Thursday, July 26, 2012

To the Pyrenees - Surf's up!

It is hard to imagine the size and scope of the organization and logistics of the Tour de France, but it is huge.  As this massive race travels around France, the event affects all the towns and people in its path. There is literally a palpable wave of energy and excitement that gets pushed out in front and to the sides as the Tour passes through.  This year we were able to get out in front and catch this wave on a couple of occasions and, man, it was good!

Stage 17 profile - Surf's up!
 Liam's riding ability has improved to the point that he can now pedal out and catch the outside waves of the Tour.  These mythic, outside waves are entire stage routes one day before the actual Tour de France passes through. These routes are marked, the roads are in good shape, the towns are all shiny and sparkling in anticipation of the Tour's arrival and, more importantly, you are out in front - on the wake of the greatest bicycle race on earth.

First Category 1 Climb of the Day
In years past, we had been a day ahead of the Tour on a col or for a shorter time trial, but we had never ridden an entire mountain stage.  We were inspired this year from meeting the ladies from the Reve Tour and the folks from the Tour de Concorde.  Both these groups were riding the entire Tour de France one day ahead of the race for specific charities.  We thought, "hey, why not try one entire stage of the race?"  We studied the Tour route in the Pyrenees and decided that Stage 17 from Bagneres de Luchon to Peyragudes was well suited.  It was difficult, with loads of climbing (over 10,000 vertical feet), but at 143k was relatively short in distance.  Because the finish of the stage happened to overlap with the finish of stage 16, we would actually be able to and spectate the finish of that day's pro race if we went fast enough.

Top of the HC climb - Epic day in the Pyrenees
We decided to head to the Pyrenees to catch a wave, but first we had a stop in Provence to pick up Sofiane who is on the same cycling team as Liam.  Sofiane is a few years older than Liam, and has really been a role model when it comes to racing in France.  Although Sofiane lives just outside of Marseille, he had never been to the Pyrenees and had never seen a mountain stage of the Tour de France.  To say that he was pumped would be an understatement.

a very cool day on the bike
 We pulled into Bagneres de Luchon on the second rest day of the Tour de France and started to make plans to "paddle out" for stage 17 the following day. The next morning was bright and clear and the day promised to be very hot. The first 80k were very tough with Col de Mente, the Col de Ares and the Cote de Burs.  One of the highlights of the day was stopping by a mountain stream at the foot of the Port de Bales with about 100k in our legs and cooling off.  After a dip in the stream, we hit the massive 19k climb of the Porte de Bales. Liam had been getting continually stronger throughout the ride.  On the climb of the Bales he took off like a rocket.  There was no way that I - nor Sofiane - could follow.  I think he beat us up the mountain by about 10 minutes. After spending some time on the top with the folks from the Tour de Concorde and the Reve Tour, we dropped down off the mountain to do the final Peyragudes climb.  We couldn't do the last section of the climb because the actual race was coming through.  We did, however, get to see the riders as they dropped down off the mountain for the final run in to the finish of Stage 16.  What a day! When it comes to following the Tour and riding on the wake of the race I don't think it gets much better than this.

Start of Stage 17 of the Tour de France

The following day we were able to see the real stage 17 depart and then head back up into the mountains to cheer on the riders as they rode the exact same course as we had done the day before!  It was an epic couple of days.

Watching the race on the same stage we rode the day before
Livestrong, Train Safe, and Live Well!!!

This is Bill and Liam signing out!

Strava Profile for the Stage 17 ride.  Liam was at least 10 minutes faster on the Porte de Bales!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Time and Distance

Unfortunately, the Father Son Tour Blog has taken a bit of a back seat on the Tour this year.  A few days before the start of the Tour de France, Liam had a head on collision with another cyclist on a bike path near Annecy, France.  The collision happened in a tunnel at the end of a 70 mile ride.  Neither Liam nor the guy he ran into saw each other, and they hit at pretty much full speed.  It was an awful thing to witness for a father or, for that matter, anyone.  Liam was immediately knocked out and didn't fully regain consciousness until we were in the hospital.  Liam was wearing a helmet which took the brunt of the impact, and luckily there were no broken bones.  In six years of cycling this was the first real accident that Liam has ever had.  Liam's speed has increased so much this year.  Our rides lengths have also increased.  It is almost like a child who has a growth spurt and ends up bumping their head on a counter ledge that they could fit under just a month before.  Things come at you a lot quicker when you are moving at 40k an hour than when you are moving at 30k an hour.

