Sunday, 24 July 2011

A Sunny Aussie Sunday in Paris.

Today we were all looking forward to the moment when Cadel and the BMC team led the race onto the finishing circuit in Paris and then to applaud his unbelievable effort to be the first Aussie to ride down the Champs Elysees in the Maillot Jaune and be crowned the winner of the world's  greatest sporting event. It was also great to see the BMC team give their champion a great big group hug after the finish. It could be a great year to go down to Adelaide for the Tour Down Under next January. Big George is stumping up for another year and Cadel will be able to ride as an ex World Champ and the current TdF good is that for Ozzie cycling.

To top it off today, it was a great moment to see the Goss/Renshaw lead out give Cavendish an armchair ride to the line. It was great to see Cav give them both a big hug of appreciation after the finish.

Out tour group was up early for a 6.30 am ride on the finishing circuit and to ride up the Champs Elysees for the photo opportunities.

Today brings to a conclusion what has been a fantastic 3 weeks of cycling in France. A big thank you to Bikestyle Tours for giving me the opportunity to ride with them as a guide and a great big thank you to all those I shared the road with during this great adventure. Our clients were a great bunch of people, from all walks of life and all with the same passion and interest in cycling and this great event in July. I was particularly blessed to work with a very professional and fun team of guides and support crew for this year's Tour and new friendships have been made that I hope will persist into the future.

A few final photos of this final day of TdF 2011. 

Bikestyle Tours assemble in front of our hotel this morning for our 6.30 roll around the finishing circuit.

The guide team....Bec, Pete, Eric and Dave on the Champs Elysees.

The Brisbane Boys....Pete, Bob & Pete.

And by special request.....I kissed the cobbles to celebrate the moment.

The Aussie flags were out in force today and many of our group had Australian regalia to celebrate our pride. Much to our delight, there were many calls of "Go Cadel" and "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie" as we rode around the circuit this morning.

"Thor's Corner",.... the Norwegians had staked out the entry corner to Rue de Rivoli very early to display their pride in their "God of Thunder". What a great World Champion he's been this year.

BMC leads the peloton onto the finishing circuit. Unfortunately, in my haste to get the shot I missed Cadel at the back of the group. You can just see him above the motorbike windscreen.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Crikey special!!

What an incredible couple of days at the TDF, Cadel has done us proud!! His strength to keep himself in the race throughout the Alpine stages and his control and coolness yesterday after the mechanical was the culmination of 5 years of incredible focus and Jim Ochowicz said of his charge, "an absolute professional". We always believed that he could beat the Schlecks by more than a minute in the 42 km TT, but to beat them both by 21/2 minutes was a fantastic result.

World Champion,..... two times TDF runner up and now....finally, the first Australian to win the Tour de France. How special is this guy, a cyclists and athlete at the top of his game....and an Australian. You've gotta love it!!

We're all looking forward to being on the Champs Elysees tomorrow to cheer Cadel by in his yellow jersey and then to accept the winner's trophy.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Race of Truth - Cadel can do it!!

Well the GC is going right down to the wire and it all hinges on tomorrow's Time Trial in Grenoble. Cadel can win this year's tour with a strong time trial and if he's able to recover from the last two torturous days he should be able to take a minute from the Schlecks to ride past them to the top spot on the podium on Sunday in Paris. As we all know, Cadel CAN time trial. His doctor commented on Twitter last night that Cadel is the best he has seen at recovering and backing up day after day and that he wouldn't have any trouble repeating his Lauteret to Galibier efforts today. How right he was, despite his mechanical problem early in the race, which forced him back from the breakaway to the peloton, Cadel was able to single-handedly ride himself (and Frank Schleck!!) back to the front of the race. Two days in a row he's had to do all his own work to keep himself in contention and hopefully he'll be able to stump up again in Grenoble to create history for Australian and world cycling. Hopefully he will be able to put all the naysayers to bed, once and for all.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Three Days in The Alps

