Again, It's Not About the Bike
? or how three amateur riders experienced the 2002 Tour de France
second water bottle racks. As we resumed our ride toward the Col de Tourmalet, I could hear Bob White, who we called Dr. Blanco on this trip, trying out his nascent Italian, ? bonjourno.?
The bike is the perfect conveyance to approach and see the Tour de France. On any given mountain stage, 200,000-300,000 people space themselves along the route and wait for the few seconds it takes for the leaders to whish by and for the half hour for the rest of the riders to sweep on up the course. Stage bike racing is not a spectator sport in the traditional American manner. It is not passive; rather, it is participatory at its best. You need to hike or ride to get to the best spots; you need to eat and chat for hours waiting for your favorites to fly by. At 40-60 kilometers an hour, they flash by in a blur of color surrounded by dozens of other bright streaks that lasts just seconds. There are no inning changeovers, no huddles, and no free throw breaks. On the flats, the peloton comes at you like a steam train with a thunderous roar, and then is gone. If you are on a steep section of a mountain, you get some break visually, as even the biking gods get slowed down to 20-30 kilometers an hour on 8-10% grades, especially if they have already done two similar climbs earlier in the day. Remember, we did the Aubisque the previous day; this day, stage eleven, the Tour gods did it two hours earlier.
We climbed together through three or four villages and met fans from Philadelphia, Copenhagen, and Minnesota. Don Anderson, mulling life through his grinding, came up with the telling wisdom that kilometers were much better measurement than miles, ?They are just perfect, bite sized.? By the time you get really ground down by one kilometer, you come across a new roadside sign, which indicates the gradient of the next kilometer. It?s a fresh start. The crowds were large and boisterous today, as if they knew that this was a key day of the race and that they were all in for a treat. Everyone seemed aware that Laurent Jalabert was on a solo breakaway since before the Aubisque and that he was making a heroic ride in what he had announced was his last Tour. The French and all Europeans were positively basking in the sunshine and the possibility of France?s first stage win in 2002. We found a perfect spot 4 km from the top where we could also see back down the valley miles away and catch the winding train of the promotional circus and finally the leaders of the race, surrounded by the inevitable Tour motorcycles and cars. The Tour harbingers were helicopters, which signal the arrival of the leaders. We all got alert and checked the valley repeatedly. Jacko, our new, huge triathlete friend from the Netherlands,