07/30/04- BACK HOME, BUT WHAT DAY IS
IT?There's something nice
about flying back into San Francisco and seeing the fog, especially
after having had to change planes and clear customs at Dulles
(Washington, DC) where it was terribly humid and, of course, my bike
didn't finally arrive until shortly before my flight was to leave
(for those not aware, when you fly a connecting flight back into the
US, you actually go through customs where you first enter the
country... which means claiming your baggage, declaring whatever you
have to declare, and then re-checking your bags for the next
flight). I'll be working on getting separate pages up for the
various days I saw the race, but sleep comes first!
THIS JUST IN! A
secret, unauthorized (actually, we have permission to use it) shot
of Lance's final-stage bike, being taken to his hotel after the
race. Will the special SSL edition of the Madone be this exact
color scheme? Don't know yet!
One more day in Paris and then it's
back home, leaving Friday morning and arriving back in the land of
continuous (& reliable) internet connections Friday evening.
Many more stories to come. --Mike--
HELL OVER? Now that
the race is past, I discover, by accident, that there's an Internet
Cafe hidden away on a side street just 100m from my hotel in Paris.
Actually I never discovered it; my kids came across it when they
were out exploring! Go figure. This after a night in
which I chased down supposedly the Internet Cafe in Paris
(open until 2am), only to find that it had closed early, probably
due to a major brawl that was going on in the vicinity when I got
For those who were with me on the Graham Baxter tour, I'll be
putting up a page probably shortly after I get back to the US.
Right now I can't spend too much more time chasing down computer
stuff while my family wants to explore Paris, and can you blame
DAYS OF CHASING THE TOUR ARE OVER. No more trying to squeeze in a few bike rides,
spending a lot of time on a bus racing (well, not exactly racing)
across the French countryside from one region to another, wishing
each time that you could stay a while longer and savor the
experience, rather than live out of a suitcase and wonder where
you'll next be able to connect to the 'net to download stories &
It's over now, and I'm both sad & relieved. This was probably
my biggest failure in terms of getting the website updated; I've
learned that France is the strangest combination of forward &
backward technology. Looking forward, I need to find a way to
either become independent of standard phone lines (but uploading
large amounts of info via cell phone can get quite expensive!) or
deliberately arrange my travel plans around places with
higher-quality Internet Cafes (not ones with dial-up phone lines
where you have to use their own systems). --Mike-- 07/26/04
FINALE ON THE CHAMP ELYSEES!
Robbie McEwen, the talented Aussie
sprinter, took the Green Jersey (best sprinter).
Richard Virenque, the ever-popular French cyclist, won the Polka-dot
Jersey for best climber (his 7th time!). Virenque earlier
explained that, with the dominance of Lance Armstrong, there was no
sense in going after the overall race leader anymore.
If there was a hero in this year's race, it was Thomas Voeckler, the
talented young Frenchman who held the Maillot Jaune (race leader's
jersey) for 10 straight days.
THE FINAL PODIUM on the Champ
Elysees, with Lance Armstrong first, Kloden second and Basso third.
Among the many who were expected to place highly but self-destructed
along the way were Tyler Hamilton, Roberto Heras, Jan Ullrich and
Iban Mayo. This was supposed to be the toughest TDF ever for
Lance, but his supremacy never seemed in jeopardy.
IT'S ALL TOO MUCH SOMETIMES- This isn't any sort of extraordinary
photo, but it's taken under extraordinary duress. Crammed up
close to (but not directly in front of) the steel barrier, where
you've been waiting for over five hours under conditions that
make it impossible to take a break for food or the bathroom, you
hold your camera up way over your head, hoping to get
a shot. You're there because it's history, and indeed it is.
Historic that so many people would cram the Champ Elysees for a
glimpse of a rider's helmet going by. Historic that so many
Americans would struggle to capture something, anything, out of the
French-language jack-in-the-box-quality audio blasting out of so
many speakers on the course. Historic that I've been to the
finale three times now (5 times total to the race), and figure that
I'm not going to go through this again... I have no desire to be one
with such a massive crush of humanity again. But, I'm sure I
thought that last year as well.
