sun for hours).
The crowds were heavy, but not oppressive where I chose to set up,
about 1km below the summit. Of course, I first rode to the top,
where a Jambon Fume Blanc (plain smoked ham on a not-so-tough roll
of bread) and bottle of coke were one of the best 6 Euro buys yet.
Hauling the camera gear around by bike isn't the greatest; your
mobility is limited by the fact that you're in cleated shoes and you
kinda want to keep an eye on your bike! I thought I had a great
place to get photos, with a nice bridge down the valley that the
riders would be crossing, but as it turned out I would have been
better off about two turns further down. I'm slowly learning about
this picture thing, and sometimes even getting help from some of the
pros working the course, who come by and make suggestions and wonder
why I'm not using flash.
But what a great day to be at the Tour de France! I'd gotten
an idea that Landis was doing something special from little bits &
pieces I was picking up from someone's radio (in French, so the
pieces I picked up were very little bits & pieces!), but was
nevertheless surprised when Landis rounded the corner far below with
only Sinkewitz with him, and nobody else for many minutes. This
really is an odd tour; I wasn't familiar with Sinkewitz, and after
several minutes a chase group (which had actually been part of the
Landis group but came unglued when he stepped up the pace)
containing Stuart O'Grady showed up. Stuart's a sprinter, not a
climber! But the unusual is to be expected in this version of the
Tour de France.
FROM THE COL du GLANDON AT THE TOUR de
Almost-live from the Tour de France!This race is, frankly, a mess. With no
team in control of the race, and Floyd Landis cracking on the final
climb (actually, he's just about ready to drop out of the group
shown in the photo above), it's not only up for grabs, but very
confusing as well.
The photo on the left shows Michael Boogerd, Rabobank strongman but
not a contender at almost 14 minutes down (which is still better
than any Discovery rider), flanked on the right by Cadel Evans, the
Aussie wonder who, at less than three minutes back, still has a shot
at the top place on the podium.
The race remains hot, almost dreadfully so. We saw more people
carted off in ambulances in St Jean, the city at the base of the
final climb. An even 100 degrees was on my computer at the time,
which should be manageable, but if you don't get enough water,
things can go bad very quickly. One can only wonder what it's like
to race 100 miles in such heat! Normally I'd be riding some of the
climbs ahead of the riders straight-up (no stopping), but not this
time. You don't pass a roadside stand selling cold drinks, you stop.
Yes, I'll admit it, 100 degree Cytomax is no match for a cold
Orangina or Coke!
OK, now for the details that didn't make it into the front-page
piece. Did I tell you it's hot out there? So hot that I had my first
experience with melting asphalt. You know, the stuff that took down
Beloki a few years ago, and forced Lance to ride across that field.
Let me tell you, you do not want, ever, to experience melting
asphalt. Your wheels act funny and your front tire does indeed act
as if it's trying to bite into the pavement. So what causes it?
There's plenty of asphalt in the world that doesn't melt at 100
degrees. Does France use the cheap stuff or what?
I took a whole lot of photos, experimenting with a bit different
setup than normal, but basically few things work better than getting
low. Real low. Down-on-the-pavement-on-your-side low. Which, of
course, means almost-in-the-way-of-the-riders low, so you have to be
I wonder if France has a "corking" fee if you bring your own
water to dinner? Apparently it's relatively common in France
that you can't get tap water (eau ordinaire) at restaurants, forcing
you to buy their expensive bottled water for 3-4 Euro (about $5
these days). Same stuff you can buy down the street at the Champion
Supermarket (down the street in France, that is) for less than 1
I'd write more, but it's nearly 1am (again) after doing some more
laundry in the sink, following another late dinner, which followed
another couple-hour bus trip, which followed another hot ride to a
place where you set up to do nothing more than wait (about 3 hours
worth) for the riders to come through... in the hot sun. Thankfully
I'm getting good about remembering to use sunscreen! But about now I
think it's time I need a rest day! But not tomorrow.
Tomorrow's the last Alpine stage, but thankfully we don't have to be
on the road until about 8:15am. --Mike--
Alpe d'Huez at the Tour de France!Does it get any better than
this? Well, yes... but we'll get to that. First, some race photos.
Almost-live from the Tour de France!Today's Alpe d'Huez stage is one of the
classic Tour-defining events and, as usual, the climb was packed
with hundreds of thousands of spectators... plus me, trying to find
a good place to get photos. Sometimes, I have to admit that a bike
can get in the way. Today was one of those days; to get where I
needed to go required hiking a very long distance across fields...
in cycling shoes.
