Day 17 – Gap to Pra-Loop and back to Gap (Alps) (Stage 17 Tour de France)

Today was a crazy, crazy special day for me. I got to rub shoulders and mingle with some of the superstars of the cycling world, I met some cool and kind people who I’m grateful to even ever come across thier presence, but I also had my hard cycling efforts recognised by way of meeting a blog reader (and as if life wasn’t sweet enough, I’ve just had a massive pizza put down in front of me as a write this)

So to start with this du jour magnific, I crawled out my tent to a scenery that wouldn’t look out of place on a box of Alpen. The Pyrenees were spectacular, but it seems the Alps were like that annoying friend that was refusing to be out done. Each dramatic alp was crying out for attention like a flamboyant queen. I went into centreville sort out some breakfast manger for myself and check out what was happening in the tour today (I hadn’t done my research). It was 75km away with over a 1000 meters of climbing.

 Before I could set off though, I wanted to get my brakes sorted , as they had gone incredibly soft and had started making a loud metal on metal squawking noise when ever I squeezed them (basically just not safe for alpine descents)

It took me some time, but I managed to find an Intersport. Luckily they had the correct brake pads to fit my brakes. I got talking to the dude who worked there and was fitting it for me. He was impressed with my trip so far and was a bit of a legend himself. When he finished he told me it was free of charge. He then told me that I’d have to cycle hard to make it to Pra-Loop in time to make it.

I left swiftly with those words in mind, and  pedalled like a bat on a bike out of hell. I imposed another rule on myself which was ‘don’t dilly-dally around taking picture or brakes until I get there. I managed to resist for a while but these Alps were jaw dropping.

Completely turning myself inside out to get there, I was pushing hard from fear that I’d miss out. I knew that from watching stages from the comforts of the sofa in Sheffield that stages generally finish at around 4 o’clock(ish). I was cutting it close. 

20kms to go and the French TV and press cars started driving past me planting worrying thoughts in my head. I started pushing harder. A few kilometres down the road and the French Gendomerie came flying past on motor bikes with the usual cavalcade of team cars. I hit a long incline and could no longer keep up my tempo. My speed had dropped and so had my spirit.

Eventually I reached the top and was faced with a sweet decent, and with it, fresh hope. Throwing caution to the wind, I hammered it downhill kamikaze style kissing the apexs all the way. For a while I had a team Sky car behind me (I was secretly hoping they would be super impressed with my riding and would offer me some sort of contract HAAAA!!)

Reaching the bottom, I still had 10km to go. It was still possible I could make the stage if I gave it full gas I thought. The heartache of another hill was in front of me though. My legs where now screaming at me, crying out for me to stop this torture I was putting them through. Some how powering through the pain, I got to the top. 

6km left to go with the immediate first 3 of those being down hill. This time I had an ambulance behind me (what better eh?) urging me to continue my daredevil downhill descending style, forcing me into another make out session with the apexs. It was sooooooo much fun

Eventually getting to where I needed to be, my body almost destroyed by my efforts and like an absolute PRATT!! I’d forgotton to account for the time difference between England and France making all my self engineered pain unrequired. There was a 6km climb to the stage end which I decided to finish myself off on.

Upon reaching the top, I practically feel into a heap on the floor, throwing aside my helmet, sunglasses and taking off my shoes I just lay there panting like an exhausted dog on a hot day, whinging out loud. A big Dutch dude tapped me on the shoulder with a beer and said “you look like you need this bro”. Even though it was water I badly needed, I cracked it open and downed half in one go.

Eventually getting back to my feet, I then got talking to another Frenchman (Guillaume), who also seemed interested in my story. We were both going back to Gap after the race and agreed that if we saw each other we would cycle back together

The area was buzzing with a large variety of people from all over the world. Almost as if someone had flicked a switch, I was my usual self again and had enough energy to prance about and waste no time getting stuck into the hill side shenanigans.

I met some crazy characters including the Tour de France folk lore legend that was Monsuier Diablo)

Like I mention earlier, people had recognised my efforts for getting up and over the mountains from the comforts of thier camper vans, and we’re not shy in approaching me to give me kudos. It put a smile on my face and was gladly welcomed. Then out of the crowd a man shouted out “are you the young man from Sheffield?” He had read my blog and recognised me. I was stunned. Never in a million years did I ever think people would read this other than myself and a hand full of my friends.

Noticing a good stop that was elevated above the road I thought would be a good place to catch the race from, I scrambled up some dried out dirt and rocks to get there. A group of for Dutchmen had also done the same thing. They most definitely already sloshed, and were for sure a good time.

The helicopters were soon hovering over head, meaning just one thing, they were here. You could hear the roar of the crowd from along the hillside getting louder like a Mexican wave of noise as they approached

Then WHOOOOSH!!!! There he was, the tete de la course. Cheers and screams of ALLIEZ!!!! Were passionately yelled from the crowd, urging the cyclists on. He was a Giant Alpicin rider who had found himself a gap, and seemingly enough to win the race.

Then more riders followed I’m hot pursuit. A little further behind was Mr yellow himself ‘Chris Froome'(a British cycling hero of mine assuming he is clean), who had Aljeandro Valverde and Vincenzo Nibali for company

The rest of the peloton were still to come, so I took the chance to change up my position and get road side, close up to the action. It was great to see these guys up close. 

Almost as soon as the race had ended, rain started pouring by the bucket load, causing a mass exit from the mountainside. There was only one road for everyone to use, forcing the pros and spectators alike down this singular narrow pavé. It was a packed river of people making their way down at speed and you had to keep your focus at full alert to avoid  causing the mother of all pile ups.

I glanced over my shoulder and was star struck. It was only last years tour winner and current Italian road race champion Vimcenzo Nibali (AKA Viz Nibs). As he went past he gave him a congratulatory pat on the back and a well done (despite not knowing how he finished). He actknowledged it and thanked me and sped of leaving me with a shoddy photo of his back (this one directly below)

Now heading back to Gap, the downpour upgraded itself from bucket loads to ‘you may as well be staring under a fucking waterfall’, mixed with a twist of crashing thunder and terrifyingly close lightning. I was starting to concede the people who were calling me crazy for attempting the cycle back in this weather were perhaps onto something.

I managed 40/70kms of the trip back before a French dude, (and most recent hero of mine) named John pulled up along side me  in his official Tour de France crew member ban, with the window rolled down and offered me a lift. BOOOOOOM-TINNG!!!

I gratefully accepted his offer and he helped me load my bike in the back and we got going. Not only had this super kind dude save me from the monster rainfall, he hooked me up with loads of free food and promotional merch. 

He dropped me off just outside Gap. I proceeded to thank him at least 10 more times and proceeded to stuff all of my new goodies into my panniers. Just as I was getting ready to finish of my journey, Guilliume came cycling past and shouted “SHEFFIELD!!! You are fast uh?!! I laughed and explained what had just happened. So we eventually got to have our cycle back into Gap together


-Jens Voight


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