We left our hotel in Les Houches, drove through the Mt Blanc tunnel and arrived in Pre St. Didier, Italy. This allowed me to check off another new country off my list. My impression of Italy so far – it looks just like France.
Today’s ride started in Pre St. Didier, which was also the base of the Category 1 Col de Petite Saint Bernard.
I started off by myself just spinning and getting into a rythym. Although most of the “good riders” agreed that the gradient of the climb was not steep , I found it plenty steep for me. (Perhaps I am the most out of shape rider in the group? Or perhaps I am the most honest?)
It was quite exciting to be climbing the very road that the best cyclists in the world would be riding just hours later. Near the base of the climb there were spots of people camped out and eagerly waiting the tour. These spots turned to thick throngs of campers, cars, tents and TdF enthusiasts near the summit. The practiced their cheering as I rode past, which made for a sweet experience.
All of these thoughts ran through my head as I just concentrated on grinding each mile after mile. I am quite sure that you learn a lot about what kind of person that you are on these types of adventure. Some people like to take their time, stop for pictures, and make the ride up as “relaxing” as possible. Others like to race up against others for bragging rights. Myself, I just wanted to ride from bottom to top without stopping. That was my challenge. I figured I could sight-see on the descent.
84 minutes later I crossed under the polka dot banner signifying the top of the climb. I had done it! To make sure that the ride would be a proper challenge I packed up a bottle of champagne and some plastic stemware to have a champagne toast to celebrate. One of the Aussies in the group told me that was something that an Aussie would talk about doing but would be too lazy to actually do it. So he made me an honorary Aussie. He also mentioned that if this is what I would do for this climb he is scared to think about what I will do to celebrate Mt. Ventoux in a couple days.
After the toast I pointed my bike in the opposite direction from which it had been pointed all day and finally let gravity start to work for me. The throngs of people, the fact that the road was still open, and the sure length of the descent did not make it as enjoyable as I had imagined it might have been. I did, however, stop twice for two great photo ops.
The first was with Dido – the ever famous guy that you see on TV every year dressed as the devil. He has the reputation for being overly stinky, but he must have showered recently because I was still able to get quite close without any sensory damage (or perhaps I have gotten used to hanging around stinky French people for the past year and a half?).
The second was with some fellow Canadians. That maple leaf always does my heart good.
Back down in Pre Saint Didier I met back up with Jennie. We positioned ourselves just off the base of the climb to watch the tour. Before the tour comes the caravan, which is really quite an experience in itself. The cars fly by with people just throwing freebies hard down on the road infront of you. It is like being involved in a drive-by shooting but instead of dodging bullets you are diving away from sugar candies, dried sausage, and key chains.
The men of the tour arrived about an hour later. I made the mistake of telling the people that I was with that I got shivers up my spine seeing them go by. They thought that it was funny that men in lycra gave me the shivers…
What a great experience – I cannot wait to do it again tomorrow!
People are now just starting to call me “Dangerous”. (I am sure my kid will read through this someday and think, “surely they are not talking about MY dad.”