Day 18 – Gap to Sainte Luce (Alps) (Tour de France stage 18)

This morning picked up where yesterday left off. The tour was departing from Gap today meaning I didn’t have the stress of having to be anywhere. Heading back into town to my favourite boulangerie, I had my first crash. A fucking stupid crash but a knee grazer nonetheless. Coming to a standstill I didn’t upclip my food fast enough from my pedal and POW!!! I’m on the floor drowning in embarrassment. Instantly 2 men came running over to help me back to my feet. Once inside the artisanal patisserie, the lady that was working there insisted she bandage up my bloody knee.

I then made my way to the depart village, managing to get myself into the press and VIP paddock by simply hopping a fence and generally acting like I was meant to be there. Getting as close as I could to the Team Sky crew ( close enough to touch the most expensive bike  ever likely to touch)

After loitering around for a while and sensing that not much was going to happen, my next task was to find somewhere to watch the cyclists sign in for today’s race.

The streets were jam packed. I cheekily used some Spider-Man climbing skills to take a seat on top of a large wall outside someone’s house, which was a great vantage point.

The house owners dog started to bark like mad and eventually she has had enough.  She started speaking to me in French. Of course I didn’t understand and thought she was moving me on (which would have been fair enough). But she wasn’t. She invited me into her private garden so the dog could familiarise its self with my scent and get used to my presence. After doing so she offered me a safer and more comfortable seat at the other side of her garden that was just as good.

Turning into a massive fan boy I was screaming out with cheers every time one of my favourites took to the stage. This was awesome and a great experience.

The place was going crazy as the race started (unfortunately out of my sight) and the streets essentially turned into a big carnival scene as live bands were playing and people were walking round in strange costumes.

Breaking free from the crowds I had a bit of FaceTime with my mum. It was lovely to see her face and just generally have a catch up. I then had some lunch and recharged my stuff before heading out, as far as I could get to Alpe D’Huez. But first I’d take the time to stock up my belly and once more shared my lunch with a 3 inch screen with John Robertsons face on it

The exit from gap was no easy feat. Straight out the gates without any sort of warm up what so ever was the killer col du Bayard taking me a further 680 meters closer to the sky. It’s gradient was between a punishing 8-13% most of the way (it’s funny how many times that your natural instinct is to tap the gear leavers in an attempt to ease the cadence, as if at any point would have had the chance to move it up). Even although it was now 5pm, it was still a toasty 33C. I could feel the sweat dripping from my face and onto my legs. My heart was pounding, my head was throbbing and my knee was stinging from the sweat inside the bandages. All the ways my body was letting me know it wanted me to stop.

I caved into to the pain and stopped for a break in someone’s drive. I was desperately looking at my lugging seeing if there was anything I could get rid of in an attempt to lose some weight from my load and ease my task. No chance apart from eating a bag of crisps.

I ripped the bandage from my knee and with it, a bunch of leg hair (was it time for me to fully commit to being a cyclists and shaved legs?)

I was procrastinating by staying put in the drive 200 meters from the top, pathetically avoiding the rest of the ascent, doing anything to buy some more respite (where I wrote the 1st part of today’s journal entry) until I was encouraged by an old man cycling past. The old men round here eat the mountains for breakfast and are made of steel (although he didnt have a shit tonne of bags)

I felt a little short changed by the downhill section as I had to turn off it fairly quickly. After a short time I had thought about it and realised it wasn’t such a bad thing, because in the Alps what goes down, must also come back up

I had been treated for sometime by an on going sunset, that was threatening to drop behind the mountains at any point.

I passed through a beautiful little mountain town called Corps, which was decorating in bunting of the national flags of the world. You could tell any where the tour had been. A few diners shouted out encouragement from the restaurant tables from roadside. Obviously still in party mode from earlier.

As the light continued to fade, I would

Make one more effort skywards before calling it a night, promising myself is look for somewhere to camp along the way.

I could see a village in the distance and headed for that. Upon arrival I found a church with a small patch of grass. There was a man over the road who was hosing down his car. I asked if he thought it would be alright if I put my tent there. He didn’t speak English. He then gestures to his own garden (which was massive) and said “ce bon”

Quickly pitching my tent and getting ready to take advantage of a much needed early night, I was interrupted when I was unloading my bag. Him and his wife had made me some dinner. Roasted stuffed tomatoes, with aubergines, red peppers, bread crumbs and herbs. As I started to tuck in, his wife said “rosé”. I smiled and gave her a heartfelt, merci. There generosity didn’t stop there as she also gave me a peach apricot, 2 yoghurts, 3 different types of cheese, a load of biscuits and the rest of the rosé.

Despite not being able to speak the same language at all. We stayed up for an hour using gestures and simplified versions of our own languages. I consumed the feast and was a bit pissed (the dude was definitely hammered by the end). I stumbled towards my tent and got in. Making a decent mess as my stuff was everywhere in the morning

“He who dares, Rodders”

-Derek Trotter

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