July 19 – Albertville to Taillores 55.8 miles – We got another early start this day. We climbed to a really cool castle early on, but it was closed. Then we continued up the Col du Frene, then through the classic alpine valley to the Col de Leschaux. (It almost felt like we were going downhill to get to that “col”.) Then we had a blistering fast downhill to Lake Annency. Our hotel was 10.5 miles away on the other side of the lake. We cruised on the lake’s bike path most of the way. Some rather large shirtless men tried to “race” with us from time to time. Then we’d stop and catch them again when they’d stopped. It was kind of humorous.

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The high point of the day was our lodging, a former abbey right on the lake. It is now a 4 star hotel. We changed our clothes then went swimming and sunning. The Tour was full of bad news. Landis had bonked on the climbs today and lost almost 10 minutes to the new leaders. He was out of the yellow with no chance of recovering it.

Our meals were sumptuous. They even brought us out sorbet when they brought out the cheese course to the rest of the group. Then we had additional sorbet for dessert. We were stuffed when we finally finished at 10 pm. I tell you, the late eating was the most difficult thing to adjust to. We’re used to eating before 7. Starting a 2 hour meal at 8 was a huge adjustment. When we got back to the room, we learned they’d turned down our bed and emptied our garbage while we ate. Amazing.

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Click to see image enlargedJuly 20 – out to see Le Tour 37.4 miles – Today was the day for watching the Tour de France. We had decided to head for the Col de Colombiere, find a good spot, then wait. We headed out about 9. We climbed 1800’ to le Grand Bornand, then found a spot more than a mile further that was perfect. We were at the top of 3 switchbacks, there was a retaining wall to sit on, space for our bike off the road, and even a bit of shade. We set up camp at 11 and waited.

Click to see image enlargedI “read” the French paper we’d picked up so I knew what the riders’ numbers were and who was where in the rankings. The articles were full of despair for Floyd. A French woman nearby helped translate some of it for me. We had an umbrella from the hotel and lashed it to our bike for more shade. We ate tarts and watched the cars, bikes and pedestrians stream up the hill looking for their perfect vantage point.

Around 1:30 the Tour caravan came by. This is where the 51 sponsors strut their stuff. They have a special car that is almost like a float, then 5-6 smaller convertibles with women strapped in the back who toss out goodies to the spectators. We got bunches of swag. We got a backpack, several hats, water, candy, comic books, bracelets, foodstuffs, it went on and on. We gave much of it to the French woman who was collecting things for a 100 year old friend who couldn’t attend the tour this year. After an hour or so, the caravan ended and we were back to waiting.

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An American nearby told us to watch for the gendarmes and the helicopters because those were the surest sign the tour was approaching. And sure enough, they were. Eagerly we looked down the hillside. We had no idea what was happening in the race, but I had my list of race leaders. I was going to know who was out front.

Then we saw the official’s car coming up at 15 mph. That meant there was a group of riders right behind. We saw it was a Phonak rider, a T-Mobile rider and a Credit Agricol rider. Could the Phonak guy be Floyd? One switchback higher and we were pretty sure it was Floyd. Who was with him?

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Then they came on our stretch of road. It was definitely Floyd. “Go Floyd, GO!” we both screamed. Sheila was snapping pictures and I was writing down rider numbers. I referred to my list. The guys with Landis weren’t among the leaders. Where were the leaders?

I had started my stopwatch when Floyd passed. Minutes passed. A couple more riders went by, but still no leaders.  Where were they? Now we heard more helicopters. The peloton must be close. There it is! Four minutes have passed and they’re still well below us. When they went by they were 5:42 behind Landis. What a great day he was having.

If you have a high-speed broadband connection you may view this file in Media Player. It’s a 2 minute clip from OLN that shows Spencer & Sheila on the sidelines watching the Tour go by. You have to really know what you’re looking for. We’re on the left wearing purple bike shorts and yellow ETC jerseys. Sheila is standing on a wall and Spencer is standing with a headscarf on. We’re about 30 seconds into the clip.

We had to wait for the broom wagon to go by before we could head back to our hotel. That was quite a sight. In the Tour de France, you have to finish each day’s stage within a certain percentage of the winner’s time or you are eliminated from the race. Unfortunately, many of the riders are slow in the mountains. They would surely be eliminated when the leaders do their hard-charging hill-climbing thing. So they bunch up for protection, just in front of the broom wagon. They call that group “the bus”. They figure the tour won’t eliminate 50 riders in one swoop and they are right. So just in front of the broom wagon came a huge group of tired riders. We were surprised to see so many of Floyd’s Phonak team there.

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The broom wagon went by and we immediately high-tailed it back for our hotel. We wanted to see the end of the stage! We wanted to see what had happened. We really cooked, topping 44 mph on the long descent. Even cruising as fast as we could, we noticed more than a dozen hang gliders sailing over our heads.

When we arrived, we ran to the TV in the bar only to find they’d decided to install a new flat-screen TV and were in the middle of the initialization process. What were they thinking? We charged up to our room and were in time to see Floyd, still leading by 7 minutes, crest the last climb. He ended up gaining back all but 30 seconds of his lost time. WOW! And the reason his team was all on the bus on the third climb of the day was because they set a break-neck pace on the first climb which shattered the peloton and launched Floyd’s escape. How exciting!
Click to see image enlargedWe later found out that some of the hang gliders we were watching as we rode in were from our group. A bunch of them had gone off on a tandem-hang glider setup instead of going to see the tour. Both were exciting, although I’m glad we made the choice we did.

July 21 – Taillores to Ferney-Voltaire 50.3 miles – All good things must come to an end and this was to be our last day of riding in France. We started by climbing the Col de Buffy, then had to go up a road made for Roman Legions, a 15% grade! We made it safely, but within 2km we broke a link on our  timing chain. Tony lent me his chain tool. (I’d left mine off the bike, trying to save weight. Dumb.) I fixed it and everyone went on. Then it broke again. We tried to call for help, but our cell phone was dead. Sheez! What bad luck.

Everything changes, though and soon Glenn, our tour leader showed up. He had the tools, but because of one thing or another it ended up taking the better part of an hour to get our bike rolling again. We had to scavenge so many links off our drive chain that our shifting was somewhat reduced. Glenn showed us how we could trim a big climb out of the ride and get caught up with the rest of the pack. He took off to rejoin the group (leaving us his cell phone) and we cautiously proceeded. The rest of the day we were babying the gears. The scenery stayed beautiful and the water was plentiful, so how bad could it be?

Indeed, we did catch our group on the far side of the climb, just in time for a long descent. We all stopped short when there was an unexpected traffic jam. Oh yes! The Tour was due to cross our course today. We hurried to the front, parked the bikes and only had to wait 10 minutes to see the bunch swoosh past. It was a flat stage and they were really motoring.

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Then we were able to cross the road and continue into Switzerland. Roads aren’t marked in Switzerland. (I think it is part of their defense system. Invaders would just get lost and find themselves back in France.) So we bumbled our way along until finally we took a left, crossed back into France and arrived at our hotel. We’d made it without further mechanical problems. Hooray!

Then it was just a matter of repacking the bike in the airline cases, cleaning up, and enjoying one last meal. There were awards, courtesy of Dan and Laura, and a slide show put together by Kyle. Then we headed for an early bed because our flight to Edinburgh was at 7:30 a.m. So long, France!

France: Part 2
Edinburgh, Scotland