The three key days in the French Alps were always going to be significant in determining the GC this year and it seemed that after the shake up on the stage from Gap to Pinerolo that Cadel was in great shape to take out this year's tour. Principally because he has a strong time trial and for Andy Schelck to beat Cadel he would need to create a buffer of at least 2 to 3 minutes before the Grenoble TT on Saturday. It seemed that all Cadel had to do was cover the moves, rather than attack, it was up to Schleck to attack to create the buffer. And attack he did, with 60 km to go on the Izoard. Andy Schleck was clearly the best on the road today as he was able to hold his lead over Evans into the headwind in the climb up to Lautaret and then on the tough ride up Galibier.
It will be interesting to see how much fuel Schleck and Evans burned today and who is able to put in the big day on tomorrow's very tough Stage 19. First it's Telegraph then a real tough climb up Galibier again and then the finale on Alpe d'Huez. How good will this day be, lets hope they can all perform again to make it a TT with suspense. We'll be up on Aple d'Huez watching the showdown.

Contador has had a lot of trouble backing up after the Giro, or maybe his meat supplies have been below par this year? Voeckler has been riding out of his skin and despite being right on the rivet today he's still in yellow, just hoping its all above board and that he hasn't been in touch with Contador's butcher...., there are a few people over here making a few comments about his amazing effort to be able to defend the yellow throughout the mountain stages.

So Evans can't afford to lose any more time to Schelck, and in fact he really needs to take a few more seconds back to be safe. The Schlecks will no doubt attack again tomorrow and we can expect Stuie, Monfort, Cancellara and Co to continue the great team effort they've put in so far.

Bikestyle Activities.
Alpe d'Huez, Col du Lautaret and Col du Galibier.
Since arriving in the Alps from Mont Ventoux three days ago we've enjoyed some fantastic riding. It was very wet and cold when we arrived in Claviere on Tuesday and the forecast was looking shabby. We headed off to ride Alpe d'Huez on Wednesday in the rain but by the time we got off the bus at Bourg d'Oisans it was starting to clear but still looked dodgy. It was a quick rip up Alpe d'Huez and then the group had the choice to either ride the 40 km up to Lautaret or take the bus to Lautaret and then ride up to 2600 metres on the ascent of a snowy and freezing cold Galibier. I rode with the group over to Lautaret, which although not a steep climb it is all up hill for the 40 km, at an average 5-6%. Its a very picturesque trip as the photos below testify.

The view from Alpe d'Huez at turn 9, there are 21 corners in total and all are numbered on the route.

The glacier above La Grave, midway to Col du Lautaret.

This is a typical shot of many of the river valleys in the Alps at the moment, this is on the way to Lautaret.

Looking up to Galibier from Lautaret. The vans were already parked ready for the next two days of racing.

And for the animal shot of the day.........I found these old fellas just hanging around at the pub on Lautaret, where we had lunch to watch the final 30 km of the race to Pinerolo.

Claviere, Bardonecchia, Cesena, Sestriere Loop.
Today the aim was to complete a 100 km loop from our hotel in Claviere along some beautiful quiet river valleys and over a few Cols and to finish on the fabulous 12 km climb up to Sestriere. All this to be completed in time for us to get back to the hotel and watch the live coverage of today's decisive stage to Galibier. The river valley roads were very quiet and picturesque and some of the climbs more than a little challenging, particularly after the big climbing program we've put in over the last 10 days. The descents were a blast,... after all the only reason we climb these monsters is to go down as fast as you can safely ride. The traffic was light and the roads dry so we were really able to enjoy some fast descents.

Eric and the boys getting the warm gear on ready for the initial descent from Claviere to La Vachette, near Briancon.

Our hotel in Claviere. Food and accommodation is excellent and the village has some great cafes, restaurants and bars.

The spectacular view from about half way down the descent, with the Briancon Citadelle on the hill in the middle distance to the left. The Citadelle was a strategic alpine defensive site and construction was commissioned by Louis IV in 1668.

The Boonies,.... alpine style. This little chapel was on the Italian border on the narrow climb up to a col above Bardonecchia.

Cesena is a very pretty little town at the base of the 12 km Sestriere climb. It hosted the Bob, Luge and Skeleton during the 2006 Winter Olympics.

