Three Country Ride Part Deux

SISSACH, SWITZERLAND

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Train station, Laufen, Switzerland

We took a train to Laufen for the start. My train ticket was 13 CHF. My bike ticket was 20 CHF. For a country that is cycle-centric, or maybe it isn’t, I think their train bike passes cost at least twice what they should be.

Welcome to France. I think. I think I can also read this sign. Speed limits in towns is 50 kph (31 mph); in the country it’s 90 kph (56 mph), and on super highways it’s 130 kph (81mph).

Laufen is near the French border of the Alsace-Lorraine region. We rode about 15 km before coming to a French sign. Ben pointed out another sign which noted that Swiss soldiers were not allowed to be on this road in uniform.

Ferrett, France

The road turned up and Ben rode ahead. We quickly established that on this day I would be first down the mountains and he would be first up. We went through some French villages although we were in the outskirts of a much bigger town, St. Louis, when I suggested we stop at a bakery.

Ferrett, France

We both got a chocolate-strawberry croissant then rode to a shade location to eat. We ended up next to a school where students were practicing a dance routine. Never quite figured out what kind of school that was.

Bakery in St. Louis, France

We found our way to the Three Country Bridge that connects France and Germany but looks at Switzerland. Close enough.

Deliciousness

Ben led us through Basel, looking for a road back to the town and the climb we did three years ago. We made some sketchy moves in traffic, i.e., probably not riding where we should have.

Three-Country Ridge

But we got through Basel and back into Germany until crossing back over at a dam on the River Rhine.

Hello Germany

It was hot, with temperatures in the low 90s. I carried two bottles and was going through those fast while Ben had just one.

Three Country Bridge that connects France and Germany

We looked for water – easier in Switzerland than France or Germany. I didn’t feel I was getting enough and I know Ben couldn’t have been.

It wasn’t all pavement today

We began the last climb which would take us over the “hill” to Sissach. It was quite a formidable climb. Ben took off and 2-3 times pulled over until I dragged my butt up to him. I was in a granny gear and wasn’t going to work any harder. Or couldn’t work any harder.

Kaiseraugst, Switzerland

But at the top Ben was lightheaded. His wife had biked up from Sissach (quite impressive actually) and he had planned lunch at a restaurant up the hill from the summit. A second summit.

Rheinfelden, Switzerland

Ben said he was so light-headed couldn’t control his bike. He rested and gathered himself and then we descended, with me being the fastest. Weight wins.

Ben

On the descent, I hit 75 kph which is 47.5 mph. Had I known I would have pushed it to 50 mph. But it was my fastest speed of the time I was in Switzerland.

Switzerland. France. Germany. It was a most excellent trip. Thanks Ben!

Me. Ben. The last day I wore those ripped shorts.



I Love France (and You Too Switzerland)

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND

Once upon a time, I thought I’d use this day to circumvent Lake Geneva, a distance of about 110 miles. However, I realized the bike rental location I was going to use wanted a two-day rental at 40 CHF per day. Plus the weather forecast called for a 90% chance of thunderstorms. The ride was off.

Geneva Train Station

Well, the big ride was off. Staying one block from the train station, I found a bike rental location called Geneva Roule which was on the other side of the train station. For 25 CHF I rented a BMC road bike for the day. I thought that was a good deal. Actually, it was a great deal.

Geneva Roule

I did not know where I was going. I was negotiating 100% by “feel” and just a little knowledge. This can be dangerous. Or fun. I knew the train station was north and west of the Rhône river so I looked at the sun and headed south. And east.

Geneva

There are many bike lanes in Geneva. Some are marked along with bus and taxi lanes and many run the same direction as the trolley tracks. Be very careful my friends.

Geneva

I crossed a bridge and then started my ride following Lake Geneva. I reasoned if I stayed close to the lake I could not get lost. My original ride plan which would take me around the lake was simply using the roads that were hugging the lake.

Geneva – Rhône River

I was on city streets and saw there was a bike path next to the lake so I jumped on it. At Vesanaz the road peeled away from the lake. I went through a construction area and dropped most of the traffic as I continued on the back road.

