And the riders will encounter the first HC – haute categorie – in other words, ‘to tough to rate’ climb of the race.
The 17.4 kilometre average 7.1% Col du Grand Colombier. Race director Jean-Francois Pescheux has this to say of the beast; ‘On paper, this could be a real bogey climb: I think it’s the most difficult col in France, with sections of up to 17 and 18%.’
No prizes for guessing where l’Equipe PEZ is heading.
Le Colombier doesn’t mess – flat roads then the sign, 17.4 kilometres and up it ramps. Camper vans, ‘crazies’ in Speedos, whilst the road rapidly narrows up through the vinyards as the views become ever more spectacular.
Then the zig-zags start; very steep on the apex – this is not the day to have post rest day blocked legs. The gradient eases, from ‘savage’ to ‘tough’ but there’s no respite, ever upwards through the trees. Just before five K to go, it levels off, the big ring will be back in use on this section.
It actually dips just after this section before starting to lift again – time for us to park up before there are no spaces. It’s soon caravan time and once again we watch adults risk their lives under the wheels of race vehicles in pursuit of worthless pieces of ‘tat’ – insane.
The Cofidis girls smile down from their vehicle – somehow it’s hard to imagine that Di Gregorio will be smiling down in Marseille. Giant horses gallop past, huge gas canisters, enormous baguettes, alligators – and the Luxembourg lion is here, albeit looking a bit sad, it must know that Andy’s at home.
The sheer range of products advertised is huge, from Haribo sweets to motels to mobile phones and even movies.
It seems like there are even more vehicles than usual for 2012 – either the caravan does the job or ASO’s sales staff are getting better.
The girls on the caravan seem to be getting younger – and prettier as each year goes by. After the Vittel truck has soaked us with the water we decide we best go remonstrate with the car which has blocked us in – selfish devils!
But when we get closer we realise it’s the GreenEDGE boys – and there’s Robbie McEwen. He’s riding in to the finish just for ‘a bit of exercise’ – ‘does he miss it?’ asks Martin. ‘Nah, I rode too many of ‘em, mate!’
Another man of the Tour stops by to say ‘hello’ to the Norwegian fans – Dag Otto Lauritzen. The sandwich he has looks damn fine – reminding us that we’ve not eaten, today.
There are Ryder fans up here, all the way from Toronto and desperately disappointed that the big guy had to quit.
The word is that there are 20 in the break, Goss was in it – with Sagan – took the sprint then dropped back. Sagan’s chunky frame won’t enjoy those hairpins. The sound of the helicopters, too many motorbikes – and they’re on us.
Tommy Voeckler – hearts will be aflutter all over France – and is that Devenyns? and Luis Leon Sanchez ? and definitely Scarponi.
That’s one handy group, very hard to pick a winner – if it ‘sticks,’ There’s a gap, a couple of minutes, and another three, looks like Sandy Casar – it’s his kind of day, for sure – Voigt, an Euskaltel and an Astana.
Another couple of minutes, Ukrainian champion Grivko, another Shack and an Ag2R.
Another couple of rotations of the second hand – two riders, Jeandesboz and Davie Zee in his second big breakaway of the race.
Some get a little help from team cars.
And there’s Sagan, in a group of three – The Hulk was never a man for the climbs.
It’s well spread out; but the favourites aren’t spread out – they’re glued together. Porte, Rogers and Froome lead Wiggo with Evans, Nibali and Menchov attached to the Englishman’s hip.
Sky look composed. But there’s pain in the faces at the back of the group, but Michael Morkov is hanging tough.
Ones, twos, fours, Boasson Hagen and Chava are way down, and Johny Hoogerland, too.
The peloton is way back, with polka dot jersey Kessiakoff to the fore – best enjoy it Fred, it’s your last day, I fear.
The world champion leads the gruppetto; wingman Bernie takes a drink as Cav speaks into his race radio – telling Sean Yates what he wants for dinner, maybe?
Stone last is Movistar’s Rubens Plaza, and there’s the voiture balai – time to go !
If you don’t tuck right in behind the breakdown truck it becomes a nightmare, ‘civilians’ infiltrate the column, slow it down and time evaporates.
There are 40-odd K to the finish and Martin has to push the Renault hard to keep our place in the gruppetto – great views, a tricolour which covers a whole field, but we can’t stop.
In the last couple of K we remember we couldn’t find a l’Equipe – up we go alongside the van; ‘l’Equipe? is possible?’ I ask the dude.
Strictly speaking he’s only meant to sell them as part of the ‘goodie bag’ – but he’s a gentleman and a copy of the newspaper wings it’s way into the PEZmobile.
My son keeps us abreast of the race situation, but I’m a bit worried, he’s getting too knowledgeable – I think he’s after my gig. The final text from Scotland tells us that Tommy has taken the stage and the polka dot jersey.
As we battle through the post-stage traffic, in pops the email from ASO.
“Voeckler did enough to earn three appearances on the podium. First, he led over the first ‘hors categorie’ climb of the 99th Tour – the Col du Grand Colombier to take the lead of the climbing classification, then he was voted the most aggressive rider of the 10th stage and, ultimately, he timed his race to the finish line to perfection. He won the stage from a break that took almost an hour to establish on a day when the average speed for the first hour was a formidable 49.8km/h.”
French housewives can prepare the dinner with a spring in their step, Brad is another stage closer to Paris – and we might even get a pizza.