Approaching Sestriere, about 1.5 km to go.

The view downhill from the same 1.5 km to go point.

The view over some of the chalets as you come into Sestriere. I took this shot to show the massively thick rough slate tiles they have on the roofs in this part of the world. For those with an interest in this stuff blow the picture up and check them out. Add a metre or so of snow on top in winter and there is some serious engineering required to hold these roof structures up!

And of course there was the obligatory photo at the town's Olympic sign.

And for today's animal Issota, our friendly St Bernard in the pub next door where our tour guide group meets each afternoon to plan the next day's activities.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Climbing Mont Ventoux - Race Rest Day

We left our hotel on Monday's race rest day in bright sunshine to ride the famed Mont Ventoux. As the name suggests (venteaux is French for windy) this exposed giant mountain is known for dangerously strong mistral winds at this time of the year. We were lucky to only have moderate, but still strongish, winds in the last few km on the exposed moonscape section of the climb. It was freezing on top and during the descent it was all I could do to stop shivering so that I didn't set off a speed wobble. We descended well under control at around 70 kph, the pros rocket down at 90 kph +. Unfortunately, one of our guys had a front wheel blow out and he came down heavily and broke his collarbone, the ambulance was quickly to the scene and after a medical check at the hospital, he's back with us to finish the tour, albeit in the bus.
Our initial 54 km ride included a loop from Malaucene to Bedoin to Mont Ventoux and then back to Malaucene on the gorge descent. We then took a nice little 50 km ride back through some beautiful Provence countryside to our hotel. I took a stack of pics and these are a few to give you the picture.

"The Giant of Provence", dominating the surrounding countryside. The cloud on top looked ominous but apart from wind and cold, it was a good ascent.

Just outside of Bedoin at the 19 km to go mark. You can just make out the weather station on the summit on the section that looks like snow, in reality its a barren chalky moonscape.

Are we there yet? Nope, ....still 16 km to go! Damn!

OK, now the real climbing begins. Average 9% from 15 km mark to Le Chalet Reynard at the 6 km to go point.

A view of the forest on the lower slopes. The forest gives way to the famous moonscape near Le Chalet Reynard. 

The view from Le Chalet Reynard, and still 6 km to go. The slopes ease to 7% average from here but the wind picks up and it gets cold.

Darren and Bec at the Tom Simpson memorial with less that 1 km to go.

The Tom Simpson memorial, inside 1 km to go. Traditionally, many cyclists leave a memento at the site when they pay their respects. Simpson died at this point during the 13th stage of the Tour in 1967. He was the most successful British post war cyclist to race in Europe. An autopsy identified amphetamine and alcohol in his system. He was also severely dehydrated from a series of very hot days racing in southern France.

Are we there yet?.....yep, where on the top!!

For me the climb wasn't as hard as the two times I've climbed Tourmalet. The weather conditions were very cool and although windy on the final open slopes, it wasn't always a head wind.

Stage 15 Limoux to Montpellier

Today our tour group took a bus transfer from Lourdes to Carcassonne to watch the race pass by this historic medieval walled town in southern France. We then continued on to our hotel in Provence, between Orange and Montelimar. Its a beautifully restored set of stone buildings set in the countryside and the staff have been incredibly friendly and accommodating. For anyone who might be visiting this region I would recommend this as a great spot to stay for a night or two.

The website for Les Mejeonnes is 

The front entry to the hotel.

Alfresco dining for a beautiful summer evening.

A view from my bedroom this morning.

The visit to Carcassonne yesterday was one of those "Bucket List" days for me. I've always had a fascination with medieval villages and Carcassonne is probably one of the best known, so the chance for a quick visit before the race came by was an added bonus. Due to road closures we had to park the bus about 2 km from the village, so we hot footed it for a quick 1 hour visit before the riders came down the road. A brief selection of photos gives you a good feel for the place.

A quick snap of Carcassonne from the bus as we barreled down the highway. The walled city was built by a wealthy family, Trencavel's, in the 12th century and then annexed as royal property the next century.