Geneva – Bike Lane painted leaving traffic with 1 1/2 lanes instead of two lanes

On the road out of Geneva the bike lane is a bit higher than the regular lane and a bit lower than the walking lane. Each separated by an angled “curb.” Or sometimes the pedestrian lane was simply divided by paint.

Geneva – Bike and Pedestrian lanes using angled curbs

And then it happened. I was going through Hermance, Switzerland and was going up the road, a slight climb, with some gravel on the road and a park with a soccer field to the left. Maybe it was Chens le Pont or Sous le Cret. Or maybe even Lagraie. Those are small towns within two kilometers (one mile) of one another.

I think the Province/Region sign is behind this construction sign
Welcome to France

It just seemed French and no longer Swiss. And I noticed a road sign, D 20.

I AM IN FRANCE!

French Road Signs
I am in France!

I think I was expecting a welcome sign. A Bienvenue sign. I doubted there would be passport control. But I was riding and had this moment — I am riding in France. And it was great. I was smiling.

I liked Italy. I like Switzerland. But there is just something about France. I love riding here. From my first time with Trek Travel in 2010 and then again three years ago when I did a solo trip. I love it here.

Commune de Nernier, France
(Is this private property?)

I had angst yesterday traveling from Tirano, Italy to Geneva. It was a long, but beautiful, day on multiple (four) trains. I worried about being stuck in a smoking room in Geneva (I wasn’t). When I arrived I didn’t know where the hotel was. But getting on the bike and riding in France, that just made everything better.

Commune de Nernier, France

In Chens-Sur-Leman I passed a bakery and cursed myself for not bringing those couple of 2€ coins I still had left. They were in my pants I left in the bike shop and would be so better used stopping and enjoying a chocolate croissant.

Always use SPF 1000 on your feet

As I was riding on a beautiful country road I saw an old church and diverted to it. There I discovered a community called Commune de Nernier. What a neat old village right on Lake Geneva. It was gated and I don’t know if I was allowed to bike in it but I did.

Commune de Nernier, France

I was just so happy riding for part of a day in France. If I had any doubts about how much I love riding in France the smile on my face said it all today.

Commune de Nernier, France

I returned to Geneva and used some time to explore parts of the town. It is a great city and I don’t want to diminish how much I like it here too by raving about riding in France.

Geneva – Rhône River

Looking back, I had a week of climbing some classic cols. That brings a satisfaction, especially Stelvio, unlike anything else. But riding in France today — pure joy!

Geneva – Rhône River

Alpe d’Huez

VÉNOSC, FRANCE

The first, and probably last, beautiful day I have had in France. Forty-seven degrees (9 C) at the start, Brian Hutchins and I rolled downhill from our chalet for about six miles to the base of the climb in Le Bourg d’Olsans.

Bridge behind our Chalet – Raging small river

The climb is beautiful. There are 21 hairpin curves and each is marked with a sign. On the signs are the names of one of the winners of a stage of the Tour de France that finished at the summit. The lower section seemed is steeper than the upper section. The contour is basically a ramp to a switchback which is flat, followed by the next ramp.

Morning in the Alps

We passed many cyclists and got passed by many. Probably got passed by a few more than we passed. They cheat.

A view of the valley from the Alpe

Near the top, they were setting up barricades about 3km from the finish already. It was surreal to ride through them. Barricades. For us. And while it is still four days before the Tour comes by, every spot where one could stop and park a camper had already been claimed.

Campers on the inside of a switchback

At a curve in the village of Huez, was a large contingent of Dutch fans. This was the famous Dutch Corner. They had one week’s supply of beer and were already partying even though the race didn’t come through until Friday. They had their music BLASTING and were having a great time.

<--This way UP This way DOWN -->

Unlike the fans in the Pyrenees, very few fans on this Alp cheered as we went by. However, in contrast to even the Tourmalet, there may have been 100 times as many cyclists going up the Alpe. If they cheered everybody they would soon lose their voices.

Dutch Corner at Huez

Brian and I rode together most of the way, but once we got inside the barriers I went ahead and I reached the summit maybe 500 meters before he did. I’m not bragging or anything. For years Brian was one of the fastest players in our lunchtime Ultimate game on the Mall. He’s younger than me. He’s faster than me. But the truth is I ride a lot more than he does. And I wanted to get a photo.

