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Letters to Cyclingnews - July 4, 2003
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We traveled to France last year to see three stages of the 2002 TdF: Stage 16 (Les Deux Alpes-La Plagne); Stage 17 (Aime-Cluses); and the finale on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. It is like nothing we've ever experienced. Here's some advice I can share with you :
Try to avoid using cars/buses to travel to the mountain stages. When it comes to mountain stages, cars are a nuisance - they slow you down, and stress you out. You're a cycling enthusiast, right? Consider renting a bike in one of the nearby villages, or better yet, bring your own bike with you, as my wife and I did, and ride to/from your chosen viewing area for the stage. Experience suffering up a climb like the pros do, and I guarantee you'll appreciate the event (and the cold beer after the ride) so much more. Actually, you'd be amazed how much easier it is to get to/from a mountain stage on your bike. You'll eliminate the hassles of looking for parking spaces on those narrow mountain roads (the hard-core European fans will have taken up every available inch of roadside with their RVs anyway), and you won't waste your valuable vacation time sitting in your rental car in gridlocked traffic after the roads re-open. You can ride up the climb the morning of the stage - the times for the road closures will be posted in the local villages - and descend back down after the stage passes by. My wife and I cycled up the Cormet de Roseland climb on the morning of Stage 16 (20 km, avg gradient six percent, Category 1 climb) before the roads closed, sat on the mountainside and watched the race come by, and then rode our bikes back down to our B&B in Bourg St. Maurice to watch the rest of the race on French tele - while all of the motorists were still caught in traffic up on the mountain!
So, I can't talk you into riding a bike up the Col de Peyresourde? Alright, how about this? Hike up on foot. Start out in the early morning the day of the stage. Make a whole day of it - pack a picnic lunch. Or if you're really adventurous, start out the day before, and spend an overnight camping out on the mountainside. The locals won't mind you pitching a tent in their front yard - just make sure you ask first. No matter where you chose to watch the stage, there'll be plenty of cycling fans to pass the time with. The atmosphere on a mountain stage is so much fun; people picnicking, partying, and painting words of encouragement on the roads. The day of the La Plagne stage in last year's TdF, my wife and I started just before dawn and hiked to the La Plagne ski station from the back side of the mountain, took a gondola ride down to the stage finish area (the gondola operator let us on for free!), then hiked down to the 10km banner, where we had a terrific view of the switchbacks below - we could see all the way down to the village of Aime where the riders turned to start the finishing climb. We arrived at our chosen viewing spot in the early afternoon. We had plenty of time to buy beer and sausages from a roadside vendor, take off our hiking boots, and rest in the sun for a few hours before the race arrived. As the race came up the valley road below us, we sat on the hillside, watching with binoculars, relaying all the information to the fans around us: "It's a Rabobank rider!... He's all alone!" Of course, it was Micheal Boogerd on his epic solo victory at La Plagne.
Take time to scout out your chosen viewing spot ahead of time. Ask the locals for the best spot to view the stage. The top of a KoM climb, where the fans are four deep, may be exciting, but it may not be an ideal viewing spot when the riders pass by. Try 1 or 2 kilometers down from the top of the climb. Look for big, open cirques or open vantage points from which to view the race. You can often find a spot - above a set of switchbacks, for example - that will allow you to view the race for several kilometers. Also, consider spectating on one of the earlier climbs in the stage, instead of the finishing climb - for example, the Tourmalet on Stage 15. The finish area of a Tour stage - especially a mountain-top finish - is jam-packed with TdF vehicles, team buses and so on, and it can be pretty difficult to get a good view of anything. Often, the best spots at the finish line are reserved for VIPs, plus you have the entire press corps there. By the way, if you want better access to the riders, I recommend visiting the start of a stage - the Village Depart. Riders are typically more relaxed, just milling around and hanging out before the start. The start towns usually have a real festival-type atmosphere - very cool!