The stage was won by Frank Schleck, who's pictured riding up the
mountain bike Damiano Cunego. But the real story was a
totally-fractured field, coming across my part of the mountain
(about 2km before the finish) in bits & spurts. The upper-right
photo shows just how lonely a feeling that an be... a single rider
against a wide road on a monster of a mountain. Kind of how I felt
climbing it, not helped by the heat (up to 97 degrees).
OK, the stuff above was suitable as front-page news for the website.
But you want the dirt. And that's what I got today... a lot
of dirt, as the gendarmes refused to let people up the last 3k of
the climb at the ridiculously-early hour of 2pm (with the riders
expected to arrive around 5pm). And maybe I could have gotten there
by 2pm, except that we got off to a bit of a late start (have you
wondered what it's like trying to find a parking space for a huge
bus with a bike trailer attached to it?). And my climb wasn't
exactly lightning-fast either, with temps running as high as 97
degrees (ouch!), and I was feeling it big-time. This was not a fun
day to climb Alpe d'Huez.
But just as I was beginning to feel sorry for myself, I come across
a spectator surrounded by paramedics who are literally beating on
the guy's chest. It didn't look good and no, I didn't take photos.
But no matter how it turned out, that guy was having a much-worse
day than I was (and for those who need to know, yes, he looked to be
in his mid-50s, very overweight, and, since this is France, he
probably smoked too).
Unlike other climbs up Alpe d'Huez, which I'd generally do without
stopping, I made pit stops for an overpriced orange drink (although,
at 2 euros, it's still a lot cheaper than a drink at the ballpark,
and what's the better setting, a ballpark or Alpe d'Huez?) and a
very interesting watering hole that required you to literally pump
your water into your bottle. Pretty cool, I thought!
I still don't have this photo thing down quite right. It's obvious
that I need to be right up front and down low to get decent shots,
so why do I keep trying different things (that never work)?
Interesting day for me, bike-wise. My bike seemed to have survived
the manhandling done by the TSA apes, but my stem pulled out of the
tube this morning while being pumped, and then, at the top of Alpe
d'Huez, as I was getting ready to head down the hill, I notice my
front tire's flat. So I pull it out and patch it, only to find that
I missed the hole and had to do it again. Not fun with a minipump,
especially when you do it twice. I was getting worried that I was
going to be the last person back to the bus (about 30 miles away),
and that concern was intensified when a gendarme gave me incorrect
directions back to Vizelle. Fortunately I'm not too proud to walk
into a bar and ask, which I did (in French no less!) (poor, but
functional French, for the benefit of my daughter who thinks I'm
pathetic, yet I somehow get the job done). The reaction was "Vizelle???!!
That's quarante kilometers!" (I honestly don't remember exactly what
she said in French instead of "that's", but the meaning was
perfectly clear... she thought I was far off the beaten track and
would never make it back... while the truth was that I'd detoured
only a mile or so out of my way, and even though dead tired and
hungry, I was going to do that 40 kilometers faster than I'd ever
Fortunately, I jumped from one relatively-fast train to ever-faster
trains ("trains" being groups of riders) and got back pretty darned
quickly... a full hour ahead of several others.
07/16/06 17:07 (5:07pm)
DID WE JUST DO ONE BIG LOOP?
For those who think the ubiquitous freeway rest stop with some
combination of McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Taco Bell (or relevant
local chain) and a couple of gas stations selling overpriced
bottles of soda are unique to the United States, you are so very
wrong!France is full of such places along their major
highways, and unlike the US, where the combination of fast food &
gas brands differs from place-to-place, they're identical in France.
Seems strange that a place celebrated for its scenic diversity and
cultural sophistication requires cookie-cutter freeway stops for
people to feel comfortable pulling off the freeway. We stopped at
one for lunch at noon, and then two hours later made a pit stop at
one that could have been its clone. It was as if we drove 200km and
ended up back at the same place. I'd first noticed this phenomenon a
few years ago, remarking how sad it was that the French tourists
don't bother with the little cafes just a mile or two off the main
highway, where better food is served for the same (or less) $$$.
Perhaps they get bored of the good stuff back home?
Trash-talk while at a
lunch stop somewhere between Paris and Aix les Bains.
WHAT DAY IS IT?Geez, only been gone for a bit over a
day and already mixed up! Yesterday's diary entry originally listed
the date as 7/01/06, and that would require reverse time-travel,
which is the opposite of what happens when you fly east (you lose a
day, a very long day at that!). But right now it's Monday
morning, and getting ready to hit the road (on a bus, not a bike).
