Vive Le Tour

Sunday 24 July


Today was all about watching the real Tour arrive in Paris, so we had a leisurely morning of breakfast and an art exhibition, then walked miles around crowd barriers to get our place in the Grand Palais grandstand on the Champs Elysées to watch the Tour. The arrival of the peloton was very exciting and the crowd went mad at every passing of the 8 laps the riders do around the final Louvre-Arc de Triomphe circuit. Mark Cavendish did his trademark sprint under our noses to win the stage and the green jersey and there were quite a few shouts of ‘Aussie Aussie Aussie…’ as Cadel Evans won the maillot jaune in a total time of 86 hours and 12 minutes, just a touch quicker than us!

It has been epic as expected. We’ll miss all sorts of things, the mileage, the mountains and the maillots. We’ll miss seeing elaborate bike decorations wherever we go, people clapping & cheering when we cycle past, the look of horror on a waiter’s face after his beautifully arranged breakfast buffet is decimated by 6.10am, starting the day in another inauspicious lay-by but ending in elated triumph at some stadium or on a mountain top. We’ll have to revert from measuring time in kilometres and days of the week as stages 1-21. And what we won’t miss…nothing!

Vive Le Tour.

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Ooh la la c’est fait! (stage 21)

Saturday 23 July  – Creteil to Paris Champs Elysées

Tour says “flat”, we say – yes, just a cruise into central Paris

Miles cycled: 54, Average speed (mph): 11.5, Max speed (mph): 28.1, Time pedalling: 4hr 38 mins

We found our way to the start in Creteil, just outside of Paris, not a great attraction itself but the start line was at a roundabout with signposts of all the start and finish towns of the entire Tour, so we had to do a few laps to take it in.

The route wound its way through the SE outskirts which made for endless traffic lights and some less salubrious areas but it was great fun to follow the official arrows of tomorrow’s race, and we had a great sense of occasion, as did quite a few Parisians who gave us a cheer & Max had quite a few calls of “c’est Andy Shleck” as he was sporting his new Leopard Trek shirt.


The sky started to look threatening, and before we knew it, it was hammering down with rain, and although we were in a very unpromising area, we found shelter just in time before we were too wet. It turned out to be a Lebanese restaurant, and it was lunchtime, so an unexpected pitstop for mezze & baklava worked out very well!

As we got closer, we went through the Bois du Vincennes and in front of its beautiful chateau we opened the customary final stage champagne to toast our journey.


The final approach along the Seine was very exciting, as all the classic Parisian landmarks came into view including Notre Dame, the Eiffel tower, the Louvre, and then finally through Place de la Concorde, up the Champs Elysées to arrive at the Arc de Triomphe.

Ooh la la c’est fait! We have cycled a total of 2,085 miles in a total time of 146 hours and 56 minutes! 21 stages at an average speed of 14.2 mph, with 107 miles on average per day (excluding the 2 time trials). We’re not on the podium with the pros but as they say of all riders who complete the Tour: MAINTENANT NOUS SOMMES GEANTS DE LA RUE!

See our route & terrain profile from today here

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Interlude: watching the other Tour

Friday 22 July – Bourg d’Oisans

Having made a plan du grand cunning a week or so ago, we picked up a car in Grenoble (after compulsive enormous breakfast in spite of not cycling today) and headed to Bourg at the foot of Alpe d’Huez. We finally had the chance to buy some Tour souvenirs, had a picnic by the river and then identified a perfect bar with Eurosport on TV, view of and access (via scramble up grass bank) to the course.

We watched the sensational day’s racing including 2 sorties to the roadside, firstly for the ‘caravane de publicite’, the legendary tat-throwing festival from giant haribo, vittel, and europcar sponsor vehicles, and secondly to see the race go by.

Photo: waiting for action on the course

For the former, we won’t take the high ground and pretend we weren’t in amongst it with everyone else, diving for a placcy keyring here, lunging for a polka dot cap there. And what about the PMU giant hand! What we can say though is that we were rank amateurs compared to the professionals surrounding us, using all limbs to catch things, thrusting adorable children into the oncoming traffic to attract the flow of gifts, and diligently stashing the goods out of sight to pretend to the next vehicle that they’d received nothing…

Photo: success!

And for the latter, wow, the speed the riders came through was incredible, the leading contenders all in a bunch, straining every sinew, and the race concluded in high drama up the mountain we had enjoyed tackling only a couple of days ago.

