This is the big one; a second cat and four first cats – you maybe can’t win le Tour today, but you can surely lose it.
The first cat Cormet de Roselend kicks from the start. In the old days, Hinault or Merckx would have spread the word; “tranquilo” for the first climb – but 21st century cycling isn’t like that, you can be sure that it’ll be “on” from the start. It’s going to be a long day for lanterne rouge, Kenny Van Hummel.
It doesn’t take long for the hairpins to start; lefts and rights, linked by steep ramps, the stiff breeze is mostly helpful. The trees make it less depressing, you can’t see what’s to come. But there are soul destroying markers every kilometre.
As we get higher, the glaciers loom, over to our right and we’re above the tree line.
The mid part isn’t too savage, but at four K it steepens again. The top, bleak, unwelcoming, windy, damp and then it’s the descent.
The surface isn’t the best; it’ll be slick too, with this rain – I’m happy to be in the Citroen and not on a UCI minimum weight carbon beauty.
Beaufort, the bottom, damp roads, crowds and L’Equipe for today, Cadel gets 1/10 – ouch!
A right, bang! 15 K to go to the sommet of Col de Saisies, up, up, up and no messing.
The motorbike cops stop to don waterproofs; miserable rain, just what you need for the last four climbs – and descents. It’s wet, grey, cool and miserable – good job there are colourful characters about.
The fans huddle under balconies; it’s raining for real and visibility is closing in.
But granny is still out to watch le Tour pass.
Les Saises, the top and the chair lift runs above the summit banner.
The descent; 14 degrees, windy, horrible surface; but it soon improves, the rain goes off and by Notre-Dame-de-Bellecombe on the way down, the sun is out, the brollies are gone and the roads are drying rapidly. The descent isn’t too tricky except for the hairpins at Flumet.
It’s flat for a few K to the PMU sprint at Praz-sur-Arly. Megиve, Pez GHQ and more rain, the trend is downhill now, a chance regroup, maybe?
Sallanches, where Hinault blasted the field to win the Worlds in 1980; wet but sunny, big crowds; but no ‘crazies,’ they head for the hills. I take that back; there’s a pink rabbit!
There’s been a lot of opportunity for the race to come together these last 50 K or so.
The Cat 2 Araches climb at 111 K kicks up into the mountains straight off the flat valley road, wide, steeply ramped and not many fans. Cat 2 it may be, but it’s tough, rolling and ramping eight kilometres and more. There’s not much to see because of the trees, but it’s not fun – that ground made up in the long chase will be lost here.
The top, wet, cool but big crowds, cheering everything that moves.
There’s a plateau before the descent and the Grand Finale looms. The guy at our hotel does a bit of cycling and tells us that the second last climb of the day, Cat 1 Col de Romme is a killer; we’ll soon see.
Meanwhile; there are Brittany crazies demanding a pic.
The descent is fast but damp, not too technical. Then flat roads, a chance to eat, stretch, notch the concentration down, a little.
Col de Romme; Cat 1 no messing, steep, tough, narrow – the roads below look like a map.
This is a heart breaker; a Tour loser; but there’s support for Nico Roche, and the sun’s out.
And there are the Fumy fans.
Inside the last K the crowd thickens, the gradient eases and there’s the top.
Straight down, fast, then into the hairpins but the tar is dry. In what seems like no time, we’re at the bottom – straight back up; 7.5 K to the top of the Cat 1 Col de la Colombiere.
The sun is out, so are the crowds and the locals have made the effort – chalets are decorated in flags and cycling jerseys.
At five to go the fans thin out; the riders will be alone with their pain and the trees. It’s not a photogenic climb, snaking as it does, up the valley.
An isle of Man flag – we stop, Cav fans? No, they just work there; the French clown decides he should be a Cav fan, though.
The top, park up, walk back, split up to get more shots.
“There’s only one Bradley Wiggins,” comes the cry from the bar – indeed, only problem is that Matt Conn has just emailed to say that Brad has been dropped by the Schlecks, Contador and Kloden.
He’s further down the mountain with Vandevelde, Nibali and Lance.
It’s not gendarmes on crowd control up here, it’s the CRS – the riot squad.
Motor bikes, Tour cars, the crowd eases forward; there’s the noise rolling up the hill.
The Schlecks – Frank leads, Andy second; Bert sits on. Those Luxemburgers look stressed; Bert doesn’t.
Kloden next, hurting but stylish, he’s class.
The biggest cheer so far, yeah; it’s Lance, he’s dropped Nibali, Wiggins and Vandevelde and is on his own – that man can hurt himself.
Nibali next, he looks as desperate as his nickname, ‘The Shark.’
Bradley is hurting but seventh over the top of the Colombiere ain’t bad for a “trackie.”
Moureau leads Vande Velde, a little flash of the class that saw the big Frenchman win the Dauphine, the Dunkirk Four Day and the French Champs.
Christian? He’s hurting.
Time for the rest; Van Den Broeck, Karpets, Kreuziger – but where’s Sastre?
There he is – it’s over for him.
We recognise a few chums, further down, like Jose Luis Arrieta.
Matt texts; Frank Schleck wins, Bert is second, Andy Schleck third.
On the GC; Bert pours another layer of concrete, Andy second, Frank third, Lance fourth, Kloden fifth, Wiggins sixth – it’s gonna be some time trial!
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