DOES THIS PHOTO EXPLAIN IT ALL?
This is Jan Ullrich in the final TT in
Besoncon, where he came in second, losing yet another minute to
Lance Armstrong. This was supposed to be the most competitive
TDF in years, what the heck happened? Looking at the photo,
one can imagine that Ullrich is simply fat! The truth is more
complicated than that though, as pro cyclists deliberately relax
their stomachs and let them sag when riding (it also has to do with
the manner in which they breathe). But there is no question
that Jan came to the TDF in less-than-optimal shape this year.
The real loser in today's stage was Ivan Basso, who'd been holding
onto 2nd place after some spectacular stages in the mountains, but
lost enough time to Kloden to drop into 3rd place. There could
be some interesting antics in the finale tomorrow though, as the
separation between Basso & Kloden could be made up via time bonuses
from winning sprints. That's a tough one to pull off though,
since Basso isn't an exceptional sprinter, and T-Mobile (Kloden's
team) isn't likely to let Basso get off the front. On the
other hand, it's always possible that CSC might get some help from
US Postal, since Lance is on very friendly terms with Basso.
What I'm not sure of right now is how the Sprinter's (Green jersey)
competition is going. If it's still up for grabs, then there
won't be any possibility of a break getting away, since the various
teams with sprinters are going to be making sure their guy has a
shot at the maximum number of points.
Right now I'm typing this up on the way from Besancon to Paris, via
the TGV. I've temporarily left the group I've been riding &
seeing the TDF with, since my family has flown out to Paris for the
finale and met up with me in Besancon. I really miss those
I've been traveling with, but y'know, family's family, and it's a
lot faster & more comfortable on the TGV than it is on the big bus.
Plus the bus doesn't have power for my laptop!
Hopefully the place we're staying will have a way to connect to the
'net so I can upload this quickly, before it all becomes
the-day-before-yesterday's news. And hopefully I'll also have
an opportunity to get my first decent night's sleep in quite some
time! After all, tomorrow's the big day on the Champs Elyssees!
What's on tap for Saturday, 7/24?As usual, we get up at a (for me)
too-early hour for a 7am breakfast and then a ride on the Big Bus to
Besancon, where we'll witness Lance's final effort to win a stage in
the '04 Tour de France in the individual time trial. Shortly
after the finish I hop on a train to Paris, where I am not yet sure
of the means to connect to the 'net. I may be able to do it
from the hotel, or I might have to use an Internet Cafe.
Either way I should have photos & stories up in the late afternoon,
Truthfully, we haven't been able to see as much of the TDF as we'd
hoped, due to the extreme crowds making it impossible to get from
point-A to point-B in a reasonable time. But watching the time
trial on Alpe d'Huez up-close and personal will definitely be one of
the highlights of this trip. Bike riding time, on the other
hand, has suffered badly (so please be kind when you show up for my
Tuesday/Thursday-morning rides when I get
MAY HAVE RAINED ON MY PARADE...
07/23/04- It may have rained on my
paradebut not on Mercado's, seen
here leading the winning breakaway in the town of Gex, about halfway
through the race. Mercado went on to win the stage on a day
which started out incredibly windy and very, very wet... but not for
the TDF riders, who started at 1pm. That was for me, who, with
9 others in our group, rode for 60k ahead of the pack prior to the
road closing. One of our guys was literally blown off the
But by the time the TDF
began, everything was looking very nice indeed, and it was hard to
believe how it had been just a couple hours earlier.
Below is the obligatory shot of US
Postal (and Lance), leading the chase.
Moi?Must be somebody else.
Why would anybody think that
carrying two digital cameras plus a Pocket
PC, plus two bike computers, is excessive? But really, there's
a reason for all this. My D40 camera is small enough for a
jersey pocket, and used for photos while riding. My 5050 is
too big for that (but takes better photos, so it's used for nearly
all off-the-bike shots) so it sits in the handlebar bag.
So why two computers? The HAC-4 is a complex unit that records
all manner of things, including heart rate, temperature, altitude,
mileage... but it's too complicated to easily use while riding, so
its primary function is to display heart rate in real time and
download the rest of the data to my computer. The trusty old
TREK Radar computer... well, it's going to be with me until it dies.