When Liam was discharged from the hospital he wanted to continue on to Liege, Belgium for the start of the Tour de France.  He was still a bit groggy and clearly shaken so it became apparent that we needed to head back home for at least a week and see how things went.  We headed back to Provence and watched the first week of the Tour from our home on the couch.  It was hard for Liam to know that the Tour was going on, and that he couldn't be there to see it in person.  The race is definitely easier to watch on television, however, over the years (this is our fourth Tour in a row) being at the Tour, in person, has really been one of the highlights of our year. 

Heading to catch up with the Tour - Take 2
After a few days on the couch, Liam slowly started to get back on the bike on a roller (stationary trainer).  On his first attempt, he managed 15 minutes. The second, he was on the roller for 30 minutes and studying the Tour de France map to see where we could meet back up with the the race.  After 5 days, his soreness started to go away and he had to make a decision.  He could either call it a season and pick the bike back up again in the fall, or he could commit and rebuild for the Youth Tour in Assen which is at the end of July.  I don't think there was ever a question as to which course of action he would choose.  We decided to catch back up with the race on the Swiss/French border.  We threw our bags (which were never really unpacked), the bikes, the tent, and the sleeping bags into the van and off we went -- Father Son Tour 2012 - Take 2.

Healing ride in Switzerland in the rain
Getting ready to hit La Planche des Belles Filles
We headed to Switzerland and stayed there with some of our very good friends.  It is a place that is familiar to Liam.  It is also a country where the roads, and the drivers on them, are extremely courteous to cyclists.  It does rain there a lot though, and our first ride was around Lake Thun in a light rain.  It was a 35 mile healing ride.  I have to say that it was pretty difficult to be back on the bike.  I found myself hyper-aware of any passing or oncoming cars and cyclists.  It took awhile to get back in the groove.  But, by the end of this ride, I felt like I could breathe again.  It was the first time in about 2 weeks that I had felt this way.
The next day we headed to the Jura region of Switzerland with our friend Thomas to ride the Cote de Saulcy loop from Glovelier.  Unfortunately, when we arrived in Glovelier, Thomas realized he had forgotten his bike shoes.  A local biker happened to be coming by at that exact time who also happened to have the same size feet as Thomas.  To show you what kind of place this region of Switzerland is - this guy not only lent Thomas a pair of biking shoes, but also a spare bike because he used a different type of pedal system.  We ended up riding some very tough hills which would be included in the next day's Tour stage and then headed off to France for the finish of stage 7 on the Planche de Belles Filles.  It was on the Planche - on a section that was about 17% grade - that Liam started getting his power back.  We had also finally caught up with the Tour de France.  We were suddenly in the thick of things again - on a mountain with thousands of cycling fans eating baguettes and waiting for the race to come by!

With Thomas - Nothing like riding in the Swiss Alps
We ended up riding a few more days in the Swiss Alps.  Switzerland is incredibly beautiful at this time of year and it was tough to leave, but the Tour was moving on and so were we.

The Rhone River and Lake Bourget from the Grand Columbier
Next, we spent a few days on a very special mountain in France.  The Col du Grand Columbier is an hors category (most difficult climb) in the Jura mountain range in France just across from the Alps.  The climb itself is 18k long and tops out at 1500 meters. All along the climb are sweeping views of Lake Bourget and the Rhone River running along the valley down below.  This year was the first time for the mountain to be included in the Tour de France.  We had two spectacular days on the mountain (which you can see in the video).  It was really inspiring to meet the ladies from the Reve Tour who were riding the entire Tour de France one day ahead of the pros.  Wow!  This is very, very difficult.  These ladies were not just slow pedaling up the mountain - they were flying!  The Reve Tour is raising money for an organization called Bikes Belong which promotes cycling by building bike paths and trails.  Good luck to these awesome athletes.  We look forward to seeing them again celebrating on the Champs in Paris.

New friends up on the Columbier

Ran into Lucas and his dad taking in the Tour
 Well, it took awhile (to get some time and distance from the accident) but we are back in step with the Tour.  Tomorrow, we head to the Pyrenees for another awesome few days in the mountains and then it is up towards Paris for the final time trial, and, of course, our annual ride along the Seine and the finale on the Champs-Elysees.

Tejay looking good in White - even better in Yellow next year!
By the way, our Friend Tejay Vangarderen is having a really great Tour.  You will probably remember him from our blog post from Lucca, Italy last February.  If you didn't see it check it out on the blog.  He is in the Best Young Rider - wearing the white jersey - and currently in 7th place in the general classification of the race.  It has been fun to cheer him on as he rides by.  Go Tejay!

Live Strong, Train Safe, and Live Well!!!

This is Bill and Liam signing out.