Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Maiden Voyage of a new Bike by the Seine and Eating Crepes on the Left Bank - Tour #3 is in the books!

Liam and I have been lucky enough to be able to follow several stages of the Tour de France and make it to Paris for the final day of the bike race for three years in a row. For us, the road to Paris never seems to be in a straight line. ( In fact, many times I feel like a pinball bouncing around France in July) It is hard to imagine the distance that this bicycle race covers on a daily basis. Simply following the Tour is, in and of itself, a very difficult challenge. I think it is for this reason, that each year when Liam and I make it to Paris for the final stage, we feel a tremendous since of accomplishment standing on the Champs Elysées. I can only imagine the since of pride the riders must have as they take their parade lap around the Champs after the finish of the grueling event.

Year Three under the Eiffel Tower

We have a tradition each year of taking a bike ride down by the river Seine and through the streets of Paris on the last day of the Tour. The final stage is always on a Sunday, and as it so happens there is a beautiful section of road that runs along the river that is closed to vehicles and only open to cyclists on Sundays. This ride is always a highlight of our Father Son Tour. This year the ride was going to be even more special because it would also be the maiden voyage for Liam's new Trek bike.

Liam Rocking the New Trek by the Seine

The new bike was a special project that had been a year in the making. We first talked about it with Joe V last year at the Tour de France. At that point, Liam was too short really to fit on a 700 c wheel road bike. So the task at hand was for Liam to grow!
Liam would measure his height and instep on a daily basis. By the Spring, mission was accomplished. It is amazing, that if you keep feeding these kids food, they do grow. In April, Joe hooked us up with Mark Andrews in the Trek Race department who was able to work with us on some of the specifics for the bike that Liam needs for his racing here in Europe (special gearing, etc...) Over the last three years, Liam has been very committed to the global battle against cancer through the Lance Armstrong foundation. So when the folks at Trek told Liam that they could do a special paint job in black with yellow Livestrong, he knew immediately that this was the bike for him. We were pretty sure that we would have the bike for Liam's upcoming August race in Assen, but we weren't sure if it would arrive in time for our July riding in the Alps and in Paris during the Tour de France.

Have bikes will Travel

On Friday, during stage 19 of the Tour, while we were on L'Alpe D'Huez, we got word that the new bike had arrived at our home in Provence. Provence is several hundred miles in the opposite direction from Paris. There were some logistics involved, but Liam really wanted to be able to take his first ride on the new Trek be down by the Seine in Paris. It turns out that France has some pretty fast trains, and the TGV was our solution. We headed back to Provence on Saturday and then took the TGV up to Paris the following morning. We were in Paris by 10 am and riding by noon. And what a ride it was! The new bike was everything we were hoping for and Liam hopes to be able to do some pretty special things on it over the next few years. Thanks Joe, Mark Teppy, and all the folks at Trek. You guys make rocking cool bikes!

Champs a few hours before the Tour

Paris is the perfect city for riding a bicycle. It is a city that is laid out with huge boulevards and grand monuments. Often when you are walking you think that you will just pop between the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, for example, and it ends up taking an eternity to walk. On a bike it is a piece of cake and takes only a couple of minutes. Over the years, Paris has become very bike friendly with dedicated bike lanes and a cutting edge bike share program. It is a true joy to bike around this spectacular city.

Paris is an awesome city to see on a bike

After our ride Liam and I changed and headed out to watch the arrival of the Tour. This year we watched the Tour from two places in the city. The first was along the Seine, as the race made its way to the Champs, and the second was on the Champs by the finish. I think the crowds were bigger this year than I had ever seen them before. We watched the finish and then the parade of the teams taking their honor lap down the Champs in a literal sea of humanity. It was a sort of mass celebration of cycling and sport with a few beers thrown in here and there (especially by the Australians in the crowd celebrating Cadel Evan's victory.)

Team Leopard Trek on the Champs Elysées

After the race, Liam and I headed back to the left bank and spent the evening hitting our favorite crepe stand and walking around taking in the July Parisian evening. The city has truly become a familiar friend to both Liam and me.

Left Bank with favorite Crepe

I hope that you enjoy the video and that it gives a since of the great atmosphere and spirit of the day. We will be heading to Holland later in the week for The European Youth cycling Tour. It is a 6 day true stage race for kids 8 to 18. Stay tuned as we are planning to be able to get up a few updates on the blog during the race!

