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Yellow Jersey Tours Diary: Day 5
By Locutus
Date: 7/24/2004
Yellow Jersey Tours Diary: Day 5
Route for the day: 50+ miles over the last two climbs of the Tour route..
Principal difficulties: The Col de la Forclaz and the Col de Croix Fry.
iPod inspirational and appropriate song of the day: David Bowie, "Dead Man Walking"

Want to torture a cyclist? Wait until they've gone on a particularly grueling ride, and then serve them a truly French meal. There seems to be something inherently incompatible with the customs and culture of French dining and the needs of cyclists. The French restaurants that we've eaten at have all had wonderful food, even for a vegetarian like me. That's not the problem. The problem comes from how long the meals take and the portions they bring you.

You should have seen the looks on the faces of guys like Rusty, Ray, and Ben - all big fellas who ride their butts off - when they were presented with tiny, pretty little pieces of food at twenty- to thirty-minute intervals for a few hours. After our tortuous ride to nowhere up the climb that never ended, we arrived at an amazing hotel with a wonderful chef who served us the meal that never ended. I think only about six of us made it through dessert without having to go to bed. The next morning the guides had to contend with a hungry and surly crew of cyclists who'd just about had it with the nice food and eating habits of the French. We wanted pizza, McDonalds, or a pile of pasta at the end of the day, and we wanted it fast.

Well, after our sojourn to the Alpe d'Huez, we arrived at the next hotel very late (just as the restaurant was preparing to shut down). Those of us who came down immediately for dinner didn't know that our guides had called ahead to have an appropriate meal ready for us when we got there. It was sitting in the kitchen, and our waiters were just waiting until the entire party arrived to dump a large plate of pasta, green beans, and beef in front of us.

As we sat there, Rusty and Ray and a couple of the others saw that there was a large buffet out in the middle of the restaurant. To make a long story short, the French probably haven't seen a sacking like the one we laid on that buffet since the Vikings invaded over a thousand years ago. The wait staff was aghast, but we ignored them (one said "Bar, not for you!" and someone grumbled back "Yeah, whatever buddy.") We were tired of being slowly starved by French restaurants, so as the staff hurriedly tried to pull the platters and bowls of food off the bar, we kept racing up to take more before it was gone. As it turned out, the food we got from the bar and the meal they finally served us was just about perfect, filling us up fast and getting us to bed happy for once. They stuck a six euro charge onto our bills for that one, but nobody cared: it was well worth it.

I was already feeling sick, and the next morning my head cold had really taken the wind out of my sails. Instead of going on the group ride, I decided to tag along with the group of non-riders who were there to relax, take in the sights, and see the Tour. After hanging out near an Alpine lake, Danielle, Gail, John and I walked up the Forclaz a few kilometers to the steep section (after the first hairpin and up a few hundred meters). The sun was baking again, with the temperatures well into the nineties and high humidity to top it off. The pavement was absolutely baking. Walking up that climb, I was grateful I hadn't let my testosterone drag me into trying to ride up that thing. Sick as I was, it was all I could do to plop down for the next three hours and wait for the Tour to roll by.

The fans wait for the riders to reach the Forclaz. Photo Patrick Sharp.

The spectacle is really difficult to describe. We were sitting amidst people from all over the world in various costumes and states of undress. A big part of what was so enjoyable was everyone's enthusiasm for cycling. Old women, young children, middle-aged men, Belgians, Frenchmen, Germans, Norwegians, Danes, Yankees, all talking in a mixture of languages about who was going well, what riders would likely attack, and when the race got closer, sharing information about what was going on down the road.

The first to come by were Virenque, Simoni, Moreau, and Aldag on their long breakaway. They were wincing with pain, sweat pouring off of them as they slogged up the 10% gradient we were sitting on. They also had that look of defeat in their eyes, as their gap had fallen from 8' to 3'. The next guy on the road was Iker Flores, the brother of our guide Igor Flores, so we went particular crazy, shouting "Venga! Venga! Venga Iker!"

The peloton came by with US Postal clearly in charge, but everyone looked to be feeling the pain. And nobody spit on or cursed the Postal guys - and if they had, they'd have been in big trouble, as there was a pack of about thirty Texans with the Lone Star flag, a Univeristy of Texas Longhorns flag, LiveStrong bracelets, various pro-Lance kits, etc. If anyone would have messed with a Postal rider on that climb, they'd have probably ended up bleeding in a ditch somewhere. There were two big groups after that, one led by Erik Zabel and the other led by McEwen. It was obvious that this was a big day in the race, and the pack how blown to bits, and there were still 1.5 climbs left to go.

McEwen leads a grupetto by us on the Forclaz. Photo Patrick Sharp.

We thought that the race was over after the McEwen group rolled past, but no: there were still several men struggling up in little groups, just trying to survive the day. These were the guys I really identified with: they were clearly in over their heads on these climbs, but they weren't going to give up. They were still grinding away, laboring painfully upwards to try to beat the cutoff time.

Erik Dekker got a nice long push from David Hasselhof's body double, and as other men came by they got the loudest cheers (and most pushes) of the day. Sure, we were all stoked to see Armstrong in Yellow, but there was something profoundly moving about these men at the back of the race. They made the Tour seem somehow more attainable, more possible, and therefore, more believable. As we walked back towards the car with an evening of pizza and ice cream ahead of us, we were all in a happy daze. We'd seen the Tour at its most beautiful and its most painful, and there was still more to come.

Erik Dekker (Rabobank) gets a good push from David Hasselhof's long lost twin. Photo Patrick Sharp.

Locutus has joined longtime Daily Peloton sponsor Yellow Jersey Tours for one of its Tour de France cycling tours. YJT is owned by Cofidis rider and Daily Peloton favorite Bingen Fernandez Bustinza. Locutus is filing reports of his experiences with Yellow Jersey Tours this week at Le Tour.

Yellow Jersey Tours Diary: Day 4 - Alpe d'Huez
Yellow Jersey Tours Diary: Stage 15
Yellow Jersey Tours Journal: The Rest Day
Yellow Jersey Tours Journal: Day 1 - Montpellier to Nimes
Yellow Jersey Tours Diary: Preview #2
Yellow Jersey Tours Diary: Preview #1

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