Brian (L) Reaching the Summit – Actually the ski town

At the top, I was able to wait for him and get a picture of him coming to the summit. Maybe I should have let him go first and take my picture.

Finish line on Alpe d’Huez. Brian (L) and Barry (R)

Actually, it wasn’t the summit but the ski town. We would continue another kilometer through a tunnel and one more climb to the actual finish.

Lunch at the top. This was the restaurant where Brian and I ate lunch

After the climb we did a little shopping and went to lunch. Then came the fun descent back to the valley. Neither of us ripped it. We stopped at a few locations for photos and just to admire the view.

Barry climbing Alpe d’Huez

Col du Tourmalet (to the summit this year); Picture with the Devil; What the hell (I can say that), a second picture with the Devil; A TdF Route directional sign; Mont Ventoux; and now Alpe d’Huez. If I do nothing more in France, I will still be very happy.


EDIT – “Unless you’ve actually ridden up this climb on a bike you don’t realize how horrendous it is. It never gives up. It is relentless. And once you even get to the little town halfway up, the town Huez, it still goes up. What really smacks you in the face once you look up – you can see the chalets above us and say ‘Oh my goodness me do I have to go up there?'”Paul Sherwen, July 25, 2015, NBCSN


Thor de France

LOURDES, FRANCE

Yesterday I had a problem with a loose spoke on my rear wheel and the wheel was out of true. I blamed the wheel rubbing on the brake for my dragging up the Tourmalet and really suffering up that climb.

The local bike shop in St. Lary opened at 9:00 a.m. so Adrian Register and I decided we would see if they could true the wheel before today’s ride. They couldn’t (the wheel was cracked.) Since we didn’t get on the road until after 9:00 a.m. by the time we reached Lourdes we knew our original plan of a 70-mile loop ride would not occur.

We wanted to ride and to see a stage finish and by the time we got rolling, we knew our best course of action would be to ride out and back. We would have to keep an eye on the time to be back by the time they closed the roads at 2:00 p.m.

Team RadioShack Car in Lourdes

A real surprise to us occurred less than 10 km from Lourdes. We were on a flat part of the course when I spotted the tell tale signs of evil. Freshly painted on the asphalt was the Devil’s pitchfork (or trident). I looked up and saw him and stopped. Photo time.

Barry with the Devil (Didi Sefnt)

Many people come to the Tour and hope to see the Devil. Getting a picture is an extra bonus. I got a picture yesterday and now, another one. I wonder if he recognized me from yesterday? I told Adrian no matter what happened, I was happy. My day was complete. My Tour was complete.

The Devil (Didi Sefnt) with Adrian Register

We rode out to Argeles-Gazost where the road turned up. Steep, but this was not the climb up the Col du Soulor. We hit a plateau and went through a small town. I got laughing as I passed a house where some kids, probably ages 10-12, we’re yelling out “hello” to passing riders. They were practicing their English. So I greeted them with a cheery hello as well. And they were pleased.

Barn near Argeles-Gazost

We were watching the time and it was shortly after 1:00 when we turned up the climb to the Soulor which would lead to the Aubisque. If we continued we would be stuck in place so we decided to turn around and get back to Lourdes.

At the start of the climb up the Soulor

At Lourdes we were able to ride inside the barriers until the 1km flag. At that point the course was closed. We walked our bikes for the final kilometer but it was very slow going through the massive crowds. We found the team buses and our plan was to be at the chute where they pass through although we couldn’t get close to that.

Meanwhile, back in Lourdes, Adrian on a breakaway…

Back in town, we took up position on the barriers to watch the caravan go by. It was quite comical because seemingly anything thrown to a French kid would bounce off their hands and into mine. It helped growing up playing sports where we used our hands. And as I did last year during the Tour, anything I caught I handed it to a kid. I’m not a jerk. Usually.

The caravan coming through Lourdes

After watching the caravan go by we moved to the 1K “kite” (generally known globally by the French name, flamme rougue, or red flag). Here we could watch them fly by and watch the last few hundred meters of the race on TV.

The flame rougue two hours before the race in Lourdes

There were a number of Norwegians on our corner but Thor Hoshovld had to overtake two French riders to win. I knew the Norwegians would cheer when Thor made his break but it seemed like everyone was cheering when Thor went ahead with 2k to go.