Heading into Assen Liam is rocking his new bike

Livestrong, Train Safe, and Live Well!

This is Bill and Liam signing out.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Back to the Alps for Fireworks on a Mountain

Each year that we follow the Tour de France it seems that one particular location becomes a sort of hub, and comes to symbolize our experience for that year. In 2009, the center of our Tour universe was the lake front town of Annecy in the Haute Savoire. For the 2010 Tour, the mountain town of Morzine became the central link that seemed to connect all of our experiences of that year. This year I can pinpoint the exact location of the nucleus of our Tour - The Casino Supermarket parking lot in the town of Bourg d'Oisans. I know what you are thinking - "what is he talking about?" Well, I will explain. You see the Casino Supermarket happens to be located at the base of L'Alpe d'Huez. It is actually quite a nice spot, as supermarket parking lots go. There is some grass and shady trees for a picnic around the edges and plenty of ample parking all around. I have been in that parking lot over the last two and a half weeks no less that six times. The first was for Liam and my climb of the Alpe from the blog post "21 switchbacks." We also came back down to this spot after that climb, and reflected on our great feat of that day with a celebratory baguette. The third time was not actually in the parking lot, but near it as I was getting ready to push up the Alpe d' Huez during the Etape de Tour. Tavi and the boys got stuck behind road closures and actually waited for me to come off the mountain after the race in said parking lot. I descended down and we all had another celebratory baguette in a cool shady grassy section of the lot. This past week when Liam and I went back up for Stage 19 of the Tour, which was the exact same course as the Etape had been, we knew where to go to make as our base camp for the day's adventure. Amazingly, in a sea humanity, on race day, we were able to find parking at the Casino. After a day of experiencing the carnival of the Tour and the fireworks on the mountain we came back down to our hub in anticipation of heading off to Grenoble for the following day's time trial. Here things did not go as planned, and we ended up being stuck for about 6 hours until the traffic started moving. While we waited Liam (always eager for a race) set up a Casino parking lot circuit and raced his bike with some local French kids for hours. That was a lot of fun to watch!

Epicenter of our 2011 Tour

The days race was amazing! Liam got his second ride up Alpe d'Huez in as many weeks (it was the third time for me.) As usual, Liam was drilling it. We made it up to about 3 k from the summit, and then turned around and descended back down to Switchback #9 to watch the caravan and race come through. I think that we captured the race pretty well in the video. The French were out in full force to watch Thomas Voekler. Although Voekler lost his yellow jersey to Andy Schleck this day, his 10 or so days in yellow seems to have reignited the French national passion for the Tour de France. A young Frenchman and team mate of Voekler's named Pierre Roland won the stage and in the process took the white young riders jersey of the Tour. It can safely be said that the future looks bright for French cycling.

Thomas Voekler captured the imagination and admiration of France

Frenchman Pierre Rolland- Winner of the stage and white jersey

As expected, the 21 switchbacks of Alpe d'Huez were pivotal in the outcome of this year's Tour de France. The stage set up a showdown between the Australian Cadel Evans and Luxemburg's Andy Schleck for the following day's time trial. The 2011 Tour would be exciting right down to the wire. It was a big party on the mountain and, as always, thrilling for Liam and I to be there so close to the action.

Cadel and Andy in battle

Top 10 for American Tom Danielson

For us the journey from the Alpe to Paris would be by way of Provence in order to pick up a huge surprise for our annual Sunday ride down by the Seine on the last day of the Tour, but I will leave that for another post coming soon!

Liam's front seat to the action

Always happy in the mountains

Live Strong, Train Safe, and Live Well,

This is Bill and Liam signing out!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tour Finish in Montpellier and Rest Day Ascent of Mont Ventoux

Sometimes you are faced with difficult decisions, but, at other times, difficult decisions are made for you out of circumstance. After I finished the first Etape de Tour, I had 6 days until the second Etape (an amateur cycling event over a real stage of the Tour de France) which was on July 17th. One look at the weather forecast, told me that it was going to be ugly. The forecast was for torrential rain and cold, with a high of 14 C (or about 50 degrees F). I am now well into my 40's, and smart enough to realize that a 208k ride through the Massif Central in those conditions would wipe me out for several days. I really wanted to ride both Etapes and, at the same time, actively follow the last week of the Tour riding through the Alps, with Liam. Liam is still only 10 years old, but get him on a climb in the Alps and you would never know it. He is "slaying it" at the moment, and it is taking everything I have to be able to keep up with him and film at the same time. I soon realized that our Tour wouldn't be possible if I rode the 2nd Etape. The decision was made.