A real classic.
The Pocket PC?
It can store all manner of useful information that would otherwise
have to be printed out, including teams & rider numbers & maps (very
useful!). It's a Dell Axim 30 (with integrated WiFi) and I've
gotten very used to it in just the two weeks I've owned it.
Much nicer than my older Palm-based Handspring Prism.
Somewhere out there is a person who doesn't know
about the Tour de France, who's never heard of Lance Armstrong, and
who couldn't care less about my problems getting an internet
connection at Alpe d'Huez. But that probably doesn't describe
many viewers of this website.
I'd hoped to get near-daily updates, but the first three days I've
had to "suffer" in France have made that impossible. You know,
I've had to suffer through all that awful food, ride up those
terrible hills with the company of a few thousand other cycling
friends, and get some photos of this guy wearing a funny-looking
yellow jersey. But I am there, and, contrary to
anything one might paraphrase from Gertrude Stein, there is more
certainly a there there, if "there" is anyplace along the route of
the Tour de France.
In the above left photo we see Lance Armstrong signing in at the
beginning of the stage, as all riders do. Only Lance gets to
skip the on-and-on-and-on-and-on presentation, sitting in his
air-conditioned trailer until just before he's called up (while the
rest of the riders have been "presented" and are out at the start
line, waiting, for up to 45 minutes). In the above right is
the running of the bulls in Spain. Oh, wait, that's actually
the beginning of the stage at Bourg D'Oisons... the beginning of one
of the toughest, most decisive stages of this year's tour. You
may remember it as the one that it looked like Lance & team-mate
Landis let get away, when Jan Ullrich's lieutenant Klodon got a huge
jump in the sprint... only to have Lance come from 200 meters out
and nail him at the line. It's no wonder the French Press is
calling Lance "Mr Boss."
07/21/04- ALPE D'HUEZ-
THE LEGEND CONTINUES
d'Huez- The Legend Continues
The photo on the right is from the Alpe d'Huez time trial on July 21,
which Lance convincingly won. I was stationed just below the
1km banner and yes, I gotta tell you, it's even more exciting live
than it is on TV. Watch this page for more info & lots of
photos in the next few hours & days. --Mike-- (living the
rough life in Aix Les Bains at the moment).
07/21/04 Alpe d'Huez, 11:40am
I'm at the center of the world's biggest party, or so it seems. This
mountain may collapse under the weight of all the people on it, or
perhaps be blown away, bit by bit, by the constant stream of
helicopters bringing people to the top. It's getting tough to walk
around, and the first rider won't be coming through until 3pm!
Fortunately, we have a good (but not quite ideal for photos)
position on top of the garage for our hotel, which overlooks the
course about 1km from the finish.
I've got the laundry thing down a lot better now; there's a
self-serve Laundromat just a couple blocks away. 10 euros for
washing & drying is a whole lot better deal than the 97 euros I paid
a few years ago in Annecy!
The newspapers are covered with photos of Lance, replacing their
affair with Thomax Voeckler, the courageous young Frenchman who held
the Yellow Jersey for a week and giving the French something to
really cheer about. But yesterday's stage signaled not just an end
to Voeckler, but a recognition that Lance is in command of the
'Tour. In fact, he's being called "The Boss" on Television and the
newspapers. Unfortunately, his dominance has taken made the historic
time trial up Alpe d'Huez much less important than it might
otherwise have been, with the self-destruction of Mayo, Heras &
Ullrich, plus the withdrawal of Tyler after his earlier crash. Only
Ivan Basso remains to challenge Lance in the mountains, but he
(Basso) is expected to lose considerable time in the final
individual time trial in Besancon.
For those who watched Tuesday's stage, please tell me that you, too,
weren't on the edge of your seat at the end, as Lance was sitting at
the back of the lead group (which contained all remaining
contenders, including Basso & Klodon; Ullrich was there as well, but
at 6'54" back, he really can't be considered a major threat anymore)
with 400 meters to go. It seemed that Lance was back there for the
longest time, and perhaps wasn't going to contest the sprint at all!