For the finale in Paris, pick your spot on the Champs Elysées early, and plan on spending the entire day there. I recommend the hairpin at the north end of the circuit, near the Arc de Triomphe and the Etoille. It's usually really hot - look for a spot with some shade, if you can find it. Bring lots of food and LOTS of water - fill your daypack or rucksack with plenty of stuff to eat and drink, and bring a good book, or your portable CD player. You have to be a true cycling fan to stand in one place from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM just to see a bike race, but it's worth it, just to see all the teams take their parade lap around the circuit after the race is over. You'll also have the opportunity to mingle with cycling fans from every corner of the world. For those who prefer not to brave the crowds and the sweltering heat of Paris in July, the TV in the hotel lobby is good, too.
The reality is, all the stages WILL be crowded, fans from every country of the world WILL be lined up on both sides of the road all the way along the route, and, even if you get there days ahead of time, you WILL eventually be forced to share your ideal viewing spot with crazed cycling fanatics dressed in nothing but Basque flags and body paint, so ENJOY it! Slow down! Immerse yourself in the beauty and spectacle of the race, revel in it, experience it! It is the 100th anniversary of the greatest sporting event in the world.
Watching the Tour #2
I saw one stage in 2001. Arrived at the start town about 1 hour before race start, walked approx. 1 mile, and stood 25 feet from the start line with no one in front of us when we got there. European crowds being what they are, you have to continuously fight for your space right up to the end, but we still had great views. We then drove to the mid-point, arrived about an hour prior to the time the riders were expected, parked a block from the race route, had plenty of time to wander around the tiny village, eat, watch the pre-race parade, and had plenty of room to be on the street with no one fighting for space when the riders came by. The race route is closed about an hour prior to the expected early arrival time. There was a schedule on the tour web page that year that gave start time and expected time of arrival at different villages along the route based on 3 different average speeds. Road closures are based on the fastest speed estimate. I would expect the finish line for flat stages to require a little bit more time, (maybe up to 2 hours) but no more. For mountain stages you probably need to give yourself more time to get to the end point. European towns aren't likely to change the bus schedule to accommodate this, but you shouldn't need it. If you are there early enough to be at the start/stop line, you will get close parking.
I hear Paris is a different story. Probably want to be there early, figure out where things are located, then enjoy part of Paris, keep an eye on the crowd, and return to your spot as the crowd starts gathering. I think a lot of the million per day, comes from the first/last and days when the tour goes through big towns/cities. Also a lot of the crowd is the people who live in or near the towns the tour goes through, and line the streets as it does. Very few people try to see any one stage from start and end.
Watching the Tour #3
I also plan to attend stages 14 and 15 this year. Last year, I watched three stages in the Alps. Based on my experience last year, I would say that if you want to be near the finish, yes, you will need to arrive at least five hours early, and even earlier if the finish is on a dead-end road. In general, all roads the racers were using closed four hours before the caravan (which precedes the racers by an hour) passed through.
We went to the finish at Les Deux Alpes, and that road, which is a dead end at a ski resort, had been closed all day. We were able to park two miles from the base of the five-mile road to Les Deux Alpes, and walk from there. I never saw or heard of any buses taking spectators from their cars to the finish. The road to Luz Ardiden will likely be closed all the day of stage 15, but you wouldn't want to park there anyway. When the race finishes at a dead-end mountain road, no spectator cars are allowed down the road until all the team cars and buses and official vehicles have gone down. Spectators were parked bumper to bumper for miles on both sides of the road to Les Deux Alpes, and those facing uphill looked like they had little hope of turning around on the narrow road until all the vehicles on the other side of the road had gone down. If you park at Luz Ardiden, plan on a very long day.
It is much easier to watch from a point before the final road to the finish. I plan to watch stage 14 from the Col de Peyresoarde, and stage 15 from the Col du Tourmalet, the last climbs before each stage's finish. At these spots, the roads should be re-opened pretty much as soon as the riders go by. That's how it worked last year, anyway. Anywhere along a big climb will be crowded with people and cars, but not as crowded as the finish.