When we saw Thor fly by, we made our way to the team buses to see most of the riders come back.

Big screen TV at 1km to go

It was a different way to see the tour but got us close to many riders. We heard Thor win but couldn’t see him. We were in the bus area where the riders would be going to their team buses.

Fränk Schleck

We ended up next to Leopard-Trek bus. We saw Fränk Schleck come out (or just before he went in) and sign some autographs.

And I got a picture with the Devil.

Leopard-Trek roster painted on the team bus
Andy Schleck, Fränk Schleck, Fabian Cancellara, Oliver Zaugg, Bruno Pires
Jens Voigt, Dominic Klemme, Fabian Wegmann, Robert Wagner, Linus Gerdemann
,Davide Viganò, Daniele Bennati, Giacomo Nizzolo, Maxime Monfort, Wouter Weylandt
Jakob Fuglsang, Anders Lund, Martin Mortensen, Martin Pedersen, Brice Feillu
Will Clarke, Stuart O’Grady, Stefan Denifl, Tom Stamsnijder, Joost Posthuma
BOLD = Riders at the 2011 TdF

Superbagnères in the Fog

BAGNÈRES DE LUCHON, FRANCE

Arriving in St. Lary-Soulan I passed through Arreau which was our start location for riding last year when I was on a Trek Travel trip. I was driving a small portion of tomorrow’s stage to Luz-Ardiden. I noticed the tour route signs and thought how neat it would be to have one after the Tour goes by.

I met Adrian Register at the Hotel Mercure in St. Lary and we drove over to Luchon. It was chilly, perhaps about 60° (15° C). We drove through town and were having a hard time finding a legal place to park. We found a space on the street and Adrian talked to a small business owner whether we could park there or not. He offered to let us park in his small parking lot in front of his store. Very nice.

Adrian and I planned to ride the Port de Bales. But Adrian talked to the business owner and he advised against it. A heavy storm last night brought down a number of rocks on the road. We changed and decided on Superbagnères. He advised our proposed climb was “pretty easy.” We think he was being sarcastic.

A sign near Arreau

We left town and started climbing immediately. The scenery was stunning even as a light rain started to fall. Conditions turned worse. We talked about turning around but wanted to finish the climb. 

Superbagnères is a ski station The climb is listed as 18.5 km and climbs 1,170 meters (6.3%). It rises to 1,800 meters (5,905 feet). It has been used in the Tour six times, most recently in 1986 when Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault battled up the slope and again in 1989.

The cold rain started on the descent. We were unprepared. We had to be careful on the wet roads but hurried back to Luchon as fast as we could.

We were both so cold and wet when we got back to the car we kept the heat on high all the way back to St. Lary.

Adrian Register

We also noticed as we passed through Arreau that the directional signs were gone. And appeared in the windows of the campers along the route. I would never remove the sign before a stage but apparently many do. These are the best souvenirs from the Tour. My mission would be to find a sign after the Tour. A very difficult mission for sure.

Barry at 5900′

Going Back to France

WOODBRIDGE, VIRGINIA

It’s a cold and rainy day with temperatures in the high 40s (9 C). Not much better I can do than to plan my trip to France.

When I left France last year I always knew I would return someday – I just didn’t know it would be this year. Initially, I planned to return to Saint-Lary-Soulan in the Pyrenees and meet Adrian Register, who rode with us (our Trek Travel group) our first day last year.

As I am planning this trip it has become obvious that you cant’ get there from here. “There” being Saint-Lary and “here” being Toulouse. No public transportation so I will rent a car.

But the car will also free me to do more riding. Last year we rode the Col d’ Peyersourde and rode the brakes down the entire time, unable to see more than 50 meters in front of us, and not willing to go faster because of the cold and keeping in mind the roads were dangerously wet too.

Peyresourde on a nice day 
(Credit: www.cycling-challenge.com)

I don’t have any of my own pictures from the Peyresourde from last year other than the obligatory photo taken at the top of the peak.