Photo: Thomas Voeckler still in yellow here…

We then concluded our own sprint back to the car to race back to Grenoble ahead of the traffic and catch the train up to Paris.

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Grenoble time trial (stage 20)

Thursday 21 July – Grenoble time trial

Tour says “individual time trial”, we say – just a marathon on a bike – let’s hope it seems this short when we’re back running?!

Miles cycled: 29, Average speed (mph): 13.1, Max speed (mph): 38.7, Time pedalling: 2hr 13

Today was the time trial in Grenoble, or as the great French expression for it is ‘contre la montre’.

The pros probably don’t have to stop at traffic lights etc, so given that excuse,

along with being completely knackered and having legs of lead…today was a more leisurely affair for us, we don’t think the pros will stop for a very nice coffee half way round the course in Vizille for example!

Photo: quick stop to admire the castle in Vizille

It was a great route with 2 serious hills, one of which was rather more serious for us as we missed a turn and carried merrily on up a steep hairpinned col, commenting on what a brutal time trial it was, before we realised we’d gone wrong. There were some racy descents and then we swung back into Grenoble to finish near the town hall.

We decided to stay on in Grenoble and take the great opportunity to watch the Tour in Alpe d’Huez and postpone our final cycle into Paris by one day. This meant we could also have the treat of watching the whole of the Tour stage 18 over Col du Galibier, and although bittersweet as we hadn’t been able to do it, it was fantastic to see the amazing battles on the mountains. It was incredible how different they looked with clear roads and no snow and to think how quickly it had changed.

We celebrated our Tour with co-rider Scott and his girlfriend Pamela with a great dinner and champagne in Grenoble old town, and went to bed with the great feeling that we didn’t have to set the alarm for 5.45am…

See our route & terrain profile from today here

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Snow Go – Part Deux- From despair to triumph (Stage 19)

Wednesday 20 July – Modane to L’Alpe d’Huez

Tour says “high mountains”, we say Yes

Miles cycled: 71, Average speed (mph): 11.8, Max speed (mph): 38.6, Time pedalling: 5hr 58mins

Today’s stage was not going to be hard to complete at only 68 miles, but it was due to be an iconic one, going up the steep, wooded, hairpinned Col du Telegraphe, followed by the long open-meadow gradual ascent of Galibier, then glorious downhill before Alpe D’huez climb finale.

We set off towards the start town in the vans which took us over Galibier, allowing us to check out conditions but it was minus 2 degrees even below the summit, snowy, icy & too dangerous for cars or cyclists sadly,

and we later found that it was officially closed to traffic.

Photo: Galibier closed even to cars…gutted (hastily taken, so apologies for fingerprint!)

So after reluctantly accepting that our stage today wasn’t going to happen, we drove back down the mountain to re-assess options over a coffee in La Grave.

Despondent at first, we just had to do what the pros’ race would do: re-route.

Looking at the map we worked out a loop that was at lower altitude and looked ok, but it turned out to be an absolute classic.

Photo: our new route

We set off from Bourg, sped downhill towards Grenoble for about 15 miles, then began to climb what turned out to be the 15k, 7% gradient Col de la Morte. It was a stunning wooded, hairpinned ascent, rising 1000 metres into the cold cloud, Telegraphe-esque you might say…

Photo: Col de la Morte

We reached a plateau and found a cafe, which slowly filled up with another 30 or so cyclists, several of whom were also doing an alternative route after being turned back from Galibier, and they confirmed that the loop we had spotted on the map was a classic route out of Bourg.

It was cold and in our extra layers that we had stuffed into our back pockets we started descending, but amazingly the sun soon broke through and it turned into a lovely afternoon. We came down off the plateau with spectacular mountain views in all directions.

Photo: descent from Col de la Morte

We had a quick ice-cream stop to gather our energy for the 18k open-meadow steady ascent of the Col d’Ormon, Galibier-esque you might say…

After enjoying the great views and endless waterfalls, we summitted and sped back down to Bourg through an incredible gorge with the afternoon light looking fabulous on the rock faces.

Photo: Col d’Ornan

We arrived just in time to see the finish of the Tour stage into Pinerolo in a cafe, and wanting to relive the Tour of old, we had a coffee and an armagnac to fortify ourselves for an all-out onslaught of Alpe D’huez.

Along with many other cyclists all having a go at the famous 21 hairpin climb, we threw ourselves at it, knowing what to expect having done it before, and timing ourselves according to the official markers that line the famous route. There was a fantastic atmosphere with thousands of people already lining the route in caravans and tents, partying, cheering and painting the road.

