Wednesday, 17 July 2013

A Wet Day in Paradise

We've been very lucky to be blessed with fine weather right throughout the Centennial Tour, however today that all started to change. As we drove up from Provence to Bourg d'Oisans this morning to tackle the 21 switchbacks of Alpe d'Huez, we were driving in and out of rain all the way to just out of Grenoble. Fortunately, as we pulled into Bourg d'Oisens to park the bus and unload our bikes, the weather turned and we  were presented with fine sunny weather to ascend this beautiful mountain.
The roads were jam-packed with cyclists, walkers and vehicles, making their way up the mountain on the eve of what will be an epic stage tomorrow. I stopped to take a few pics along the way and wanted to make sure I captured the annual revellers at the church at Turn 7, known as "Dutch Corner". You will see from the pics below that the Dutch really take seriously their responsibilities to entertain themselves and the annual cycling pilgrims on Alpe d'Huez. The music is loud and the barbecues and beer flow freely all day.
We were to continue our ride over to Col de Sarenne, making it a 60 km loop back to Bourg d'Oisans, however the rain started falling not long after we summited Alpe d'Huez. The road on the planned loop via Col de Sarenne is narrow and dangerous in the wet, so discretion being the better part of valour, we descended back via the traditional route, taking it very cautiously in the wet and with all the traffic. The biggest danger, apart from the congestion, was the road graffiti, its very slippery in the wet!
Today, the Stage 17 Time Trial was held over a beautiful 32 km course east of Gap, near Lake Serre-Poncon. It was a tough course which included two Cat 2 climbs, very unusual for a TT course, and was always going to shake up the Top 10 a little. To add to the difficulty of the course, rain was falling from time to time to keep the riders a little on edge.
The Time Trial is often the penultimate stage of the Tour, however by bringing it forward in the race schedule, it has now created a very interesting few days in the Alps. Froome continues to prove his strength on the bike, no matter what the conditions of course. He consolidated his lead in the Yellow Jersey and as we continue to read and see, only a major catastrophe will beat him.
The "Race of Truth" sorted out the strongest in the Top 10 and Mollema was the big loser, dropping out of the podium group to 4th. His Belkin team mates will surely be trying to recover his podium position in the next few days, however Movistar and Katusha will be working equally as hard to get their climbers, Quintana and Rodriguez, into contention.
Contador did well today and is now sitting in 2nd spot and as predicted is starting to get stronger as the battle heats up in the last week. The Czech rider for Saxo-Tinkoff, Roman Kreuziger, has a lot of fans on the course and he has a solid hold on 3rd at the moment. My room mate, Eric, has worked with Saxo during the Spring and rates Kreuziger highly and expects he will hold on to his podium position  through the mountains to Paris.
Tomorrow is going to one of the most epic days in Tour de France history, with a double ascent of the infamous Alpe d'Huez. Today our group was comparing the relative difficulty of Mont Ventoux and Alpe d'Huez and there was no debate that Ventoux is the toughest climb. However, Alpe d'Huez holds this mystical appeal among cyclists and the Tour. When asked why, our Belgian professional tour leader,Eric, suggested that although it is only 13.5 km of climbing, the riders take it on full bore and they take no prisoners in the quest for victory on this mountain, to be part of it's history. 
The weather is predicted to be wet all day, so this will make the day doubling difficult for the riders and even more interesting for the spectators. The lounge room in front of the TV is probably the best place to be tomorrow to watch the great stage!
On a closing note, its great to see Aussie Michael Rogers sitting in 11th position and it would be great to see him sneak into the Top 10.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Gumbles well watching alp d'uez climb now and not drop of rain on the course!!

    .. so wonder where you are to watch it... a few of my blogger friends came over to report to me on your blog and how great it was (have link on sidebar and put it on PS on my last post too after your pickies made me drool!) and I see Anne joined too :D
    Am sorry your ride was curtailed by rain.. but tricky very narrow roads (it was paced out as almost five paces wide by sbs reporter.. that is narrow at speed etc for descent..
    Well, must get back to race they are splitting in all directions on the climb!! take care be safe, love Shaz.x