 Peyresourde on a not-so-nice day

It was very cold descending and we could not determine whether the curves ahead were sweeping bends or hairpin killers. We rode slowly on the descent. I would love to ride the Peyresourde again, this time bombing the descent. But I’m not sure that I will.

Last year I was with a group which had an itinerary and always intersected with the Tour de France. This year I won’t be chasing the Tour and will have more time to focus on riding.

IMHO, there aren’t three more famous climbs in the Tour than the Tourmalet, Mont Ventoux, and Alpe d’Huez. Only once, in 1994, have all three been used in the same Tour.
And I will do all three.

Part of me wants to repeat each and every climb from last year but part of me says to keep those memories and create new ones on new climbs. And so I am planning Superbagnères instead of Pla d’Adet. A different approach over the Col d’Aspin. But the Tourmalet remains. And to the summit this year!

A Flat Run to Bordeaux

BOURDEAUX, FRANCE

Lourdes – Budos (motorcoach)
Budos – Bordeaux (bike)

Our bus was one hour late this morning so we had time to check out Lourdes. I don’t think I will be coming back here soon. (And am not posting any pictures either…)

We had an uneventful ride to the village of Budos were we ate a picnic lunch before our ride through the vineyards to Bordeaux. We had 15 guys trying their best to organize a pace line — that’s what I get for starting it.

Barry in Budos, France

While we all are “avid” cyclists for signing up for this event, we had different abilities and experience and it took 15 miles to sort it out. One inexperienced but strong rider would move to the front and then pick up the pace which would blow the line.

King of the Mountain – La Brede, France

Another rider would alternately pedal furiously then coast, near the back, which would send the end of the line yo-yo-ing. It was very tough to follow that wheel.

James Hartzberg, Rich McCrea

I moved to the front as we reached the town of La Brede and saw the last King of the Mountain opportunity for our group. I picked up the pace then attacked while announcing “KOM Points!” It so happened that our guide, Dave Edwards, was at the top of the hill and I was caught way off the front and blew the peloton to pieces. It was great! (Credit Dave with these photos.)

Dave Thackrey, Paul Sommer

It wasn’t until we left La Brede that we had four of us in a nice relaxing line each taking 20 second pulls. Dennis McDonald, Tom Michaud, Peter Pellicano and I formed a nice team.

We had a fifth rider join us, Paul Sommer, who immediately went to the front and tried to do all the work himself. He apparently was oblivious that while he was working up front, we continued our 20 second pulls, sometimes letting him get 20-30 meters out in front while other times we passed him effortlessly. And we laughed the entire way to Bordeaux. (Sorry Paul)

We rode into Bordeaux, checked into the hotel, then went out on the course to watch the finish. The actual finish line was impossible to get near to be able to see (4-5 people deep) but we could stand there and watch the big screen. Instead, Peter and I chose to go to the end of the finishing chute to see riders come by after the race and go to their team buses. Mark Cavendish won the stage. And I got some good pictures including what will be probably my last photo of Lance Armstrong.

Lance Armstrong handing his water bottle to a young fan

Dinner was at the L’Orleans restaurant. I had duck. It was very good and will probably be the last time I ever eat duck. Our evening was a group meal but one of our riders, Susan Alexander, missed it. Instead she ended up meeting up with Robbie Ventura and Frankie Andreau and eating with them. I think she won the night.

Duck, duck, goose. (Kidding – just duck)

Tomorrow will be the Individual Time Trial and our last day of riding. I am sad to see that end but also just finished chatting with Ashley, who will be flying out tomorrow to Paris where she will join me in the City of Lights on Sunday. One exciting week is drawing to a close while another is still ahead.

EPILOGUE: Actually, it would not be the last photograph I took of Lance nor the last time I would have duck on this trip. And nor would it be the last time I would visit Lourdes.

Lost on our way to Luchon

ST. LARY-SOULON, FRANCE

We woke up to a chilly overcast day. A pretty loud thunderstorm visited in the middle of the night and the low cloud cover was here to stay. Our Trek Travel group met and discussed riding options for the day. At breakfast, a number of people were already discussing taking a day off from riding. And why not? Because the Tour de France is having a rest day there was no viewing location to bike to.

Why not take a day off the bike? Because of this. Going up the Azet out of St. Lary.

