The Tourmalet - A Hundred Years of Climbing
Over the many years I have attended the Tour de France I have been aware there is a problem.
Over the many years I have attended the Tour de France I have been aware there is a problem. Often the closer you get to the grand race, the less you see. Simply put, the problem is that grand tour bicycle racing as offered up to millions of roadside fans in France or Italy over twenty days is not a spectator sport as much as a participatory sport. To best see this ‘grande boucle', you need to get on our your bike, mix with all the peoples of the world and hope you are in the correct spot to see a 10 second flash or a critical move by a world class rider. The math is not too good if you figure there are nearly a half million fans at every stage lining a hundred mile plus stretch of roadway for five to six hours of racing. If you really want to spectate and follow the race closely you better stay home and watch it on Versus or Eurosport..and read all about it on Roadcycling.com of course.
It is easy to believe that the closer you get to the race the less you see. This is often true of many sports. Basketball comes to mind as I watch the NBA finals now between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. I get excited and see a lot, but it never will approach the May evening I spent in the old parqueted floor Boston Garden in 1968 watching the sixth game of the NBA finals pitting Bill Russell, Bob Cousy et al against Jerry West, Elgin Baylor et al through the haze of cigar smoke as the Celts vanquished the Lakers. Just plain unforgettable- the noise, the banners hanging from the rafters and the smells were redolent even if I was full in the nosebleed section. It is the same with cycling; often you just have to be there. I have found the past decade that the more effort you put into shadowing the tour route and getting into unique, strategic viewing spots, the better you understand why this event has held the attention of so much of the world for so long. And, you just might see the ten seconds of glory that and couch potato could never imagine.
And, over the years, I found this most vividly happening on the Tourmalet.
Now, the Tourmalet is epic for me and has been for countless riders over the last century. Every cyclist I have ever encountered can remember virtually each ascent of this classic Pyrenean peak. For me this first happened on the Sainte Marie de Campon approach at the 2002 Tour de France. I had climbed up along the valley side to a tree lined stretch just below la Mongie. Lance, Jose Beloki and Roberto Heras came into view motoring along through the pressing crowd's screams. I opened my yap to scream along and nothing came out. I started to sob silently; it was my first time on the Tourmalet and my first live, up really close view of the biking