We just can't get enough of France lately. This is our second weekend in a row, but the weather here in the north is a drastic departure from what we had in Provence. I certainly underestimated the size of France before moving to Germany where the terrain and weather vary greatly. A smaller, lesser known mountain range, the Vosges, are a mere two hours from our home and the Tour de France passed through here in this years edition of the race. The forecast called for rain every day, but luckily we only got wet one of the three days.
So we drove to northern France to catch 3 stages of the Tour de France. The plan was to catch stage 7 close to the finish when the peloton is typically moving pretty fast, but there might still be a break out front, and then catch the finish and the preceding start in the town of Gerardmer where we were staying.
We were able to drive right onto the race route and park off to the side, thanks to a miscalculation on my part that put us there 4 hours before the racers came through. Luckily there is entertainment of sorts when the caravan comes screaming by a couple of hours before the race. The caravan is the media parade (read moving circus) that throws out bits of swag or snacks while driving along at 30 miles an hour. It actually seemed a bit comical, as I'm used to the small town parade's in Wisconsin, where at times it seems like the Zor shriners are never going to end. Similar to the shriners they drive some really crazy vehicles, and are all strapped in with harnesses. We were able to score a couple of dry fit shirts and an awesome polka dot cycling hat.
When the racers came through a few hours later, they made short work of the hill we were standing on and also went by faster than I expected. I snapped a pic of a couple of them chatting, while calmly riding 25-30 miles an hour. These guys truly are amazing athletes. I didn't realize how many vehicles are driving along with the racers. I bet it is exhausting, and it is somewhat surprising that more riders haven't been hit by media cars.
On day two we camped out near the finish line in Gerardmer, where we had a hotel room 1000 meters from the finish. And when I say camped, I mean sat out in the rain waiting for the riders to come. It was more like camping in Ireland really. This was an awesome finish, with a 2 mile climb at a 10% grade after riding 234 kilometers (145 miles). We didn't get any pictures of this day, as the camera might not have survived. Here are a couple of pics from the hotel room, where maybe you can get an idea of the terrain. Gerardmer is a cool little town in the Vosges mountains that serves as a ski resort in the winter.
On day three the race started from the same town of Gerardmer and we just strolled down to the team bus area in the morning to see all the riders getting warmed up on their trainers. I guess they are treated a bit like zoo animals, because hoards of people are milling around the fences that are set up watching all the movements of the riders and just waiting for the stars to step off the bus. The poor domestique is treated like animals in the petting zoo (i.e. goats, sheep, pigs), and come and go without much excitement. I was surprised to see how skinny most of the riders are, at least their arms anyway. The guys who perform the best at the multi stage races are fairly small, like powerful little bicycle jockeys.
I know that cycling has been tainted in recent years by the proliferation of drug charges, but that is not to say that these guys are not athletic monsters. While I in no way condone the use of performance enhancing drugs, I think it is unfortunate that it has overshadowed the sheer ability of the guys who still ride clean. Watching the performance of the riders first hand is really incredible.
This trip was originally going to include some cycling of our own, but due to obvious prior events that wasn't going to be happening. However, it should be noted that this weekend marked my official return to cycling, celebrated with a lap around the lake in Gerardmer. In terms of notable events on my road to recovery, this one is high up there.
We capped off the weekend by watching Germany win the World Cup. This is the second time Kristen and I have been in the country that won the final, but Germany was markedly more calm than when we were in Italy.