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By Christian Vande Velde, Liberty-Seguros Professional Cycling
Alpe d’Huez is probably the most famous climb of the Tour de France. Its thirteen kilometers of climbing, 21 switchback turns and steep ramps have showcased the epic battles of the Tour and typically draw the biggest crowds of any stage. This year was exceptional in many respects: we raced up it as a time trial and Lance is on his way to his sixth Tour victory.
The crowds were insane from the start of the climb all the way to the top. At times it was scary, as I didn’t really know if I would make it through the crazy screaming fans. By the time we started racing the fans had finished their lunches, finished their bottles of red, cans of beer and topped it all off with shots of grappa. When people are drunk, reaction times are slow and the noise is deafening-good and bad when you’re racing up a hill with sweat in your eyes.
It seems to me cycling isn’t quite the fringe sport it was a few years ago in America. Stars-and-stripes flags were all over the slopes and there was at least a stadium’s worth of Americans out screaming. I think there were at least a dozen stadiums full of people on the climb today. Up here the orange t-shirts are Dutch fans whereas in the Pyrénées they were Basques. The majority of the spectators seemed to be Germans and Dutch.
I do have one question, though. I just want to know who is painting the big penises on the climbs, and why. Anyway, I get a little chuckle every time I roll over one.
Prior to the start Roberto had to change his rear wheel as his bike was 100 grams under the legal weight. The climbers on the team have bikes with small wheels as well. Lance had a weight problem before the start as well and the Postal mechanics had to throw a couple of computers, or something, on his bike to bring it to 6.8 kg. I was pleasantly surprised that my stock race bike came in at 6.9.
Jan is making his slow comeback but I think it is too late. He might land himself a podium if he keeps improving the way he is but Lance has made his mark as the dominant man of this year’s Tour.
Tonight we are up on Alpe d’Huez and it is quite a zoo up here. The ski resort is probably more packed with people now than it is in the heart of the ski season.
Leah, my wife, came to our hotel for a visit after the stage. I am not sure who is more tired between the two of us as she came to my room and crashed on the bed for a solid hour and half.
I was pretty excited to hear that she has a few NHL hockey players on tour with Trek travel. I thought it was pretty cool that a bunch of Canuck hockey kids love every minute of this wussy biking sport.
A good percentage of the peloton is pretty worried about tomorrow’s stage. Today the race claimed two riders to the time cut and tomorrow it could be a lot worse. Half of the guys going up the mountain today were just trying to conserve as much energy as possible for tomorrow. It’s going to be another tough day. I am glad I took it somewhat easy today, as I am sure we’ll be racing out of the gates tomorrow.
The race pretty much starts uphill and I would not be at all surprised if the attacks came fast and hard from the get go. I talked with Michael Barry about a few of the climbs towards the end of the stage, as he lived in Annemasse for a few years. He tells me the Croix Fry is a tough climb with some pretty steep sections and it’ll be a big battle between the hitters again. He claims they are the best roads for cycling he’s ever ridden on. We’ll see…