Mountain-top finishes are the most exciting place to watch the race, so it may be worth it to you to take the extra time, if you don't mind the extra walking. I'm definitely glad I did it once.
Prepare to have some long days and to go with the flow, and you will have a blast! Watching the Tour in person was everything I hoped it would be and more, even the day we overslept and missed the road closure to the Col du Madeleine, and ended up watching with the locals in a small town far down the slope (then retiring to the local bar to watch the finish on TV).
Watching the Tour #4
If you wish to see the race finish on the mountain stages, plan to arrive the previous day as the police will close the roads to motor traffic very early (don't believe any insider information on road closure times you may pick up from officials or locals, the roads always close 30min before you arrive). If you arrive on the day of the race be prepared for a long walk.
Here is an example of a typical few days watching the 2002 tour.
Stage 11: Arrive at the foot of the final climb to La Mongie at 8am. Road closed, park 4km away and walk half-way up the mountain. Leave for the next stage as soon as race is over.
Stage 12: Arrive at the foot of Plateau de Beille at 9pm to find the road closed. Police go home at midnight so there is a mad dash up the hill to find a spot.
Stage 13: Spend previous day driving to Mt Ventoux. Arrive midday the day before the race arrives to find people have been camped here since Tuesday (race arrives on Sunday).
Being close to the finish is worthwhile as you can watch the race unfold on the giant TV screen they set up each day, otherwise you don't have much of an idea of what's going on in the race.
Don't let the above discourage you, half the fun is getting there.
Watching the Tour #5
More by convenience than coincidence, we'll also be at stages 13, 14, and 15; we live near a stage 15 midcourse climb. First rule of thumb for viewing a stage is to find (as much as possible w/respect to your accommodation and mobility) the optimal vantage point for that stage. You should get a timetable/itinerary for each stage (available from the Dauphiné Libéré website). Once you've got that, you should definitely plan on getting to that point EARLY in the day; 5 to 8 hours is right on target. This early, you can usually get as close as 1k to the course and hike the rest of the way with the rest of the pilgrimage.
I'm not sure about dedicated shuttles for any given stage start/finish, but if you really plan it down to the detail, you may consider taking local pub. transport to major points along most routes in larger towns/cities. For example, you can take the regular public transport bus from Bourg d'Oisans to the base of l'Alpe d'Huez (more info.: contact Bd'O Office du Tourisme int'l tel.: +33 4 76 80 03 25, or search website). In either case, backpack it w/lunch and cold weather/storm gear for the mountains; the weather there can change dramatically without warning.
You should have a great time, and be on the lookout for a small band of Americans -- myself on crutches! I can clue you in to key points for stages 14 and 15, but I prefer to do that p to p rather than in public forum, given those estimated spectator numbers! If you can't reply directly from this site, leave another message and I'll follow up.
Good luck and enjoy.
I really believe that this is going to be one of the best Tours de France ever. Unlike most I think that there are at least 10 competitors to Armstrong and the majority of them have strong climbing backgrounds. I don't think that Lance will have as much support in the mountains as he has had in the past and many of the best riders in 2003 will attack whenever possible in the mountains. I also believe that a few riders that I will mention below have the psychological motivation to beat Armstrong as a result of their recent successes and the desire to prove themselves on cycling's grandest stage. I believe Armstrong's strongest competitors are:
Simoni: Proved that a climber can still win a grand tour by annihilating the competition in the mountains and holding on in the TT. Also very motivated to dethrone Armstrong as the current king of the sport.
Garzelli: Was the only rider that was able to stay with Simoni on most of the climbs in the Giro and without the unlucky fall may have been closer at the end. Should remember that Giro was first real race in a year and he did much better in the second TT. He sprints as well as Armstrong and is probably a little better climber. If he can finish top 10 in TT's he should have a good chance.