Photo: some of the many Luxemburgers at 5 bends to go

Max was pretty happy to come home in exactly 1 hour (rounding down a few seconds!) and Sarah flew up in 1 hour 8 mins, leaving quite a few baffled cyclists in her wake. It was a fitting end to a great cycle, that left us elated and exhausted.

Photo: end of the famous 21 bends

See our route & terrain profile from today here

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Snow go (stage 18)

Tuesday 19 July – Pinerolo to Col du Galibier

Tour says “high mountains”, we say so high they’re covered in snow

Miles cycled: 69, Average speed (mph): 12.2, Max speed (mph): 27.6 Time pedalling: 5hr 25

We knew today was going to be huge, challenging, eventful…and it was, just a little more extreme than we were expecting. The weather forecast was bad, and the reality was even worse. We flew through about the first 40 miles on the flat/ relatively minor uphill on the really poor Italian roads before it started to rain, and then worked our way 10 miles uphill to the official start of the Col d’Agnell, the biggest climb on the whole tour (2,744 metres) and first ever TdF ascent of it from the Italian side. As we set off on the official 22k climb, the rain got heavier and we could feel the temperature dropping rapidly with altitude. We could make out the dramatic and stunning mountains, but the cloud got heavier and rain turned to snow…everyone succumbed at various points, Sarah when it started snowing & she could no longer feel her hands (about 3k from the summit), but Max managed to make it to the top in heavy snowfall & temperatures of -2 degrees C.

Photo: temperature reading in the van on Col d’Agnell

But that was the end of our day as the conditions were long since treacherous, even for driving. We crawled our way down the other side in the vans, and it was still snowing nearly 1,000 metres lower down, so we reluctantly had to accept that the conditions would be no better on the other 2 major climbs of the day and too dangerous to cycle. It was very disappointing to have to cut such an epic stage short, but our consolation is that the Tour would

never have started that climb at all in those conditions and would have been cut short or re-routed to avoid the high mountains. So we miss a bit of distance and a couple of climbs but c’est la vie du Tour.

Photo: snow on Col d’Agnell

We commiserated/ celebrated our safety together with a warm change of clothes, pizza and a beer! Now we’re staying in a damp basement and as we went to get some old newspaper to stuff our shoes, we saw this story about how 200 “cyclotouristes” doing an event on Sunday were evacuated off Galibier due to cold/rain/snow – and they even had balmy temperatures of 3 degrees C!

Photo: headline in paper re cyclists’ evacuation


See our route & terrain profile from today here

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Cross country cycle (stage 17)

Monday 18 July – Gap to Pinerolo

Tour says “high mountains”, we say – yes, magnificent mountains

Miles cycled: 112, Average speed (mph): 14.5, Max speed (mph): 38.3, Time pedalling: 7 hrs 40

An inspiring start to the day cycling off at 7.15am with cool, crisp air, a few low-hanging atmospheric clouds and dazzling dawn sun shining on spectacular mountains. We were all then delighted to keep dry all day – sunny but not too hot and we could enjoy the fantastic views without them being blocked by clouds / sheets of rain. A cyclist told us that Galibier was blocked to cyclists due to snow yesterday! Let’s hope that doesn’t happen tomorrow.

A really beautiful day, even though some of the route was on quite main roads, starting with going alongside & across Lake Embrun with its stunning mountain backdrop.


Photo: Lake Embrun

We did 4 climbs today, all very pretty in different ways. The first was smallest & had good views of rugged rocks, the second was the very steep road out of Briancon, and then up Montgenevre, which is the border with Italy and which we’d also done last year. From here we

had a long sweep down before climbing to our second ski resort at Sestrierre- a really beautiful climb with huge views down valleys & we even saw 3 marmottes playing on the steep grass bank by the road on the way up!

Photo: top of Sestrierre



Also good to see that national stereotypes prevail as our first interaction this side of the border was a cyclist calling ‘ciao bella’ to Sarah! We celebrated being in Italy at the top with Italian coffee & ice cream before a 30 mile descent (great to do this today but we have to do it the other way round tomorrow…)

Then, similar to yesterday, instead of heading straight to Pinerolo, at the last minute we had to take a very unlikely looking detour to the final climb through dense trees on a tiny & rough road. In classic italian style, there was some pretty haphazard & last minute Tarmac-ing hastily being done but it’ll be a test for the TdF, especially the narrow steep descent.

