Spectators were already lining the roads by the time I hit the route at 10am, and the peloton wasn't due for another 5 hours. That is normal on the mountain climbs, but this was down in the valley where the roads are flat, straight, and fast.
Col d'Aubisque was a nice climb. The gradient was only around 5% for the first few kms, but the final 5km were really tough as the pitch increased and the air thinned. It was a typical Pyrenean climb: long, winding, and steep with lots of roaming sheep and cows.
We had 4 hrs to wait before the peloton's arrival, so I watched the race live on TV at a mountain-top restaurant with the Portuguese. Watching Thor Hushovd attack (and eventually win) on a mountain stage was far more exciting than seeing the TDF caravan handing out freebees.
By the time the peloton showed up the weather had changed considerably. It went from sunny and hot to cloudy and quite cold. It was almost a repeat of yesterday on Luz Ardiden. At least I had appropriate clothing today.
We watched the pros crest the mountain and disappear into the clouds. Once the final team cars and Gendarmes passed, we jumped on our bikes for the long descent. My hotel was just around the corner from the finishing line, so I had a perfect set-up: just follow the route all the way to Lourdes. From Col d'Aubisque, its 45km of mostly downhill. We were riding with dozens of TDF-energized cyclists so the return to Lourdes was fast and furious!
By the time I got back to Lourdes, most of the finish-line area was dismantled. Only the sidewalk fencing remained, but I got my thrills anyway (plus, I had looked at it briefly at 8am before leaving Lourdes).
All in all, it was an excellent day. I rounded it off by having dinner with Jane Norton, and old friend of mine from Auckland, and her husband, Mike, and their 2-year-old daughter, Naomi.
|On the 17km ascent up Col d'Aubisque.|
|At the summit, with Col d'Aubisque's Hors Categorie flags in the background.|
|At the summit.|
|David Moncoutie of Cofidis.|
|Johnny Hoogerland of Vacansoleil.|
|Jane Norton of Team NZ.|