Ullrich & Klodon (both on Telekom) seemed to be in control at the
front, until Basso suddenly launched an attack and then, out of
nowhere, Lance took off like a rocket, passing Ullrich & Klodon and
then taking the inside line on the final corner to fly past Basso
for a convincing stage win. Basso was clearly showing his
inexperience as he took the final corner incredibly wide, giving
Lance all the room in the world. Wouldn't have made much difference
though; even if Lance had the inside line shut down, he had enough
speed to come around the outside and still win.
But back to Alpe d'Huez. One of the other guys on my tour was just
showing me autographs he got from Paul Sherwin, Phil Ligett & Bob
Roll! And, in one of those only-at-a-bike-race scenarios, Cheryl
Crow was wandering out un-noticed.
Bif Boom Bang! Alpe d'Huez is now history and, in the process, Lance
has written his name into the record books as the winner of the
first-ever TDF Time Trial on the legendary mountain.
YOU ARE THE WEAKEST LINK. GOOD-BYE! Or that's how it seemed
in a funny exchange today at Pauls, a deli in Paris. I ordered my
Jambon "Mixte" and Fanta Orange in French, and she asked, in French,
if I wanted it for the patio or to take out. Uh...er... I didn't
know how to answer that one! If I could have recalled the French
phrase for "takeout" (which is written across restaraunts all over
the place, but it escapes me right now), I could have stumbled along
with "Oui, takeout sil vous plait." Or, if I could have been fast
enough on my feet I would have recognized what she was using for
"patio" and simply replied "Ne pas patio" which would have been
clumsy, but workable. But instead I stammer our "to go" and she says
"Good bye!" in that authoritative way the game show does, making it
a point to say "Good bye" instead of "Au revoir" or whatever French
she was using with those who could understand French much better
Paris hasn't changed much since last year, unless you consider that
the airport has, unbelievably, gotten worse. The lines & confusion
are even worse than before; so bad, in fact, that one of the Flight
Attendants made sure to mention it before we landed (and to warn us
that, when leaving, we'd better arrive a day ahead of time).
Tomorrow morning we leave for Alpe d'Huez, with a planned stop near
the bottom so we can race the bus to the top. Yeah right. But with
all the people hanging out on the mountain, it's possible it might
be our only change to ride up the main road.
Sorry that this arrives a day late, but I'm having some connectivity
issues at the hotel (the "complimentary" high-speed line isn't
working, and the standard phone line seems to want a different
configuration for outside calls than I'm used to, and I'd rather not
goof at 11:30pm and wake somebody up due to a mis-dial).
It's Saturday July 17th, 11:45am at the SF
airport, where I'm waiting to board one of those big
things with wings to take me to the Tour de France. This will
be one of those insanely-long travel days; next time you'll hear
from me it will be from a hotel room in Paris on Sunday evening
(which will be morning back home).
For those who need to catch up on what's gone on in the TDF so far-
Lance is in complete control at the moment. Although he's in
2nd place, 22 seconds behind the Frenchman Voekler, Lance has been
gaining a minute a day (or more) over his closest rivals every time
a stage includes a nasty climb. US Postal has been doing a
phenomenal job of supporting Lance and controlling the race as much
If you get a chance to watch today's (Saturday) stage, there's
something very telling at the end. With 200 meters to go,
Lance & Ivan Basso are racing to the finish, but before they get
there, Lance sits up, straightens his jersey out a bit before
zipping it up, and then takes off. Something you wouldn't do
unless you were absolutely confident that you were going to win the
sprint. I've seen people do that in solo runs to the line, but
never in a 2-up sprint.
I'll have the opportunity to watch tomorrow's (Sunday) stage on TV
from a hotel room in Paris, but will probably won't bother since
it's a flat stage that probably won't hold much excitement, at least
not for those likely to place highly in the Tour de France.
More likely I'll be heading into town to do some shopping (local sim
card for my phone, small LCD television to watch the race on when up
in the mountains, scout out the hotel where my family will be
staying when they head over next Wednesday, that sort of thing).
What's my itinerary?
