July 20, 2016
By Roger Bird
I had seen the Tour de France on tapes and TV for decades before I got the chance to actually go there and it was nothing like what I was expecting.
The 113-year- old Tour de France enters its final week and many analysts say that the overall winner is almost certainly decided. This three-week bicycle race has had some similarities over the last several years: spectacular crashes, someone is doping, and one gutsy rider will win because of the hard work and great tactics of their team. But even in the biggest bicycle race in the world anything can happen.
One thing you really don’t see on TV is the parade of sponsor cars, trucks, floats, motorcycles, and circus vehicles that drive the entire route for the day, every day, approximately one hour ahead of the race itself. For the crafty fan this is when you score the swag. I’ve gotten hats, t-shirts, stickers, drinks, cheeses, and even little sausages thrown to me as the vehicles speed by. Families camp on the sides of the route, sometimes more than a week in advance just to see the race come by them and gone in a matter of minutes. Amazing. I’ve been over there for the race six times and this wows me every time.
Last week’s 184km STAGE #12 (114 miles) had the riders finishing on the top of Mt Ventoux, a mountain that I’ve pedaled up on two occasions. It’s a beast of a hill with a total distance of about 15 miles and an average gradient of about 8% and a very steep 12% in places! Most of the way up it is tree covered and you have no view of the top. Just when you think you’re about to pop out into the wind-blown lunar- landscape top, the road keeps going. The weather at the top is usually brutal and this year they cut the race short because of 100km/h winds at the summit.
The talent of these guys is almost unfathomable. They race 21 days straight, with two rest days thrown in, for a total of over 2,000 miles, at an average speed of 25mph! In the same Ventoux stage last week, the overall leader Chris Froome crashed into the rider in front of him who had struck a motorcycle and then another motorcycle hit them from the rear. Chris’ bike frame was broken and he started running up the hill without a bike until his team car could catch up and give him his spare. Never before has a rider run the course without a bike. Absolutely wild!
George Hincapie climbing Ventoux in 2008
The true climbers still have a chance to win it all and there is the rare uphill time trial before they cruise into Paris on Sunday to do their laps up and down the Champs-Élysées. It’s never over til it’s over and if you haven’t tuned in yet, do it now and come to our Tour de France viewing parties at The Racery. Also, be sure to check out our pro bikes that have seen these routes in action!