Mayo, Mancebo, Mercardo, Beloki, Vinokourov: I rate these riders equally highly, and when the mountains come they will constantly put pressure on Armstrong. The key for their success is to get Lance to crack one day and get a large gap.
Ullrich: If he can ride into shape by the second week he may be a factor. I personally believe that his teammate Angel Casero will finish ahead of him. The climbers in the Tour this year are incredible and I don't think he can stay with them through all the mountain stages. He will lose a lot of time at least once.
Aitor Gonzalez and Santiago Botero: If they can get motivated they could be a factor. The problem is that they can only get motivated for one or two stages and not the whole Tour. If they are out of contention early then forgot about them.
M. Jason Smith
I just don't get Bjarne Riis' strategy of having two leaders for the Tour GC for his CSC team. Hasn't Tyler Hamilton done enough to have earned the right to have the entire team ride for him alone? No disrespect to Carlos Sastre mind you, but Tyler has demonstrated the he is as capable as any other rider to challenge Lance for the title. It's not as if he's merely a possible top 10, he's a definite podium possibility. So why in god's name wouldn't you have Sastre work for Hamilton as his first lieutenant... the way Hamilton used to do for Lance?
Nobody has won more than five Tours de France for one very simple reason: nobody has been able to win six!
Merckx was really the only contender to date who could have, but the mononucleosis knocked him over in '75 and later. Coppi should've won five or six, but the timing was bad with a few other super-stellar riders and again, health.
I reckon on Armstrong being the man to crack it, if he can keep his power up to it next year. He's got it in the TT and mountains; not the clear best at either, but far better than anyone else at both. Just like Anquetil, Indurain, Merckx, LeMond, and Hinault - interesting eh? The difference with LA is that he is right at the top of both. He can be beaten in either, but only just, and not if he gives it everything he's got and risks damage later. Only Merckx shared that factor (but man, could he sprint as well). Even if LA drops a rung or two in one discipline in the next two years he'll still do it, because only Ullrich is even looking like the universally-gifted athlete to challenge, and he's a lame duck for all sorts of well-documented reasons (although I'd love to be proven wrong because he's the most exciting cyclist natural talent-wise since Merckx).
Tour victories limited by the body #2
Michael Zbawiony asks why no one has ever won more than five Tours. In a couple of instances, it was because of a little world war or two. Gino Bartali won in '38 and '48, with the race not being held from '40 to '46. When you factor in the war and other bad luck (falling off of a cliff while wearing the yellow in '37, getting assaulted by a French fan in '50, and having to race against Fausto Coppi in the post war years), it's not inconceivable that with a smile from Providence he could have won seven or eight Tours.
Similarly, Phillippe Thys won in '13 and '14 and again in '20, with no races held from '15 through '18.
Maybe the most impressive but underappreciated record is that of Joop Zoetemelk, who in my opinion showed that the human body is capable of maintaining a high level of performance for an extended span of time. This poor chap had to race against Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault, so he only managed his one victory in '80. However, in a 13-year span, save for one non-start, he never finished out of the top ten, with six second place finishes. He also added four more years of top 30 finishes at the end of his career. So, although he had just one victory, he definitely showed that five in a row is just one of the ways to distinguish ones self.
Tour victories limited by the body #3
The reason that nobody has won six Tours is because in 1973 Eddy Merckx won the Vuelta and Giro and didn't ride the Tour. If not for that he would have won six in a row.
Tour victories limited by the body #4
I'm not an expert but since I've wondered about this myself and have considered various reasons. I think both reasons mentioned play a part but another reason may be the team structure and culture. If you consider Indurain and LeMond, I have seen reports that indicate they could have easily won The Tour a year earlier had they been on a team working for them instead of having to support Pedro Delgado and Bernard Hinault respectively. This may have allowed Indurain to win six tours and LeMond four instead of three. And of course I think there is some fate involved. If LeMond had not been involved in the hunting accident would he have won another Tour that year? Would Armstrong have been as motivated and won as many Tours had he not gone through the process of battling cancer or might he have just concentrated on the one day classics?