Sunday Arrive in Paris in
the morning, check in at the Novotel Tour Eiffel, and head into
town to take care of odds & ends and figure out whatever I may
have forgotten. No chance to ride, but then Paris isn't the
greatest place for a bike anyway. Not that that's ever
stopped me before...
Monday We head out Monday
morning to Alpe d'Huez, where we spend three nights at a hotel at
the top of the mountain, just 1km from the finish of Wednesday's
stage! Since it doesn't get dark until 10pm in France, we
may get to ride up Alpe d'Huez on Monday evening.
Tuesday looks to be the
hardest day on my bike, with potentially a 110 mile ride to see
the finish of the Villard de Lans stage. Past experience has
told me not to bother with actually being at the finish though;
more likely I'll scout out the steepest part of the mountain and
watch from there.
Wednesday is the day
everybody's waiting for- the Alpe d'Huez time trial! My plan
is to get in an morning ride on some of those gnarly roads that
seem to perch perilously on the edge of the mountains... you've
seen them, the ones with the low stone guardrails protecting you
from a straight drop of a thousand feet into the valley below.
You just gotta do it at least once! But I will plan to ride
up those parts, not down. After that it's back to the hotel,
conveniently located on the course, just 1km from the finish.
Thursday looks like a more
moderate ride, taking in the Col de la Forclaz & Col de Tarnie.
Just 30 miles. Hard miles, to be sure, but everything seems
pretty easy after looking at Tuesday's possibilities! After
watching the stage we then board the bus and head to Aix Les Bain
for two days.
Friday we'll head out to
see the stage start in Annemasse, and then shortcut the route and
see the race again at the Col de la Faucille. Myabe 60
miles, still with a fair amount of climbing.
Saturday The final
official ride day, where we drive out to Besancon and watch the
final individual Time Trial. With a bicycle I'll be able to
get around to various parts of the course pretty quickly, although
I'll also be meeting up with my family there, so my bike might not
get that much use.
Sunday And, of course, the
finale in Paris!
Below are some
links to articles on this website about the Tour de France, taken
from my prior four trips.
READING FOR THOSE WISHING TO SEE THE FINALE!
time schedule for those who wish to view the final stage in
This page is a must-read for anyone thinking about watching the
final stage on the Champ Elysees. It was written in 2002, but
was 100% relevant in 2003 and, I suspect, will continue to be so for
the years ahead.
DOING TRIPS TO THE '04 TOUR DE FRANCE With so many Americans wanting to see
the TDF in 2004, including quite a few of our customers, it made
sense to put together a page of companies offering tours. We
started with 23; by the time you read this, it may have expanded.
For those looking for a hassle-free way to see the TDF, especially
if it's your first time to France, you should check out these
companies. Keep in mind that space will sell out very quickly!
We've also put up a page that tells you why it's so
different seeing a mountain stage
in-person than on TV. Something you can show your
significant other (to justify why you've just got to go to France
for the 'tour, no matter how good the OLN coverage is!).
DIARIES FROM 2000-2003
2003 Tour de France
(07/16-07/28) It's all about the people you meet
along the way (which included a lot of our customers, along
with the French-speaking-only guy in the photo below, who bought me
drinks in a blue-collar bar outside
This was my first tour with an organized tour group,
Graham Baxter Sporting
Tours out of England. It was also my biggest tour in terms
of the amount of riding... virtually every day was a tough ride of
between 60-100 miles.
My 4th time to the TDF in a row... and, with Lance going for #6 next
year, it seems difficult to believe I'd miss it!
2002 Tour de France
days following the TDF through the Alps with a group of TREK
dealers, followed by another week on my own. This was a
proof-of-concept trip, seeing how easily I could manage France apart
from a group.
Alpe d'Huez is one of the two
most-famous climbs of the Tour de France (the other being Ventoux),
and will undoubtedly find its way into the '04 event. The 2001
TDF was rather special for me, as I managed to be in exactly the
right place at the right time... as you can see in the photo above
right, it was at just the spot where Lance gave Ullrich "The Look"
and took off. Unfortunately, the guy in the floppy white hat
moved into the photo at exactly the wrong time, even drawing the
camera's focus to it!
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