There are two principal buildings within the Cite, the original chateau on the top right and the basilica on the left. The balance of the site contained the township, which was ringed by a double wall and moat. The chateau was also walled and surrounded by its own moat and it was never penetrated during an attacking enemy.

A shot of the entry gates behind the carousel, taken from the wall of a large cemetery, which was outside the town walls.

The main entry.

The first line of defence, the external wall.

The bridge across the moat to the chateau. There is a temporary stage and grandstand in the moat after a recent musical festival.

A crossbow parapet on the wall of the chateau.

The basilica. 

The rampart, which leads up from the city gates to the Chateau, and now houses all the retail shops and restaurants. Very similar to the rampart at Mont St Michele.

Oh,.... yes, and the race? We made a quick exit to catch the riders going by. This is the breakaway group, which had a 3 minute lead at this point. They were eventually reeled in and the HTC team gave Cavendish an armchair ride for victory in the sprint finish at Montpellier. The significant thing about Cav's lead out train this year is that Matt Goss and Mark Renshaw are his last two men in the line up for the finish....and they're doing a great job to defend the Green Jersey.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Stage 14 St Gaudens to Plat de Beille

Another day for the main contenders for the GC to do battle. It was a great spectacle, both from the point of view of the way the race unfolded and also the beautiful Pyrnees scenery. We have been blessed with some fantastic weather for all the Pyrenean stages and so riding for the peloton and our tour group has been safe and comfortable.
Despite the great weather, there were still some guys who had trouble keeping the rubber side down! Poor old Jensie just couldn't stay upright and Ten Dam looked a bit of a mess after his face plant on the road.
Stuie did another monster day on the front of the Leopard Trek team to keep the Schleck boys in touch, he's one strong domestique these days and his race craft is important to developing the team's tactics.
There were some really serious hills in today's stage, with a HC finish on Plat de Beille, preceded by two Cat 1, two Cat 2 and one Cat 3 climb.
Thomas Voeckler is riding out of his skin in his defence of the yellow jersey and Contador, Sanchez and Basso are staying within reach. It was a great win for Vanendert, one of Lotto's climbers, as he was able to slip away from the GC group as he is no threat to the overall result.
The battle between the Schlecks and Evans is becoming the real focus and it will make the Alps and the Time Trial in Grenoble very interesting and the race could go right down to the wire. Who knows, after the way Voeckler has ridden in the Pyrenees he could be very hard to toss in the next week. With a two minute lead over his main rivals he could be this year's big surprise and maybe it will be enough of a buffer in the 42 km TT in Grenoble, although he's not a noted Time Trialer.

Tourmalet 100 km Loop.
You really can't be cycling in the Pyrenees and not take a trip up Col du Tourmalet. So today, rather than watch a part of the race live, we took a ride from Lourdes up to Tourmalet and back. The round trip is just over 100 km, with a total elevation gain of 2,000 metres and 50 km of climbing. By the time we got home we were all tired little puppies and I think most will have had a quick dinner and then its back to the rooms to pack our bags for our early bus transfer tomorrow. A selection of photos below gives you some idea of how magnificent the area is, particularly when the sun is shining like it was today. Sadly, the forecast for our trip to the alps after the next rest day is looking bleak. It looks like the race is going to have some pretty nasty rain for a few days and this may limit some of our riding, as descending in the alps is not a pleasant brakes don't work so well on steep mountain descents of 15 Km or more.

This is a view at about the half way mark of the climb, a great excuse to get off the bike and stretch the legs.

The La Mongie ski village is 4 km from the summit of Col du Tourmalet.

The summit, and the famous shot that every cyclist takes when they finally achieve the goal.

This is the view off the top looking down at the descent you make to Bareges and Luz St Sauveur. It was a very windy day today, so descending could easily have been an issue if you got hit by one of the wind gusts mid corner. As it turned out the wind was OK but the road was littered by loose rocks that had slipped off the scree slopes.

And for the animal feature of the day.....we came across a couple of families of Alpacas at La Mongie and this little fella was pretty cute.