Back on the roadside of the Tour

Getting a lesson in sprinting from these guys

At the last minute, we switched course. Instead of Saint Flour and the Massif Central, we headed towards drier and warmer riding and the finish of the 15th stage of the 2011 Tour de France in Montpellier. We were on the road and headed to the Tour, and it felt great. Montpellier is a very cool university town on the Mediterranean coast. Over the years, we have gotten pretty good at picking spots along a stage to watch the Tour roll by. We found an uphill stretch about 4k from the finish. Along the road was a little cafe with fresh baguettes and drinks for a picnic. We had lunch and watched the caravan roll through with the race following about an hour later. We got a first-hand view of HTC setting up Mark Cavendish as the peleton roared by. It was a lesson in team work for the perfect lead out to a sprint. After the race, we headed into the center of the old town. Tavi, the boys, and I walked around the city and then at dinner time found a little restaurant that served a wonderful meal of sole meuniere, which went very well with a local white wine. I never seem to get tired of the spectacular food and wine here in France.

During the meal, we started talking about Mont Ventoux. Liam had climbed the mountain three times before, but always from the village of Sault. Now that Liam had had success on Alpe d'Huez, he was ready to have a go at a Bedoin ascent of Ventoux. The route up the mountain from Bedoin is a few kilometers shorter that the Sault route, however, the climb is considerably steeper and more difficult - with about twice the elevation gain. This is, exactly, why I had chosen to miss the Etape. We decided over a desert of Creme Brule to go to Bedoin the next day. So July 18th, the second rest day of the Tour de France we headed out to climb the "giant of Provence."

Ventoux - The mystical white-capped mountain

Mont Ventoux is a mystical mountain that rises up above the low plains of Provence. As you approach, you can see the white cap of the mountain from miles away. It looks like snow, however, it is exposed white rocks that forms the white cap on the final few hundred meters of the summit. When you are up there it looks like a bizarre white moonscape with amazing hues of blue and green below and above. The light is very intense on this mountain.

Liam starting to get a gap near the top

Liam "slaying it"

View of the moonscape from the summit

We started the climb from the center of the village of Bedoin. As we were getting, ready two cyclists pulled up to introduce themselves. They were Greg from Ireland and Monica from Holland. As it turned out, they had seen the blog and recognized Liam as they were passing by. It's a small world - this wonderful cycling family that we are now a part of! The climb was nothing short of fantastic. Liam climbed with grace and ease at a very fast pace of 1 hour 38 minutes. One of our friends on twitter told Liam to "slay it," and you can say that he truly did! All of which I was miraculously able to catch on video. I really was glad at that point that I had not ridden the second Etape.

New friends Greg and Monica in Bedoin

After we reached the summit, we decided to descend down to Sault and get one of our favorite pizzas on the plaza for dinner. The descent is beautiful - through high forest and then dropping down into low mountain fields of lavender. The smell of the lavender hits you as you drop off the mountain. Liam and I passed the spot that, two years ago, we had camped while following the Tour that year. In those very same lavender fields. Then it was across the plain and up into the hilltop town of Sault. We could almost taste the brick oven pizza. It might seem that our life is now revolving around food. I think it is just a natural consequence of living in France.

Perfect end to the perfect afternoon in France

We arrived in Sault to see that it was market day and all the stands were still set up even into the late afternoon. The late afternoon light on the plaza was was beautiful. Tavi had surprised me with a bottle of red wine which we had with our pizza. Sitting in the afternoon sun sipping wine and looking down on the fields of lavender. It was the perfect end to the perfect day in France on the Giant of Provence.

Happy Me - with view of lavender fields below Sault

Live Strong, Train Safe, and Live Well!

This is Bill and Liam signing out.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

L'Alpe D'Huez - 21 Switch Backs on Hallowed Cycling Ground

It is amazing that, so far this year, we have not been to a single stage of the Tour de France. And we are already more than half-way through the three-week race. After all, we now live in France, and you would think that we would be able to be at every stage or close to it. As it turns out, when you live in France, life literally starts to take on a life of its own. We do, of course, have a cool adventure planned this year. Our Father Son Tour will be back loaded this July following the intense last week of the Tour de France in the Alps, and then on to the finish in Paris.