We could climb the Col d’ Azet and Col d’ Peyresourde, eat lunch in Luchon, then return over the Peyresourde. Or skip the Azet and take a valley road leading right to the Peyresourde so only one climb would be needed. And Trek Travel would shuttle people back if you wanted to ride one-way.

People discussed their options. Some were staying back at the hotel and visiting St. Lary to go shopping. Some were staying back but riding locally. Some were going out to the Peyresourde to Luchon. And only a handful, perhaps five, were going to the entire route. Yea, that would be me.

Because groups formed in the parking lot and I was unsure who was in which group, I just sort of jumped in and started asking where they were going. I joined Rich McCrea and James Hartzberg and we went flying down the road to Arreau. We had gone the wrong direction.

By the time we realized we weren’t supposed to be following the other groups, that they were skipping the Azet, we had to turn around and go back to St. Lary to start our climb from there. These are called bonus miles. I love them! We added 14 bonus miles returning to St. Lary before beginning the climb up the Azet.

Clouds on the Azet

The mountains had a low cloud cover. The climb up the Col d’ Azet was almost seven miles. We went through a couple old and small villages past farms. We passed some big dogs and no dog yet has shown us any attention. No barking. No growling. No chasing.

Climbing the Azet

At the summit the cover moved rapidly. When I arrived it was covered and I could barely see the sign at the summit 25 meters away. In seconds then entire mountain had cleared. And just as quickly, it disappeared again.

Rich McCrea and James Hartzbger. Stopped for a photo op and remounting.

The top of the Azet is a pastoral grazing area and being France, I’m not sure if that means a number of monks are walking around or — yes, judging from the number of cow patties — it is a free-roaming area for cattle. We had to stop and pass carefully by two huge cows on our descent off Azet.

Cows at the summit of the Azet

The descent, while obviously steep, was pretty cold. For each climb, it was strip down to as little as possible, sweat your ass off, even though the temperature was around 15°C (59° F), and then stop at the summit to put on as much gear as possible before the descent. Then freeze.

At the bottom of the descent, one comes to Loudenville. We went around a pretty lake and made our way over to the base of the climb of the Peyresourde. This climb was used yesterday in the Tour de France. It was hot, while cold, ascending. At the top was the Trek Travel van where I pulled over to refill my two bottles — both empty. Ate some pretzels, energy bars, and found the super-secret stash of Snickers. Mmm, Snickers.

Actually, the van had been at the top of Azet earlier but because of our bonus miles, we had missed it. But not now.

One of our riders had already decided to ride in the van and he lent his rain slicker to James for the descent. James had only a jersey and arm warmers. I had a jacket with removable sleeves which made it a vest. It rocked.

Dave Thackrey, Donna Thackrey, Peter Pellicano

The descent off the Peyresourde to Luchon could have been great in good weather conditions. But the cloud cover was so thick we were getting soaked descending and were on the verge of hypothermia. This side of the mountain had straight roads but visibility was so bad, plus the roads were wet, one could not let go of the brakes. It was a shame. When you could see the line in the road change slightly you weren’t sure if it was merely a subtle change in the road or a nasty 180° hairpin curve. And I have yet to see a single sign in the Pyrenees warning of a curve ahead and a recommended safe speed to use.

Luchon – Our group ate at the restaurant on the right

We reached Luchon about the time most of our group was getting ready to roll out. They had just finished a big lunch and some had already called it quits for the day. The van was taking them back. I met our tour guide, Nicole Kimborowicz, plus Matt McDonald and Peter Pellicano who were going back over the Peyresourde. I didn’t want to abandon Rich and James but Rich had basically declared that, after lunch, he was taking a shuttle and James was unsure.

I didn’t want to eat lunch then have no one to bike back with and I was riding back. And I was afraid sitting outside I would get too cold.

So I skipped lunch and jumped in with the Nicole group. That was an excellent idea. The worse thing I could have done was to sit down, get something heavy in my stomach, get cold in my wet clothes, stiffen up, then attack the Peyresourde — the same HC climb the Tour used yesterday.

The same recipe followed — climb the Peyresourde, put on as many warm clothes for the descent, then let ‘er rip. Although not let it go too fast. It was just yesterday off the descent of the Peyresourde that Jens Voigt had his front tire blow out and he crashed hard.

