Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Making our way onto a
crowded New York subway car during rush hour with a massive bicycle case in
tow was no easy task. Along with having to skip a couple of trains for sheer
lack of space, we were also greeted with looks of disgust (and a fair amount
of expletives) as we tried to maneuver our large cargo through the crowds. My
fiancé Ross and I were on our way to France to watch—and ride—part of the
Tour de France. For Ross, the bike was more necessary than underwear. It was
coming with us, no matter how difficult the journey.
Jordi Lippe It wasn't until we were greeted by the
concierge at the Meliá La Defense hotel in Paris—who not only knew what the
case contained but also seemingly every stat about the Tour—did we feel like
we had come to the right place. "I'm home," Ross turned to me and said after
several minutes of exchange with the concierge about this year's full
rundown of riders and upcoming stage details. As an avid athlete competing
on a national level, Ross has always dreamed of riding in the world's most
famous cycling race. Throughout our 11-year relationship, there isn't one
July I can remember that didn't involve him waking up early to watch the Tour.
This year, as a birthday gift, I sprung for the Tour de France 2015 –
The 3 Pyrenean Stages tour offered by Sports Tours International, where guests
can actually ride a section of the race's three Pyrenean stages mere hours
before the pro riders pass through. The thought of biking up the almost
7,000-foot-high Col du Tourmalet—the highest paved mountain pass in the
French Pyrenees—would make most people cringe. For Ross, it was a chance to
set foot on hallowed ground. Jordi
Lippe I loved that the tour provided supported transport (ideal
for someone like me, who doesn't even own their own bike) and guides for
spectators and cyclists at all levels.   While Ross was off on a
five-hour ride up the mountain, I was able to watch from the roadside. But
even sideline watching proved to be a sport unto itself. On the first two
days, it took us spectators two hours to walk up both La Pierre-Saint-Martin
(the Tour's first summit) and Cauterets in order to catch the coveted battle
for the yellow jersey. As I watched the hours-long caravan of music-blasting
sponsor cars, police vehicles, and countless team cars come through for the
nearly 200 riders (all things you don't see on TV), I began to understand the
scale of what I was watching. Unlike a football arena, which can hold
thousands of people, the Tour de France welcomes 12 to 15 million in-person
spectators each year—and you feel it, standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the
side of a remote road with fans who've trekked their way to the same spot.
Jordi Lippe Fans camp out
no matter the weather, often parking campers precariously on the side of a
cliff for days in order to secure the ideal viewing post along the route.
Only an utter passion for the sport makes the wait for a single minute of
action worthwhile. I listened as others on my tour discussed possible
strategies teams use and compared marketing techniques between well-funded
teams like Team Sky and the more social-media savvy Australian Orica-GreenEDGE
cycling group. Meanwhile, on the road, Ross was experiencing first-hand
the massive scale of the race and stature of the climbs. Cyclists' days
usually begin by rolling through small towns in the valleys, sharing the road
with locals, and occasionally bumping into cattle as the shadows of the
Pyrenees loom larger and larger. Once his group reached the final climb,
ominously listed as HC (Hors Catégorie, or Beyond Category), the ride became
an individual push to the summit. "I've never encountered anything like that
hour of 10% gradient climbing," he later told me. But between the moments
gasping for breath and switching down to the lowest gears on his bike, he was
able to take it all in: the stunning views of the Pyrenees and the surrounding
mix of people from all walks of life (including dads towing kids with bungee
cords rigged between their bikes and even a dog on the back of another) making
their own way up the mountain. Jordi
Lippe Much like standing along the roadside, the scene at the top
was celebratory, teeming with excitement to see the pro peloton come through
in a mobile village of campers, bikes, tents, and cars, all of which had
somehow made it to the treeless summit.   After Ross watched the
riders and countless support vehicles roll through, the caravan of spectators
began their own descent, dispersing as quickly as they had assembled.
Careening down the slopes, at times reaching over 51 mph, he—and those rides
who'd made the same arduous journey—were left with memories sure to last a
lifetime. Jordi Lippe
More good reads from T+L:
• 13 Affordable Trips to Europe
• This New Zealand Bike Tour is Straight Out of The Lord of the Rings
• Best Places to Travel in 2015 Did you enjoy
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People Took During an Emergency Landing Writer Jordan Lippe and her
cyclist fiancé traveled to France to watch and ride the mountainous Pyrenean
stages of the Tour de France.

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