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Tour De PEZ: On The ALPE!
PEZ Roadside Stage 17: I bail out of the Volvo at Turn 9 with around six kilometres to go, that’s the Rooks turn; every hairpin is named after a winner on this legendary strip of tar. Appropriately enough, a bunch of drunken Dutch guys form a human arch, which their equally drunk buddies have to ride through.

‘Pantani Vive’ says the banner, just a little further up; we’ll see more reminders of that tragic but charismatic little man later.

I’m disappointed at the size of the crowd, I expected bigger.

Turn 8 and the sign has gone – damn those souvenir hunters. A dog gets a free ride up the Alp in his master’s bike basket, I give chase to take a pic and it’s me who’s panting like a dog.

Gianni Bugno is the man at Turn 7 and it’s getting more like the old ‘Orange Mountain’ that I used to drive half way across Europe to enjoy. There are Dutch flags and jerseys every where, they cheer everything, especially a ‘Viking’ who runs up the hill. They have water cannons and I take a direct hit, those guys are accurate! I wish I could stay ‘til Deni Menchov rides past, but it’s still a long way to the top.

The l’Equipe van stops to sell another bag of tat, their PA blasts Del Shannon, ‘Runaway’ – maybe we’ll get one today? The gradient varies so much; it would be hard to find rhythm on this hill, steep, easy, steep, very steep, easy.

Turn 6 belongs to Bugno too, I stop to talk to some Cadel fans and take a picture of them and their Aussie flag – the French guys across the road DEMAND that I snap them; ‘c’est bon mes amis?’ There’s the five kilometres to go banner and the motorised coffee cup which we saw breaking down this morning whizzes past on the back of the breakdown truck.

Turn 5 and it’s Andy Hampsten, did I ever tell you that I was here when he won?
It’s all happening here, we’ve got Norwegians skiing up, more Orangemen and a guy on the dijiridoo.

Pereiro’s fans are spraying the road, they’ve come all the way from Spain and they aren’t going to waste that paint!

Roberto Conti has turn 4, he was burnt black with the sun and . . [Yeah, Ed, you told us! Pez] Sorry – CSC were out in force here, the road was covered in red and white paint, but “Riis ‘96” didn’t he get . .

A Kohl fan paints the road; those shoes are for the garden now, dude.

Around 4 k to go, the barriers start and I meet the Steve Bauer Bike Tours staff – thanks for the burger guys, first food of the day! The ‘janitor’ nails me at just past 4 k to go, this time he’s wearing a gendarme’s uniform rather than an ASO shirt, but the end result is the same – get off the course.

Kiss are pumping out from a ghetto blaster near by; ‘I was made for loving you baby,’ maybe I should ask the guy to listen to lyrics, ‘love monsieur!’ – Perhaps not, that looks like a Walther in his holster.

Pantani has Turn 3; the fastest I’ve ever seen guys climb in my life, were Pantani right here and Di Luca in this year’s Giro when he and Savoldelli launched their ‘death or glory,’ bid.

The crowd is sparse here, when we saw Hampsten win it was crazy, the crowd only parted at the last second and Hinault was screaming from the sun roof of his car, there are a lot more barriers now, though. Behind the barriers, it’s hard work on the rough ground, with the burning sun and an editor who doesn’t understand; I feel like Alan Ladd in, ‘March or Die!’

It’s the tragic Italian Mountain Man again for Turn 2 and a Belgian sees my Belgian T-shirt, ‘ah! Melle!’ He asks if I’m Belgian, I say ‘no,’ but I ask if he knows of Guy Smet, he says ‘no.’ “What kind of Flandrian are you? You haven’t heard of the Kermesse King?”
I have to cross the road to get the shot of the turn sign; ‘seulement pour la photo se la signe,’ I implore the lady gendarme, she shrugs, I jump the barrier, get the shot and head on up the tar, it sure beats that rough stuff. The next janitor nails me though and it’s back on the mud, boulders and grass.

Turn 1 reminds us of poor old Guerini’s glory day nearly ending in disaster when the dude taking the pic knocked him off – I guess those barrier have their uses. Again I have to jump the barrier and again I high tail it up the tar, once I get the shot. Bliss, smooth, smooth tar to walk on; I avoid eye contact with the gendarmes, scribble in my journal as I walk and make good progress, nearly to the last kilometre.

At two kilometres it’s quiet; maybe the crazies can’t handle the thinner air? The aroma of burning clutches fills the air as I see the road painting; ‘Free Tibet,’ how about free wi-fi too, it’s crazy what ASO charges us. The cop that finally gets me says nothing, he just opens the barrier and looks at me, he looks like Clint Eastwood in ‘Heartbreak Ridge,’ I smile; ‘ah, merci, monsieur!’

A Casino supermarket, ice cold Coke, ahhhh!

The flame rouge and the crowd is sparse, I hate to sound like the old guys who talk about the ‘good old days,’ but when we came here in the Pantani days, this was a tunnel of sound.

There’s the Cunego fan club, the trendy graphic of his name on the T-shirt has cracks all over it – that’s appropriate.

At 500 metres to go, I set up shop; it’s no problem getting a space.

Sastre is smooth, pedaling to the best day of his life; Cadel is desperate, all he’s thinking about is that chrono on Saturday; Frank and Andy are cool, Bjarne has it all figured. It’s time to move up to the finish to get the face that will tell the story of 210 kilometres and three hors category climbs better than I can.

Maxime Monfort brakes in front of me, he’s 24-18 down, but has to endure the torture of a radio interview; take at look at his eyes, that’s the story.

And Del Shannon got it right!


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