Nicole and I rode together while Matt and Peter flew up the mountain. Nicole probably wanted to go with them but was a good trooper and stayed with me.

After our safe descent of the Peyresourde, my group didn’t want to return the route we came — up and over the Azet again. So we took the valley road back to Arreau and St. Lary. On our way into St. Lary, I went ahead solo through town and climbed partially back up the Azet to take pictures.

I finished the day with probably the most miles (74) and vertical feet of climbing (9600) of anyone in the group today. It was a great day on the bike.

Pla d’Adet

SAINT LARY-SOULAN, FRANCE

Our Trek Travel group met at the Novotel in Toulouse at 10:00 a.m. and rode a bus to St. Lary-Sloulan in the Pyrenees. My first introduction was to Derek and Aimee Cutright from Redding, California. When I told them they probably knew a friend of mine I could see them scoffing. But they did know Tamy Quigley.

The Trek Travel bus

 

Then I met Ed and Nancy Karrels. Nancy was studying museum science and told me about a person she wanted to meet, Nina Simon. I told her I was good friends with Nina. (True). It’s truly a small world – even on our bus.

Burt and Dean sampling the food


We drove out to the Pyrenees in the motorcoach. We had a great picnic lunch in a park/square/open green area with lots of dog poop around in the village of Arreau.

 

We got fitted to the bikes followed by a too-brief intro of the group. I could never remember all the names.

Guide Marquette Kelly speaking to the Group

We rolled out of Arreau and stayed together for eight miles as the road followed the valley. I looked over to the mountainside and saw a wonderful road cutting through the mountainside and said I hoped we would ride up that hill. We did.

Rolling through the valley


In St. Lary we turned to find the base to the climb up Pla d’Adet. It was a steep one. It averaged 8-10% most of the way with sections of 12%. It was 6.1 miles (10km) to the summit.

 

And it was HOT. It was 95° (or 35° C). This was the most I ever sweated on a bike. I was drenched when I reached the summit. BTW, this is where George Hincapie won Stage 15 in 2005. Lance Armstrong also won here, in 2001.

The road starts gradually at first before cutting back and going straight up the mountain

I hadn’t read up on the climb and thought I was near the summit (I wasn’t looking up — that’s an old climber trick) when I saw the sign to the summit — 7km (4 miles) to go. Average grade 9%. Well. it was in French but I knew what it said – “you’re going to die.”*

At the summit – the guy wearing the Brooklyn jersey was actually from Madrid


That was enough to make you want to stop and drink the mountain water coming out of the side of the hills (it’s OK unless it’s marked NON). But I kept going and dragged my butt up the hill.

Summit of the Pla d’Adet seeing the last sunshine of the day

After 30-45 minutes on the summit, we got to ride down the mountain. I gained a great appreciation for the professional cyclists. I always admired how fast they could climb but going down these roads — wow! — they descend almost twice as fast as me. The ride down was scary. Very technical (lots of hairpins curves that one had to slow down for) and very dangerous. My average speed down was only 20 mph. That was a lot of slowing in sharp curves.

 

Barry at the summit of the Pla d’Adet

After a shower we went to La Grange, a pretty neat restaurant which took the rest of the evening. And it was non-smoking although I wonder if it was that way just for us. Doesn’t matter. Thank you France!

 

La Grange Restaurant in St. Lary

Actually, I would discover later that all of France is non-smoking in restaurants. However, many restaurants have expansive open areas in the front, sidewalk cafes, and the smoke will find its way back in the restaurant.

James Hartberg showing off his tan line

Tomorrow: Col d’Aspin (twice) and the Col du Tourmalet. Our private viewing will be in LaMongie, a ski village just before the summit of the Tourmalet. Trek Travel has a private restaurant reserved and may be out on the roof (so I’ve been told) to see them come by. And to yell bad things at Alberto Contador.

 

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*In the Pyrenees the signs are marked for the next kilometer. So the sign I saw that was indicating 9% average gradient was for the next kilometer and not to the summit.

