Saturday, July 30, 2011

Alpe d'Huez

Every year when I watch the Tour de France in the wee hours of the morning, I cringe at how close the crowds get to the riders as they climb over the mountain passes. They seem to ride towards a wall of people that simply opens up at the last second to let them through. The riders must just ride blindly and hope that people get out of the way as they approach.

Then there is always that person that likes to run beside the riders for as they can before another spectator or official tackles them out of the way. All it would take is one tiny mistake, one small misjudgement for them to ruin the race for someone. But it doesn't seem to happen.

This year, I got to be one of those crazy people waiting on the side of Alp d'Huez as the race came through. We parked on the back side of the mountain and not wanting to miss the opportunity to ride up the infamous Alpe d'Huez, I rode down the back side, around to the front and up for about 9km until the barriers started and bikes were not allowed through. For the entire length of the climb, the road side was lined with people. So much so, that it was a struggle to find an empty piece of road side to watch the race from. As I rode up, people cheered and screamed like I was in the race. As I came through 'Dutch corner', I was met by a sea of drunken revellers dressed in orange who had been camped on the mountain for the last 3 days to reserve the corner for themselves. They drapped flags over the road in front of me and raised them up as I rode through. It was insane.

After finding a place to watch, I had some regrets. Firstly, sitting on the side of the road for a couple of hours means you don't get to hear exactly what is happening in the race. You can listen on the radio or watch it on television but unfortunately, I had niether. Secondly, I had no real way of standing out in the crowd. Friends and family were watching at home, hoping to see me on the side of the road but it was going to be difficult. I had no Austrlaian flag, no full-body orange skin suit, no giant stuffed kangaroo and I had even forgotten to bring my cow bell with me. All I had was a bright green umbrella hat and a plastic hand clapper that the promo caravan had thrown out earlier. Lastly, I decided not to run alongside the riders. I didn't want to be that guy that everyone remembers because he did something stupid on International television and knocked a rider off his bike in the biggest race of the world.

After a couple of hours of waiting, the helicopters began to circle above and the race was near. The crowds all packed onto the road and only moved aside as cars and motorbikes came through, missing by centimeters. The cheers and screams became louder as Alberto Contador was the first to emerge from the crowd. He passed by me so closely that I could have reached out and slapped him in the face. Eventually, Cadel Evans came through and every Australian on the mountain went nuts. From the guy wearing an Aussie flag as a cape to the guy dressed in a full 1980's Australian cricket player to the guy dressed as a giant green crocodile. The atmosphere was crazy.

After the peleton passed by, it was time for the mass departure from the mountain. 500 000 people wanted to go down the mountain at the same time including walkers, cyclists, cars and camper vans. My hands cramped the whole way down the mountain as I squeezed the brakes to slow down and dodge the masses of people. After reaching the bottom, I rode back around to the back side and climbed my way back up to the car. It was a long day, but well worth it.

Below is the profile for the riding that I did that day. Apparently, the side where I parked the car was the 'easy' way up the mountain!

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