Rest day for the TdF riders, travel day for us. By the end of today
(which is tomorrow for most reading this) I'll have the France
section broken out separately from the rest of this, with
07/15/06- ADDENDUM/I LIKE TO WATCH
I enjoy watching people, all kinds of people, when I travel. So I'm
eating my sandwich on the Champ Elysees, and hear these two girls
yakking about, kinda yelling at each other in a playful way, in that
loud, semi-obnoxious way that teen-age girls sometimes do. Well, not
quite. Not realizing that I'm paying any attention, one says (loudly
enough for me to hear) that essentially it's time to get back to
work, approaches me, asks me if I speak English and tries handing me
one of those sad little notes that if you bothered reading would
tell you how they'd recently immigrated from some horrible country
and live on the streets with their two babies and if I could only
help them out it would prevent a horrible personal tragedy. You
know, the sort of thing that, as a decent humanitarian, you imagine
accurately portrays somebody's situation, but probably not
that particular person, so you feel mildly bad about waving them
off. Well, in this case, I can assure you the note's not accurate.
BACK REPORTING LIVE FROM FRANCE! But it wasn't
terribly easy getting here this time. I had thought the main toll
was on my nerves... changing planes in Chicago, then in London (if
you can avoid a BMI transfer, I'd recommend it... changing terminals
at Heathrow isn't likely anybody's idea of a fun way to pass the
time), but it turns out the real casualty was more nearly my bike!
Those TSA guys really did a number on the contents of my bike case,
destroying one of the latches (which was not
locked!!!), and going through everything that was so-carefully tied
down inside, managing to break the transmitter of my bike computer
in the process. I haven't had a chance to ride the bike yet, nor
look at it in daylight. Never had anything like this before.
Somehow things work out though, and the hassles in-between serve as
reminders that one needs to be resilient and patient;
that the world doesn't always want to revolve around the exact space
you occupy, and always seems to have its own schedule that pays
little attention to what you think is reasonable.
After getting settled into the hotel room (pretty nice Hotel; the
Mercure Versailles Expo), I get a bit antsy so instead of going to
sleep, I decide to hit the Metro and head into town. I quickly
discovered how my "standard" tour (meaning very inexpensive) can
afford such a nice hotel... it's a very long distance from the
nearest Metro stop, further than I thought possible and still be in
Paris! But you don't travel in Europe and not expect to put in quite
a few miles of walking (it would just be nice if it could be done
when there wasn't so much of a zombie effect from not sleeping for a
day and a half).
But I'm a firm believer in the fact that things happen for a reason,
and one of the things we're supposed to do in life is come up with a
positive way of looking at something that originally seems to be not
quite as you'd like it to be. And today, it was all about helping
out three first-timers to Paris who were having one heck of a
difficult time with the ticket agent at the Metro. I'm not sure if
he was being deliberately obtuse or what, but it seemed like he was
going out of his way to not understand what it was those three women
wanted (Americans, who had zero grasp of "practical" french, and
were trying to order a 7-day Metro pass). It could be that the guy
had seen one-too-many American tourist with a Rick Steves travel
book, pointing to a passage that said this is what you need to get,
but without explaining the little details that help to get the job
The irony was that the mother of the two women (who looked college
age) said she'd had three or four years of French in high school,
but couldn't find a way of communicating with the ticket agent,
because she wasn't thinking French. Not French the language,
but rather a different system, a culture to bridge and perhaps even
embrace. And worse, their experience was beginning to become a
source of massive frustration rather than fun.
I helped out as best I could, explaining to them why using the word
"carnet" was probably mixing the guy up (because you typically buy a
carnet du billets, which is a set of 10 Metro tickets, while what
they wanted was one of the Carte Orange passes, which also require a
photo ID). Before leaving I also let them know a few basics, such as
not trying to order coffee with your meal (it's considered an
after-meal drink in France) and don't ever turn down the Frommage
(cheese) plate when offered.
Paris is as busy as ever, with the Champ Elysees going strongly at
10:15pm, when I finally decided I'd better get back to the hotel
room. Discovered a new way to commit a faux pas when I ordered a
sandwich, they asked if it was for here (which I assumed meant
eating at one of the tables inside) or to go... I said it was to go.
As I left I sat down on an outside table, and was promptly told I
couldn't do that, because I ordered it to go. I assume there's a
different price for a to-go order than one you eat there, and it's
probably pretty expensive maintaining any real estate on that
street, so I guess I deserved to be treated like a deadbeat trying
to get away with something. Didn't bother me anyway; I just
apologized and moved on.
I did come across one shop already taking advantage of the Tour de
France, even though it's not going to hit Paris for another week.
Chain Reaction sells bicycles & accessories
from Trek, Gary Fisher, BikeFriday,Shimano, Pearl Izumi, Continental, Descente,
Sidi, Giro, Blackburn, Speedplay, Oakley, Saris, NiteRider, Bontrager,
Torelli, Look, DeFeet, Rock N Roll, Hammer, Cytomax,
Powerbar, Fox, Clif
Bar, CamelBak, Chris King, Profile Design, Craft, X-Lab and many more!