Itinerary for the Trek Travel Tour de France Trip

I always wanted to see a stage of the Tour de France. And I always thought I would like to tackle an epic climb such as the Alpe d’Huez, the Col du Tourmalet, or the Mont Ventoux. I was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 2009. As I sorted through the many treatment options available for me I was also presented with the opportunity to take a Trek Travel tour sponsored by my local bike shop, The Bike Lane, in Burke and Reston, Virginia. Life is too short to wish “I should have while I was still healthy enough…”

I signed up. Not sure of what lies ahead in life and I wanted to take this trip when I could. And since it involves a lot of riding and climbing, I also wanted to do it when I was young enough to ride the high mountains. Maybe more importantly, it became my recovery goal that I started looking forward to on November 9. Or it was Goal #1a along with the Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb race on August 21.

So I am leaving Friday. Friday, July 16 — Leave Washington-Dulles at 9:00 p.m. and fly overnight to Madrid.

Iberia – Dulles to Madrid

Since I will arrive on Saturday and have to do an extra day somewhere, I decided to do it in Madrid and not France. Saturday will be a day spent sightseeing in the capital of Spain.

Madrid

Sunday July 18 — Fly from Madrid to Toulouse, France

Toulouse, France

Monday, July 19 — In the morning we are transported to St. Lary-Soulon and then are fit to our Trek Madone bikes. There are riding options each day and I will be choosing to ride the longest route each day. Our warm-up ride Monday will take us up the Pla d’ Adet. 35 kilometers and 1,000 meters of climbing. That’s a lot of climbing over a short distance.

Desert at our picnic lunch and bike fitting

Tuesday, July 20 — A 100 km ride, 1,500 meters of climbing, from St. Lary – Col d’ Aspin – Col du Tourmalet and return. We then have mountain climb viewing of the Tour at La Mongie which is a ski village on the Tourmalet about 4km from the summit. I’ll be the one with the cowbell.

Adrian Register and Barry Sherry on the Col d’Aspin

Wednesday, July 21 — The pros have a rest day and we will ride 100 km, 3,000 meters of climbing including the Col d’ Azet, Port de Beles and the Col de Perysourde.

Barry at Col de Azet

Thursday, July 22 — A short 50 km in the mountains including a ride to the summit of the Col du Tourmalet and then watching the Tour tackle it twice as fast as we dreamed. Maybe three times as fast. And we’ll be at the mountain top finish.*

In a thunderstorm climbing the lower slopes of the Tourmalet

Friday, July 23 — Easy spin in Bordeaux in wine country and watching at the finish line of the Tour. 50 km, flat as a pancake. Somehow I think we’ll appreciate this. Maybe we’ll see Tyler Farrar win his first stage at the Tour.

On the way to Bordeaux – it wasn’t completely flat

Saturday, July 24 — We get to ride the time trial course and then watch the time trial where the Tour will probably be decided. 50 km.

Levi Leipheimer flying by

Sunday, July 25 — A train ride to Paris. We will be at the Automobile Club of France on the Champs Élysées watching the Tour go by us — eight times. As for the riding portion, people ask me how many miles we will ride. Only 250 which doesn’t sound like a lot. A few weekends ago I did 207 in one weekend. While it’s not that much it that will include almost 30,000′ of climbing. On Sunday, Ashley will fly into Paris and join me.

Ashley and Barry at the Automobile Club of France

On Monday and Tuesday we will be sightseeing in Paris.

Our own Parisian Tour Guide – Gwennaëlle Guillas. with Ashley

On Wednesday we will leave for Switzerland where we will do a whirlwind tour of the country, seeing Interlaken before ending in Zurich. In Zurich we will meet up with Ben Z, a student we were area reps for a number of years ago when he was an exchange student to the U.S. We (Ben and I) will go bike riding in the mountains.

Ben and son – Lucerne, Switzerland

Sunday, August 1 — Leave Zurich for Madrid then fly Madrid to Washington-Dulles. Life is short. Enjoy the simple pleasures. Life is Good!_


*EDIT/EPILOGUE – Photos added after the fact. The viewing for the Tour was along the route about 10 km from the summit. Wishful thinking had me read that we would be at the finish line. On neither day were we able to get closer than 4km from the summit due to crowd restrictions of the Tour de France.

I did not get to ride with Ben in Switzerland, instead we had a great boat ride in Lucerne.