Ah - Summer Afternoons in Provence

In between the boys' end of school parties (school ended July 2nd for the boys), our almost daily invitations to wonderful summer wine filled late afternoon get-togethers with our many new friends in the French village we now call home, and work on my book (which is now starting to find direction and a life of its own) we have managed to do a lot of bike riding. Liam's focus has been on the European Cycling Youth Tour in Assen which will take place from the 1st to the 6th of August. It will be the second year for Liam at the event, and he has some pretty intense goals this year. He is also really excited that some of our friends and Livestrong leaders from Holland are planning on attending. There may even be a Livestrong booth at the event. Assen in the largest youth stage race in Europe, and I think it is great for kids to have an awareness of the power they have to make a difference in the world. Even with something as simple and enjoyable as riding a bike.

Making a difference on a bike. Fat cyclist's 100 miles of nowhere. Liam helped to raise money for bikes for kids in Africa with this "non-event" in the back yard on a roller

My personal cycling focus has been the Etape du Tour. An Etape is an amateur event that takes place over the same exact stage as the Tour de France. The Etape took place last week on the 11th of July and was a 109 kilometer trek over three alpine climbs - Telegragh, Galibier, and finally L'Alpe d'Huez. This same route will be stage 19 of the professional Tour de France which will take place on July 22nd.

Our plan was to turn the cyclo sportive Etape event into a family riding and camping adventure. The minimum age to participate in the Etape was 18 so, unfortunately, this ruled out Liam's ability to ride the actual event. We headed up to the Alps a day early so that Liam and I could pre-ride L'Alpe d'Huez. The last time that I had ridden up to the Haute Alpes ski summit was in 2006. This was the year that Frank Schleck won the Huez stage of the Tour. The Alpe really is sacred cycling territory. As you cycle its 21 famous switch backs, you can almost imagine that you are there in the middle of the mythic battles that have taken place in years past on this alpine climb.

Cycling's hallowed ground

In July this is where I want to be - it's a state of mind

I think that riding the mountain with Liam was more important for me than actually riding the Etape. Liam - at 10 years old - didn't just want to make it to the top. He wanted to set a mark for this mountain, something that he could look back on as he grew older as a reference for his lifetime of cycling. He would be climbing the mountain "time trial" style. This meant that I would be riding time trial style as well (with one hand - while filming the climb). Probably not the best thing to do two days before a major race... The climb was really, really fun and Liam picked up the pace with every switch back. When we arrived at the summit I looked down to see the time, and was amazed at how fast Liam had made the ascent - 1 hour 15 minutes.

Base Camp in Modane for the Etape

Trek Tent at the Etape Village

Liam on stage at the Etape village pulling the name to give away a Trek Madone

The whole Etape weekend was a lot of fun with camping, pasta parties, and an afternoon up at the event village. The race had 10,000 participants! This, I'm sure, required an incredible organization on the part of the organizers and sponsors. At the village, we ran into our friends from Wisconsin, Joe V and Liz. Always great to see their smiling faces in beautiful corners of the world. Joe writes a blog on the Trek website which you can check out here. The course was a little tougher than I thought. The Col de Galibier is a monster and at 2645 meters it is no small feat to pedal over. It is also no small task to make it up the Alpe d'Huez with 100 kilometers already your legs and when the afternoon sun on the south facing mountain is baking hot. You are, however, rewarded with beautiful views, and the knowledge that you have made it over some of the toughest cycling roads in the world.

A Sea of Cyclists to get through when you start from the back

On the road in the Etape - slopes of the Galibier

Top of the "monster" Col Du Galibier

Long winding road of the Etape

I finished the Etape in 5 hrs and 38 minutes in the top 2000 cyclists. My time for climbing Alpe d'Huez at the end was 1 hr 37 minutes (22 minutes slower than we had climbed the mountain two days before). Not a stellar day, but I was happy to have finished nontheless. When you finish an Etape it also gives you intense respect for what professional cyclists do day after day over the course of 21 days in France. The Tour de France is truly one of, if not, the most difficult sporting events in the world. It will be awesome to see how fast the pros can do this stage on the 22nd of July. Can't wait to see the fire works as they rocket up the Alpe to the finish.

This is Bill and Liam signing out - and soon to be reporting from the last week of the 2011 Tour de France!

Livestrong, Train Safe, and Live Well!!!