Velogal's Blog

Sunday, July 17, 2005

How cool is it that George Hincapie, not considered a climber at all, wins what has been called the most difficult stage of this Tour? It couldn’t happen to a more deserving, nicer guy. I was waving at him thru the door while he was waiting for the drug-testing, and he was just beaming… He is the nicest, sweetest guy, and has worked so hard for Lance for so many years. For George to win a stage of Lance’s last Tour is just so perfect.

I skipped the start and drove all the way to the top on Pla-d’Adet this morning. The road was just crawling with cyclists and hikers. And that meant the vehicles were just crawling along, too. Nobody seems to get the concept of sharing the road – if hikers and cyclists took one lane and left the other for Tour vehicles, it would make it easier and safer for everyone.

Last year, the gendarmes did a great job of keeping the two groups separated. But this morning, they just stood and watched the free-for-all happen. It was a mess – think of driving through Times Square at midnight on New Year’s Eve, only you have the width of a sidewalk to drive on…

The air was, and is, permeated with the smell of burning clutches. Last year, two media guys burned out the clutches in their vehicles. Believe me, it’s pretty tricky to stop and start every two minutes on those steep hairpin turns. The trick is to jump in behind other vehicles and caravan up. If somebody doesn’t know how to drive it (and there are always several folks every year who do not), then cyclists will pull out in front of you and slow you down even more. Cyclists are wobbling, weaving and swerving around, trying to keep their forward motion, and are scant inches from your bumper and fenders. One just has to keep going and tap-tap on the horn to warn them. I’m really surprised that folks don’t get run over.

The press is in a huge, auditorium-sized tent. The wind is howling and gusting so hard that I’m not sure the damn thing isn’t gonna come down. There are huge metal posts and bracing, but this big ole structure feels just like the big quake in ’89. We’re all looking at each other, trying to decide whether to stay in here or not. I feel like I may take a flier from Pla-d’Adet to Oz any minute now.

Last night took forever to get off the hill in the traffic, and I was able to grab into the back of a Gendarmerie escort down. They send ahead, down the hill, a huge fire truck or emergency truck with sirens and flashing lights, plus motorcycle cops blasting their sirens. The press and official cars follow them down the wrong side of the road at a break-neck speed

Upcoming cars have the bejeezus scared out of them - they have to instantly pull over and get the Hell out of the way. The cavalcade travels too fast, in my opinion. There are always near misses, and sudden slamming on brakes when a car just can’t get off the road. Then drivers have to pull over on both sides of the road, and the official cavalcade squeezes on through.

People get really PO’ed, as you can well imagine. Cars and campers sitting in hours of traffic are incensed about the press getting escorted on by. A couple of years ago, people in RV’s were opening their doors wide, trying to block us from coming through. I can’t blame them for resenting it – but those same camper folks follow the Tour every year, and they know the routine. C’est Le Tour!

But when the team busses and cars come through with the same escort kind of escort – well that’s a different story. People are waving and smiling and trying to get photos thru car windows. They cheer, applaud and beg for schwag: casquette, casquette! Getting a team cap makes you the envy of everyone around you.

I heard from one of Lance's guys that he didn't have a helicopter to take him off the mountain today, so he will be heading down in a team car with an Gendarme escort, I'm sure. Wonder how many pissed-off people will see Lance thru the window...

It was funny last night, when I was checking into the Hotel Hotan in Portet Sur Garonne, about 10 pm. The desk clerk (who spoke very little English) was talking to someone on the phone and trying to figure out whether he had some American names on the reservation list. He looked at my Discovery team cap, and asked if I would help him; handing me the telephone. On the other end of the line was Rob Davis, who is filming for Discovery Channel, along with four or five other DC staff guys, wanting to make sure that they hadn’t lost their reservation, being so late. So I grabbed the hotel room lists, and went thru it, checking off the names. Then I gave them directions to the hotel as best I could.

This was a first – now I can say that I was a hotel clerk in France during the Tour – and… small world, huh? These same six-degrees-of-separation things happen to me every year at the Tour. Love it – C’est Le Tour!


  • It is soo cool that George won the stage today, I am soo happy for him. He was beaming on the podium, a well deserved win.

    By Anonymous Janet, At 8:25 PM  

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