Le Tour de France 2015 Stage 16: Bourg-de-Péage to Gap
After years of dedicated 2am watching from my couch, bed and Bar domestique huddled around a tiny computer toggling between SBS’s tour tracker, the docile tones of Phil Liggett and playing Keeno – Twitter’s favourite Tour game – I finally managed to attend in person.
In the anticipated lead up to Le Tour, Ben basically did loads of planning; printing maps of the course, the roads, the mountains, sussed out where the best places to view each stage would be, checked for race times and road closures and found backup plans if it all went wrong.
Arriving in Nice on the French Rivera, we hired a car and set off on a four-hour drive to the small town of Antonaves near Sisteron, which would be our base for four days. We didn’t get a GPS with our rental car (huge mistake but 60 Euro saved) and neglected to consider our German pre-paid sim cards wouldn’t give us internet in France. Alone, reliant on our printed maps, blurry Google Map downloads and road signs we set off. With no wifi at our Air bnb to update each day, I was glad Ben printed all those maps oh and Orange Mobile for the 15 Euro sim card with data (PS. your coverage sucks).
The mountains are tough to navigate. The roads are one way at best, built on the edge of rubble cliff faces with not a thought for rail guards or barriers. Full of zooming locals who know the road with their eyes closed we held on and pushed ahead. Week three of le Tour is notoriously set in the French Alps, winding through the beautiful and mountainous countryside day after day. For those who haven’t followed le Tour on foot before, the toughest part of mountain navigation are the road closures. As there is usually only one road in and one road out on most of the mountains you can guess – without too much of a head scratch – that this road is the course. If you’re lucky enough to find some sneaky back roads after activating your super zooming function on Google Maps, you’ve got to be in-and-out before 10am as all roads surrounding the course are in lockdown thanks to the hard working Gendarmerie, unlikely to reopen until 6pm in some cases.
Because of these road closures it’s extremely difficult (read impossible) to see more than one viewing point on the course a day, unless you have a press pass (bastards!). The pass allows cars to follow the officials and team cars at the tail of the race despite road closures for the rest of us schmucks. We learnt this the hard way on our first day, Monday, 20 July stage 16 from Bourg-de-Péage to Gap where we drove four hours to see literally two minutes of cycling!
We picked a spot on a straight stretch of road in Espenel, early in the day where we could hopefully see the beginnings of a breakaway and the sprinters before they lost hope in the later stages of the climb. It was amazing – one big long train of cyclists on a flat stretch of road, one after the other followed by a flood of team cars, echoing from the chopper above and the beeping of horns, all sounds we would become fond of over the week. We intended to jump back into our car and race to the finish to see the breakaway get caught and hopefully a showdown by the sprinters for the win. We almost made it too with some savvy back road navigation but with a strong tail wind for the riders and long windy mountain roads for us, we were 30 minutes behind and abandoned our chase.
Tuesday 21 July was a rest day so we recouped by eating cheese and crepes, drinking red wine and travelling to Gap to stalk the team busses and find out where all the teams were staying (no, seriously). We had fun but we also planned hardcore for the day ahead, this time with more strategy and crafty back road driving at “European” speeds.
Stay tuned for more about the tour coming soon.