‘Night Fever’ blasts over Radio Nostalgi, the windows are open, the sun is just finishing burning off the last of the Pyrenean morning mist and we’re headed for the Tourmalet.
The valley road is beautiful, rising gently through high pastures past tidy stone built chalets.
Sainte-Marie-de-Campagne sits at the foot of the Tourmalet, scene of the famous incident where Eugene Christophe had to repair his broken forks at a blacksmith’s forge but received a time penalty because the blacksmith’s apprentice worked the bellows – all repairs were supposed to be carried out unaided, by the coureur way back then.
The UCI would have been proud.
The road locks down to traffic at 11:00 am so the fans stream on to the climb and locals get the shopping done.
Cyclists by the hundred stream up – all ages, shapes and sizes huff and puff up by way of the snow tunnels, straight steep ramps and bends up through the tress.
The climb is 17.1 kilometres at an average 7.3% but from kilometres 9 to 10 and 11 and 12 it’s 10% or worse.
The ski resort of La Mongie comes with five K to go; the camper vans swarm by the hundred, just below.
It’s time for a beer but not before we visit Gianni Marcarini’s stand – Gianni was a good pro for a decade in the 70’s and won the GP Plouay in 1970.
Now he takes his Cycles Marcarini stall around the Tour selling jerseys, hats and all the rest.
A red Indian chef pedals past on his horse cum mountain bike – you’re guess is as good as mine.
The views from the road above La Mongie are fabulous – dramatic, jagged, fiercely beautiful as we climb higher.
At two K we see our spot, park up and begin to ‘march or die’ to the sommet.
At one K to go you can see a cleft in the skyline, that’s the top.
At 700 to go, some humourist has placed a sign which tells the coureurs ‘there’s not far to go.’
A little further and there’s a display of Aussie good taste . . .
And approaching the summit a manic band does it’s thing.
‘Aupa Contador’ says the sign – excuse us amigos, but . . .
Jacques Goddet smiles across the road at me; the sun splits the sky; the buzz is Irish/French/Basque/Spanish; there are jerseys advertising Swiss bicycles, Spanish holiday companies and Dutch property developers and there’s still snow up where the peaks stab through the cloud blanket.
The top of the Tourmalet, 2115 metres; we savour the view, have a beer and a sandwich then head back down to our trusty Renault – I even manage to resist taking ‘caravan pictures’ as the madness flies past us.
But despite ourselves we get cookies and a rather nice Bic Oppy cap.
But there are ‘Tele Tubbies’ on the climb and they make a science of swag collection.
The weather begins to close in; clouds hide the sun and bring the visibility down as we wait on the race climbing towards us.
Sky show face again, in the shape of Mikel Nieve, he’s with AG2R’s Biel Kadri.
Daniel Oss was up the road – but now he’s sliding back, he bites the head off a gel and throws it in the road, his face full of frustration.
Then it’s time for the ‘Bigs’ with the Astana Army fully mustered at the vanguard.
Bardet and Pinot are welded at the hip – a lot will depend on that chrono on Saturday . . .
Peter Sagan isn’t enjoying today – but there are two more chances for him to win a stage; tomorrow and Sunday
But whatever happens, the green jersey is his.
Sky lead the gruppetto, Eisel and Kiryienka whilst Demare is rear gunner – all his thoughts are for the Champs Elysees, now.
We didn’t manage a bar for the finale – but you’ll know by now that Vincenzo double under lined it and we have a real chance of two Frenchmen on the podium in Paris on Sunday.
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,100 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.