A team car parps it’s way through. Hey! Isn’t that Toby from Garmin? But let’s start back in Lourdes, this morning.
‘Ti amo’ blasts from radio Nostalgi, Dave grants permission for a one off max volume, the sun streams through the SEAT windows, the Pyrenees tower to the right – all’s well with the world.
Hubert Arbes was one of Hinault’s trusted henchmen, he has a bike shop in Lourdes, now – the pictures on the wall reminders of the ‘glory days,’ we pop in for a quick look before we hit the trail
Our hotel, the Printania in Argelиs-Gazost near Lourdes is cool, we’re staying with Dave Martin’s party from EUROPED tours – more about Dave, later – we stumbled in late last night after a three hour motorway blast down from the Pailhиres, dinner was finis, but a wonderful salad was soon rustled up to keep PEZ fully nourished.
Today, we’re back in the Pyrenees, picturesque to start with but horror awaits, the near 20 K of the Port de Balиs.
It’s baking up her today but the winters are hard, huge caches of firewood testify to that.
The Vittel truck dispenses free water and there’s a rush to get to it.
Free water is cool, but so are the girls who dispense it.
There are helpful signs every kilometre to tell anyone on a bike what the average grade is for the next K – the gruppetto must love that.
The climb opens out as it goes higher, a narrow valley gives way to hairpins carving across the mountain side.
Disaster, we can’t get parked and end up two K past the summit, in the valley.
We strike out, but a mad Dutch man insists we photograph him.
It’s ‘march or die’ time, but it is beautiful up here.
Damn! I’m hallucinating with that sun – I just saw a yeti!
Just as we make the summit the Caisse truck with it’s manic giraffe appears. We’ve been coveting one of those Caisse freebie T-shirts that they chuck out; PEZ makes a world class save and we get the swag.
We cop some of the pork sausages the gingham 2CVs dispense but aren’t man enough to eat them, the lady beside us graciously accepts them.
A free copy of L’Equipe bounces off my head – there’s a nice retro pic of Eddy Merckx.
It’s cosmo up here; Luxembourg, Britanny, Great Britain, Euskadi, the Czech Republic, Catalonia, Oregon, Japan – oh yeah, and France.
We sit on the grass, listen to the chatter of all those languages and then – it’s time.
The chopper, then Tommy, he just couldn’t let Riblon have all that Pyreneean glory to himself.
Aitor Perez is next up for Footon, he’s killing himself, BMC’s Ballan suffers in his wake.
PEZ friend, Brian Vandborg is next for Liquigas with big Garmin Johan Van Summeren on max pain, too.
The crowd is crazy, they scream, wave flags and only jump back at the last moment – and here’s Luke Roberts, the last time Pez spoke to him was at the Grenoble six with the ink had barely on his Milram contract.
The crowd goes ‘China Syndrome’ – Alberto Contador! And there’s Big Denis for Rabobank and another orange man, Sammy Sanchez.
But where’s Schleck?
‘Lachй’ – dropped!
The Saxo man is maybe 20 seconds back, it’s hard to check time gaps in this cauldron.
Van Den Broeck is there too – and ‘friend of Bert,’ Vino with Ryder Hesjedal battling to stay in touch.
Gesink has been dropped, Rodriguez is fighting, so is Sastre – Lance? his head is hung, it’s not like it used to be.
Another photog tries to muscle our spot, but we get Basso – it’s a bad day, this isn’t the Zoncolan.
Chris’s Moreau and Horner battle up together.
Cadel is struggling and so is Nico Roche – Bradley? hanging on to a car, but he wasn’t taking a tow, just trying to avoid getting driven off the mountain. We think.
Chris Sorensen has on the same face that won him a Giro stage, but today’s not about winning – just surviving.
Aleksandr Kolobnev was smiling for us the other day at Mende – but not today.
The gruppetto appears, way below, but first Geraint Thomas cruises past, he looks good.
Footon revelation, Raffa Valls smiles to a friend.
The gruppo gets closer.
Cav’s there, Eisel nurses him; we miss most of Ale, Voigt is empty, Robbie has his paper ready for up his jersey on the descent and Jez’s cheeks have never been so hollow.
Iban Mayoz from Footon-Servetto is stone last, he must be 30 minutes down, but he’s been on the deck.
The voiture balai, the ‘sag wagon’ – it’s over.
And that’s where Toby came in, that Garmin team car sure was nice!
But there are other ways to get off a mountain.
Tommy wins, Bert in yellow – everyone is happy.
But not Andy or Bjarne, of course.