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July 14th - Drive to Briancon France then Lourdes France

 

Visit Tour de France Stage XX Start/Team Hotels then Ride Col du Galibier

 

 

 

 

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We woke up early this morning, had a great breakfast at the Hotel Les Agneaux where we were staying and then drive to Briancon to hopefully watch the start to the tour stage.  The Hotel Les Agneaux is in Villar D’Arene which gave us spectacular views of Le Mejie Glacier.

The drive from Villar D’Arene to Briancon passes over the Col du Lautaret and offered some spectacular views of this area in the Alps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surprisingly, you could walk right up and see the equipment being prepared for the day, including the team bikes. You could never see this here in the USA because I doubt the crowds would be as well behaved. Think about being at the Superbowl and the Patriots equipment was set out outside their hotel .. how long would it last before someone stole it?  How about being at the Daytona 500 and walking up to Dale Earnhardt's car and looking under the hood at the set up. Again, not going to happen.
As we got into Briancon, we decided we had better get some gas. This turned out to be a lot more difficult than we had envisioned since it was Bastille Day. Turns out things aren’t really open on Bastile Day, but eventually we were able to find a gas station. It was very busy including quite a few of the Tour de France dignitaries including Jean Marie LeBlanc who’s vehicle was being filled up just in front of us.  At this point we noticed a hotel near by with several team busses outside.

 

We then took a walk up to the hotel and decided to look around. We found a few other surprises here like the team room assignments posted in the lobby. These poor guys would get no sleep in US, but obviously in France, all is well.

 

We also noticed that there was a lot of activity around the conference rooms. When we investigated, we found that this is where the teams were eating breakfast. Most were done, but we did find a few riders hanging around. We found Levi Leipheimer eating breakfast all alone. We politely said hello and told him about watching the race with his family on Courchevel a few days ago. We then asked about a picture, took it, wished him luck and left him to finish his breakfast. A pretty cool experience, of course he probably thought we were nuts!

 

Since it was getting a little late, and we had planned on climbing the Col du Galibier and then were supposed to be driving to Montpellier that evening, we decided to forgo watching the actual stage start in Briancon. As a result, we drove back up the valley road, up the Col du Lautaret where we would climb the “easy” side of the Col du Galibier.  It was a beautiful day to ride and we saw some cool sights on the drive including a shepherd and her herd of sheep crossing the road. Tom proceeded to irritate the shepherd who clearly didn’t want her picture taken!

 

 

The Col du Galibier is a classic climb, although when climbed from this side, the riders usually start in Briancon or Bourg D’Oisans making it a much longer climb than the 8K from the Col du Lautaret.  The Tour had just passed over the Col du Galibier the previous day.

In the picture below on the left, you can see the road slicing up the side of the mountain. All in all a great climb.

 

 

The climb itself was beautiful with long sweeping vistas. It wasn’t very difficult, with the exception of the section above the tunnel. As usual, Tom found himself a race on the mountain and as I dragged the Chinese National team up Courcehevel, Tom had a good race with a member of the French National team. I’m happy to say, Tom created chaos on the mountain and broke the Frenchman’s spirit.

 

 

Here we are, me, Paul and Tom all looking a bit ragged on the top of the world of the Col du Galibier!

Like most of the summits, there was a lot of activity up there.

 

 

On the way back down, we paused to visit the memorial to Henry Desgrange, the founder of the Tour de France.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total Ascent Distance: 8.8 km (5.3 miles)

Distance Climbed: 1821 ft

Time: 0 Hours 42 Minutes (Ascent)

 

 

 

 

 

Once back at our starting point on the Col du Lautaret, we cleaned up a bit and started the 4 hour drive to Montpellier. Once we got there just before dinner time, we found our hotel location wasn’t real great. The city was under construction and access wasn’t great. There was little parking and the closest garage to the hotel was too small for us to park the van in it. We stopped at a gas station to assess our situation and fill up the van with gas.  Since it was very hot and our location wasn’t real great, we decided to try to call the hotel in Lourdes to see if we could arrive a day earlier. That led to the funny activity of trying to figure out how to use the French phone system. We had the telephone number, but had no idea what the city code was. Luckily we found a very helpful Frenchman who spoke no English. Seeing we spoke very little French, you can see where this was heading. Our French friend was very nice though and after some pointing and hand signals and a little broken French, he understood what we were trying to do and dialed the hotel for us. Luckily, the hotel could take us early, so we left the miserable city of Montpellier and headed for Lourdes France.

As we passed the medieval city of Carcassonne, we were surprised at the large crowds on the highway and in the city. We would later find out that this city has one of the largest and most famous Bastille Day fireworks displays in all of France. Perhaps we should have stayed the night here, although I doubt we would have found a room.

Now, none of us are terribly religious, but we knew that Lourdes was famous for its healing spring water. We had no idea what we were in for, but our first clue came about 22:00 that night as we were driving into town as the Bastille Day Fireworks were going off everywhere.  As we drove into the city and arrived at our hotel, the Hotel Moderne, we passed hundreds of young people in various uniforms walking into town. We would later learn that they were probably in town on religious retreats performing public service helping out the ill and needed citizens who had come to Lourdes for help. 

All in all this was a very long and interesting day. Kudos to Tom for not only being an animal on the climb of the Col du Galibier, but for driving over 10 hours after doing it.  We were now in the Pyrenees for part two of our adventure