The finish line was by a bar back down in Pinerolo where we & bikes were able to refresh under lovely italian arcades before a final couple of miles to our hotel.

Rehydrating with prosecco & water

The bikes enjoying their finish at the bar

Now some serious recuperation is needed before tomorrow which is the stage we’ve all been most nervous of – lots of long & steep climbs – we’re going to be out there for hours & unfortunately heavy rain is also forecast which would make it even harder.

See our route & terrain profile from today here

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Prevailing through the rain (stage 16)

Sunday 17 July – Saint Paul les 3 Chateaux to Gap

Tour says “medium mountains”, we say – heading to the hills

Miles cycled: 102, Average speed (mph): 15.6, Max speed (mph): 31.7, Time pedalling: 6 hr 28

It’s never the best omen hearing thunder while you’re eating your pre-cycle croissant, but it was a signal of what was to come- some of the worst weather we’ve ever cycled in. It was windy which made it hard-going & very showery developing into torrential rain. And when we say torrential, it’s not that we’re having a bit of a whinge about getting wet, we’re talking hard to see / be seen, brakes working less well, getting very cold descending, everything getting covered in road dirt and eating/drinking a fair amount of it too. It comes up at you from the road, back at you from the wheel in front of you, down on you from above!

Photo: head down into the wind & rain and point towards the mountains

The redeeming feature of the morning though was the spectacular Gorge de St May, which we wound through with the dramatic rocks stretching up either side of us.

Photo: the road had a great section through a gorge

A very kind bar lady let us eat our baguettes and drip onto her floor for lunch. Sarah was able to use her favourite school French essay phrase: ‘nous nous sommes trompes jusqu’aux os’ (we’re soaked to the bone) – {insert 2 ticks from Mme Grayson here} We kept ordering espressos in the hope the rain would relent but it somehow managed to increase to maximum setting.

Then came a tough mental test- go into Gap where our hotel was or turn left just before it and go up a gratuitous category 2 climb to circumnavigate Gap and come back in from the far side – obviously we took the latter option

We also managed to resist going into our hotel before the finish line.

A strangely enjoyable day in the end, a great cycle route, with a dash of satisfying defiance of the elements!

See our route & terrain profile from today here

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Hooray for rest day

Really enjoyed our second official rest day. We got the jobs out of the way in the morning, splitting into a mechanics & a laundry group – very satisfying to have bikes & kit spotless (& ready for tomorrow’s predicted rain!) We’ve both also got new brake pads on in preparation for the Alps, having ground ours away on the Pyrenees!

Photo: laundry party                               Photo: mechanics at work







 Photo: sure the hotel loved having us to stay

We found an outdoor pool for a cool off & leg stretch. We don’t know if everyone else’s stares were directed at our cycling tans or the fact that Max & Colin were in non-regulation speedos (and thanks to both the lifeguard & 6 year old boy for pointing that out)…

Otherwise it has been constant eating & watching the TdF on the 6 peak stage – very exciting & great to relive the stage and wonder how they possibly go that fast!

photo: watching the Tour is even better with fresh patisserie

The town St Paul Trois Chateaux is lovely & very much ready for the Tour:










The bikes got a rest day too in a wine cellar!

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Long hot Languedoc (Stage 15)

Friday 15 July – Limoux to Montpellier

Tour says “flat”, we say yes, phew!

Miles cycled: 117, Average speed (mph): 16.4, Max speed (mph): 38.7, Time pedalling: 7hrs

After the battering that our legs have taken in the last few days, it was a welcome relief to have a flat stage, although we literally felt every minor rise like it was a categorised climb.

Once fully out of the Pyrenees, the feature of the day was miles and miles of immaculate Languedoc vineyards, viewed at high speed from our 6 rider, 2×3 squadron format peloton. We went through some

lovely villages and had a good early view of Carcasonne. At one point we also got a superb view of the coast, a great moment as we realised that we had cycled from Atlantic to Channel to Mediterranean.

Photo: Carcassonne over the vines

It was hot and pretty windy in parts but we didn’t go completely flat out to allow legs some degree of recovery, to the extent that’s possible on a 120 mile cycle!


The final few miles into Montpellier were tricky with fast traffic but there was a good cycle path parallel to our road and so we sped to the Montpellier stadium. Job done, and now a much needed rest.

Photo: Montpellier finish line

See our route & terrain profile from today here

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