Cav may have grabbed the green jersey ‘sans discussion’ (without discussion) as l’Equipe said, but he’s not going to have much chance to enjoy it – he has an opportunity to strengthen his grip on it at the sprint 119 kilometres into the stage, but then Sir Isaac Newton’s discovery kicks in and it’s l’autobus for Cav and the other fast twitch guys.
We breakfasted in the village, today – bread, cheese, fresh fruit, coffee, fruit tart plus a little jazz.
It sure beats battling the rush hour traffic back in Edinburgh.
There’s only one place to be – the mighty Tourmalet.
The hardest and highest drivable pass in the French Pyrenees at 17.1 kilometres and 2,115 metres with an average gradient of 7.3% and 11 consecutive kilometres which never average less than 8%; the Souvenir Jacques Goddet prime at the summit.
It’s only open from late May or early June until November when the snowdrifts start.
The early part of the stage is flat, along straight tree lined avenues and endless fields of sunflowers – but we’ll spare you the pictures.
The Tourmalet will be crossed today for the 80th time; making it the most frequently traversed mountain in Tour history, as befits the first major climb which was included in the race – that was in 1910.
That’s 101 years ago – in case you needed reminding that this isn’t just any bike race.
But before the Tourmalet we have the Cat. 1 La Hourquette d’Ancizan climb; 9.9 K @ 7.5% – it’s in the Tour for the first time, but those are sticky stats.
It was 18 degrees at the bottom, 12 degrees at the top, almost among the clouds and just one short spell of flat in 9.9 kilometres – a real brute.
But the descent is open – and fast, you can imagine the autobus guys asking big Greipel to go on the front down here.
The Tourmalet starts steadily enough but as the kilometres click by, the grade steepens and it becomes apparent why this is such a feared climb.
The temperature begins to drop and above us the clouds cling to the mountain.
Signs count the kilometres down – ideal for the mind if you’re on the edge of going ‘rouge.’
Through the ski resort of La Mongie it’s savage – last year we had to walk to the top from here; only to witness Andy and Bert’s ‘love in’ at the summit.
We get a parking spot at around two K to go, it’s cool in the breeze as the clouds and buzzards scurry past on the Pyreneean thermals.
Al Hamilton updates us from Espana – ‘break 8:35 up 102 K’s to go, going through the feed now.’
Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Movistar & Spain), Biel Kadri (Ag2r & France), Laurent Mangel(Saur-Sojasun & France), Ruben Perez (Euskaltel & Pais Vasco), Jeremy Roy (FDJ & France) and Geraint Thomas (Sky & Wales).
And Al updates us on le maillot vert too – Cav’ gets 9 points at the Intermediate sprint, Rojas 7, Gilbert 3 – 90 k to go 7:46 for the break.’
It’s getting chilly as the caravan roars through – we’ve agreed not to take too many pictures of it, but it’s hard to stop yourself.
Grown men barge you out of the way for a worthless piece of tat – it seems as if a lot of Tour spectators don’t get out much?
No matter how many times you see it, the sight of giant bottles of fabric conditioner disappearing over a mountain pass into the mist is still surreal – and that’s before you mention boxer dogs, raccoons and race horses.
Things calm down as the ‘crazies’ do their swag analysis.
The cloud is thickening now and it’s cold, rather than cool.
Al updates us; ‘At the start of the Col du Tourmalet; Perez, Mangel, Roy and Kadri had 7:44 on the peloton, Gutierrez and Thomas were 45 seconds behind, (but do regain) then Chavanel and Kreuziger just two minutes behind the leaders.’
Race radio tells us that Geraint has been on the deck and that Kreuziger has dropped Chava – no win for the ‘maillot tricolore,’ today then.
And Leopard TREK are on the front ‘gros, gros travaille’ says Radio Tour – big, big work.
‘La Mongie’ the lady with the radio tells us; cars, motorbikes, the sound of rotors – and there’s Geraint.
Alone, smooth, focused and 20 seconds clear of Jeremy Roy – who would take the lucrative Souvenir Jacques Goddet prime atop the Tourmalet – then Perez at 40 seconds, Kadri at 1:10 and Kreuziger at 1:30.
The favourites are together, as you’d expect with Luz Ardiden still to come; Hernandez leads for Contador.
Kloden has been on the deck – Lance must have used up all Johan Bruyneel’s luck with those seven Tour wins.
Then come one’s, two’s and little groups; Chava has blown, that nice new red, white and blue Merckx hasn’t helped; the white jersey will fall from Gesink’s shoulders and the polka dot from Johny Hoogerlands, they’re both 10 minutes down.
David Millar is at 12 minutes with time to give Martin a nod.
The first autobus at 14 minutes – but no Cav.
But he’s safe with Petacchi in the second autobus, I make the deficit 18 minutes. Time to go or we’ll be up here ’til midnite.
The smell of brake shoes, clutches, diesel fumes, the seat belt digs into my shoulder on the hairpins; I’m glad when it bottoms out.
The road closure scuppers our plan for a quick getaway. We tune to Radio Tour; ‘termine Thomas!’ but Samuel Sanchez’s name is cropping up repeatedly.
And Sanchez wins, Voeckler remains in yellow, Evans and the Schlecks confirm, not a great day for Bert and Basso reminds us he’s been third and second in this race.
As our chums at l’Equipe would say, ‘le Tour commence!’