In the end Indurain and LeMond eventually failed to reach six and four wins because their bodies gave out on them, but it may have also been because they didn't start riding to win soon enough.
Tour victories limited by the body #5
Of the multiple Tour de France winners, it seems to me that most did not win after the age of 32. If that is the case and most endurance athletes don't peak until their mid 30's, does this represent mental burnout, not physical burnout?
John B Logsdon
There actually is a peloton training loop in Paris which took me much searching to find. In 1987 while touristing through the Bois de Boulogne I spotted a peloton in good form. When next in Paris, in 1996, after completing an Erickson French Alps Tour, I had a bike and went looking through the Bois for the peloton. I found it, after much wandering there because that park is so huge. There are two hippodromes (horse racing tracks) in the Bois, the Hippodrome d'Auteuil and the Hippodrome de Longchamp. Around the Hippodrome de Longchamp is a closed, designated peloton cycling loop, approximately 3km in length. There are actually signs forbidding "city" cyclists, i.e. a picture of a woman on a cut-away frame, with shopping basket, with the rejecting diagonal line affixed. I pedaled alone until I understood the apparent etiquette, then joined in. I was welcomed. I've ridden in pelotons since 1972 and am reasonably good in the "line". One pleasure was observing the age and "kit" of the other cyclists. They are of all ages and equipment, some with the latest and some with old Gitanes and toeclips, but all riding very properly. I returned on three other days and found it a great afternoon relief from museum-itis. Besides, you can then catch a cafe and tarte au fraise on the ride home.
Re: Cipollini and his trips back to the beach before everybody else tried to finish the first set of mountain stages.
It's not as though he pretended he was going to do anything else. You could set you watch by it! The others mentioned were at least trying and, to their credit, managed to reach Paris more than once and all with coloured jerseys!
Cipo: World Champion, Great Sprinter, Showman, and sometimes a bit of a Twit!
As a cyclist and current employee of the legal profession I can see the problems associated from both sides of the road with regard to the ban of road racing in NSW.
Clearly a compromise must be made both for the safety of riders and the benefit of cycling. During the 2001 Victorian Championships a car that was attempting to pass the bunch was involved in a head on collision, thankfully no one was seriously injured but obviously this should never occur.
So how can road races be run in complete safety? The NSW government believes only with a full road closure. This is contrary to the rest of the world where races such as Paris-Roubaix and Liège-Bastogne-Liège are conducted with rolling road closures.
My view is that firstly the current law must be amended and the word 'vehicle' defined to exclude all non-motor powered 'devices' such as push bikes etc. Secondly the Government MUST provide a specific amount of police hours each year free of charge to local sporting clubs, be it cycling, triathlon, rugby whatever. Via our taxes we pay for the police and yes they do provide us with protection from the unsavory but our taxes should also provide us with the opportunity to participate in the great sport of our choice. That will take care of the bigger races such as Grafton.
With regard to club racing provided it is held on quiet country roads and there are both lead and follow cars plus a few bright road signs I see no problem. Yes, every 100,000 races there might be a death caused by an accident but heck, this would be consistent with any other sport such as AFL or even soccer. As a cyclist you accept the risks so hopefully with some lobbying (albeit very late. Prevention is better than a cure!) NSW will make the necessary changes and the other states will learn form this and help the sport at least survive.
Brad McGee has not won a national or international road title, however he is a multiple world champion on the track, which surely justifies his stripes. Stuey O'Grady is in the same boat. An Aussie by the name of Wade Bootes tops them all though. He rides BMX, mountain cross and track. He has been world champion in the first two and may even become a world beater in the third.
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