Saturday, July 25, 2009

Day 13 - Mt. Ventoux race day!

July 25 - The Tour de France has had stages that finished on Mont Ventoux many times before, but this year is unusual because it is the 2nd to last stage. Usually there are a few flat stages before the finish in Paris, so the overall yellow jersey winner has been decided. But Ventoux is such a significant climb that we expected the winner to be decided here. As it turned out, Contador had a large lead over Lance Armstrong and the Schleck brothers, so he was almost certainly the winner unless something went wrong.

The day was cooler, but very windy (as it has been for the last few days of our trip) and this kept the attacks on the hill down. With a 20-25 mph headwind on a very steep 10% gradient the last few miles, if anyone tried to get away their competitors could just slip in behind them and draft, so they stuck together for the most part.

Some of us rode up into the massive crowds lining the roads up the mountain, but most of us stayed in town. The race route ran right through town, by our camp, and the winery next door. We staked out spots in front of the winery where they had a huge TV screen set up, so we watch the racers fly by and then moved to the parking lot to watch the TV coverage of the climb. It was fun to sit there watching with the mountain visible right next to the TV.

In previous tours we always saw the racers go by on a steep uphill. It's easier to see them because they go slower and are more spread out. But in town today there was a slight downhill so they were probably going about 25-30 mph when they went by. The mass of the peloton created an incredible wind as they whipped by, literally inches away from us.

For a couple of hours before the racers reach you, the crowds are entertained and revved up by the long lines of motorcycles, team cars, sponsors cars and the caravan of sponsors floats. Lots of swag is thrown out to the spectators along the road, including candy, hats, shirts, sausages, water, keychains, etc.

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