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TDF’16 Roadside: Peyresourde Pleasure!
PEZ Roadside: Our PEZ-man in London, Sam Larner, managed a surprise week-end in the Pyrenees to do a bit of ‘Roadside’ Tour watching on stage 8 on the Col de Peyresourde above Bagnères-de-Luchon. Not to miss out on any of the atmosphere, Sam joined the fans with his tent and a can of beer for the French Grand Tour experience.


This was supposed to be the year that my annual pilgrimage to the Tour was to come to an end. It had started in 2012 when a friend and I had taken advantage of the long university summers and cheap French trains and done the first 12 days of the race on a budget of £250.

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This year though my colleague had booked off virtually the whole month of July. Cue, a desperate struggle to find a weekend where I could nip over to France without taking any time off. No joy, budget airlines, in their wisdom, hike the prices up if you want to travel on Friday or Sunday – for the first time since 2011 I was to be an armchair spectator.

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But no, the stars aligned, a friend was spending two weeks at his parents house in the Ariege and those two weeks overlapped perfectly with the time the race entered into the Pyrenees. With wi-fi on tap I could head out Thursday evening, hire a car, and ‘work’ from home on the Friday, then fly back bleary eyed on Monday morning.

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The house was located above Tarrascon-Sur-Ariege, just off the Col du Port. My drive there had been fairly uneventful until I realized that I’d overshot their house and I couldn’t find reverse gear. I couldn’t turn it all the way round in the road so there was only one thing to do, sit half in and half out of the car and push it towards the precipitous drop whilst keeping one foot on the brake. This did work and, although a little unorthodox in my approach, I had arrived in the Pyrenees for the 2016 Tour de France.

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We’d decided to watch stage 8 to Bagneres-de-Luchon on the final climb of the Col du Peyresourde. The intention had been to set off in the late afternoon, pick up some food and then head up the climb to enjoy some beers with the drunk Spaniards who had been enjoying beers for the past few hours. However, a particularly tense game of ping pong and general lethargy had delayed us to the early evening. By the time we set off, every supermarket between us and the climb was closing.

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We finally arrived in Bagneres-de-Luchon having investigated every supermarket with no joy. Bagneres was slightly more profitable, we brought four beers from a kebab shop and had a great meal at a bistro in the centre. We also managed to fill up the one water bottle we’d brought. The proprietor of the bistro had rather unconvincingly confirmed that there was a café at the top of the climb. It was looking more and more likely that our sustenance for the day tomorrow would consist of whatever was thrown from the caravan.

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After a drive up the climb in thick period drama style mist we decided to pitch our tent on the side of the road, around 500m from the top. We also put a reflective triangle behind the tent in the hope that it would prevent any of the cars speeding down from smashing into us and certainly making 2016 my final Tour. After pitching up we took our beers and wandered up the road, soon realizing that our drinking efforts were amateurish compared to everyone else around us.

It hadn’t been a smooth nights sleep, I’d pulled the long straw – my reward was to sleep on the grass rather than the road. Unfortunately the grass was heavily sloped and I spent most of the night with my face pressed against the tent lining. At 6.30 our tent was shaken awake by a very apologetic gendarmerie who informed us that we couldn’t stay there. A trip back down to Bagneres to pick up some food and we were laying out a blanket just ten hours prior to the riders showing up.

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The temperature was quickly into the high twenty degrees Celsius and time to leave the roadside in search of shade, something most people were looking for as well. After a mixture of dozing, reading and playing cards we were finally in time for the caravan to begin.

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The caravan was the usual mix of gaudy tat thrown out to promote brands that you would never normally have any interest in. It’s an integral part of the Tour however and it’s hard not to take it personally when the attractive women in charge of distributing hats don’t direct one towards you.

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Finally, the riders came through. The main favourites were there first but our allegiances lay elsewhere. We had brought the flags of Lithuania, Ethiopia and New Zealand to support Ramunas Navaradauskas, Tsgabu Grmay and George Bennett respectively. Bennett was the first rider past from our group and he was very excited to see the flag, he waved and swerved across the road. I was terrified that my Kiwi accent wasn’t up to scratch if he stopped to say hello, something Ignatas Konavalovas did at the recent Giro when he saw the flag. One of the more embarrassing things is to try and explain to someone why you are carrying their flag despite having no links to their country.

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Mark Cavendish was the last rider through, long after the gruppetto had rolled by and long after the majority of the crowd had started making their way back to their cars to try and beat the inevitable queues. He looked like a man who’d spent the majority of his season on the track, which after all is what he’s done. With that in mind his performances at the Tour so far have been astonishing.

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I’m yet to leave a Tour de France stage without getting caught in a huge traffic jam. It’s particularly difficult when your car has no AC and the temperatures are staying in the thirties. However, it’s a particularly beautiful place to get caught in traffic

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To anyone who hasn’t been to watch a stage, you need to. Yes, the percentage of time that you spend actually watching cyclists will be less than 10% but pick an obscure cyclist to support, drink beer, eat endless bags of crisps , and do it all in one of the most stunning places on earth.

You can read the full stage 8 race report HERE.

# More ‘Roadside’ coming soon as Ed Hood hits France for the final week, so keep it PEZ for the full Tour experience. #

 

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