Minding The Gap

Why were we here instead of on the highway?

While heading north towards Geneva, we got off the road and got to see the beauty of the Vaucluse department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of France.    It’s a good thing it was so beautiful, because our 3-4 hour drive home ended up taking over 8.

You can see why the Tour de France often rides through here.   In fact, they’re headed through there this week.  It’s near Gap and the infamous Mont Ventoux.  The views of the dams and lakes, and mountain scenery are spectacular.

Vaison-la-Romaine

Vaison-la-Romaine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At one time, Vaison-la-Romaine  (which you might remember from the post about Provence’s Ironwork Bell Towers) was the capital for the Voconce people.   It is famous for its ancient Gallo-Roman ruins including a Roman bridge.

The Roman Bridge at Vaison-la-Romaine, Vauclus...

The Roman Bridge at Vaison-la-Romaine, Vaucluse department, Provence, France Français : Le Pont romain de Vaison-la-Romaine, département de Vaucluse, Provence, France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The bridge is one of five remaining Roman bridges in Provence. It survived a German bomb during the World War II and the Ouvèze River’s devastating floods in 1992.   Vaison has two excavated Roman districts, and an Archaeological Museum.

Stone houses in Vaison-la-Romaine, Vaucluse de...

Stone houses in Vaison-la-Romaine, Vaucluse department, Provence, France Français : Maisons de pierre á Vaison-la-Romaine, département de Vaucluse, Provence, France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We weren’t the only ones who got off the highway and started taking side roads.  Since it was the edge of the alps, there weren’t many alternatives and the road was packed.  Ironically, it was still less crowded and moved faster than in the south of France.    We entertained ourselves by counting the number of people we saw pulled off on the side of the road answering the call of nature (over 10).

If you’re interested in a French vacation without the seemingly ever-present crowds, this is a part of France for you.  If you’re a Tour de France fan, this is also a part of France for you.  If you like simple bucolic beauty, it’s for you too.

I think the photo below is a viaduct on the Grenoble train line  (Chemin de Fer de La Mure/the Mure railway).  We saw it on the route from Orpierre (with its nice swimming hole in Les Gorges de la Méouge) to Grenoble.   It can be reached easily by road from Grenoble, or by trains on the SNCF line towards Gap.

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So You’re On A Mountain For The Tour, Then What?

Gendarmes are the French Police.  Unless you actually have to work tracking down hooligans who throw tacks down on the route of the Tour de France, this might just be the best job in the entire force.  Can you imagine getting paid to ride a motorcycle up and down empty mountain roads all over France?  Not too shabby.

After the hike up, people spray paint cyclist’s names on the pavement, picnic and hydrate (and perhaps search for a place to pee).

Then, you wait for the caravan to pass through and wait again.  Since the waiting gives you time to enjoy incredible natural beauty and talk with other cycling enthusiasts, it is actually a lot of fun.   Soon, the helicopters will stream over the horizon like in the movie “Apocalypse Now.”  We hiked up to the mountain to a beautiful spot with a great few of both the mountains and the road leading up it.  We weren’t the only ones who liked the view.

With their giant lenses, they were able to get much better shots of Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky streaming up the mountain.

Normally, the first thing you see roadside is a breakaway group of riders.  They are usually accompanied by police and cameramen (who you can see in the back).  Usually, they follow one another.  Having a rider in front of you reduces the wind resistance allows them to expend less energy.  This gives the peleton incredible power if and when they choose to exert it.

This is how they get pictures for TV.  By the way the US commentators are better than the French ones.  Understandably, French commentators are biased toward French riders.  It’s not that.  They are much less interesting and I learn a lot less from them.  They don’t seem to show much of a sense of humor either.  Thankfully, Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen do the British coverage we get here in Switzerland, but I miss Bob Roll.

Eventually, the last of the team cars go by and the helicopters move on.  After than, there isn’t much left to do except descend the mountain and watch the stage you just DVR’ed.

Just in case you didn’t know, I’m famous.  It is clearly me there on TV with the Detroit Red Wings jersey.

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How To Get On A Mountain For The Tour De France

Today, the Tour de France‘s cyclists are riding the ‘Circle of Death’, a linkage of four brutal climbs.  Tomorrow’s stage finishes atop the 1,615 meter (5,300 feet) mountain, Peyraguedes.  They’re in the mountains baby!

When choosing a mountain stage, remember these golden rules:

  • The steeper the grade the slower they go (providing you with better viewing).
  • The later in the stage, the more spread out the riders.  This means that instead of seeing them in an enormous group, you will see them in smaller groups and be able to pick out specific riders.
  • A mountaintop finish is the ultimate.  Who doesn’t want to see the end of a stage?

Seeing the Tour de France from a mountain was on my bucket list.  I like logistics problems, but getting there can turn into a very advanced one pretty quickly.

The easiest way to get a front row seat at a great spot on a mountain is to do a bike tour.  Be prepared to bike up the mountain.  If you can handle that, it’s pretty darn good.  You’ll have a front row seat at a good spot with a TV (key to knowing what is happening in the tour).  Plus these guys had support an a nice spread laid out for them on the mountain.

Actually, now that I think about it, there is an easier way to get on a mountain.  The easiest way is to have a bunch of money and/or in with a sponsor.  Although you might not be able to get in one with bikes, we saw tons of VIP’s in team cars.

If you want to drive yourself up there, you might just be able to do it if you get up and on the mountains before the road closes (less possible the larger the mountain).  Getting there the night before and camping is a good option.  Loads of people follow the tour with caravans.  The larger the mountain (Col de la Madeleine, Col d’Ausbisque, Col du TourmaletAlpe d’HuezMont VentouxCol du GalibierPort de PailhèresCol de la ColombièreCol des Aravis, etc.), the earlier they arrive.  For large stages, they will arrive up to a week before hand (Europeans tend to have more vacation than Americans), and there won’t be any space left a couple of days beforehand.

Others drive up in cars or vans and pitch tents.  We met people who camped out, but I can’t imagine that sleeping in this van was very comfortable.  On the other hand, those guys were full of pep and didn’t seem worse for the wear.

Still others bike up.  These guys looked like they were having a great time.  Boris and Natasha liked this option because it allows you to see the mountaintop, get some exercise and still sleep in a hotel.

The police had already closed the roads when we arrived at Col de la Madeline. Apparently, police decide to close the road whenever they feel there are enough people up there.   Forced to leave our car at the bottom, we hiked up…9 miles.  We didn’t have much of a choice, but knew we would have to go it on foot at some point.  It’s probably just as well.  On our hike up, we didn’t see many places to park (or even stand) on the side of the road.  As you can tell from our trip though the largest town we passed, the mountain is a little steep and even the roads of this metropolis are narrow.

The only problem with hiking 9 miles up is that what goes up, must go down.  Once the tour passes through, there is a  mass exodus.   It took us about 2 hours to get down.  One hour into it, the tour had gone over the top of the mountain and they opened the roads to vehicles.  This meant that in addition to dodging bikers racing downhill, we started dodging cars and caravans too.  At least we didn’t have to worry about avalanches at this time of the year.

We made it down in one piece and I love the Tour more now than ever before.  Epic mountain.  Epic day.

The Spectacle Of The Tour Caravan

Before the cyclists, the tour caravan sweeps through, showering fans with loads of virtually useless promotional materials.  For the unfamiliar, sponsor vehicles are a significant part of the spectacle that is the Tour de France.  Like Rose Bowl Parade or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the floats astonish.

While the downside is garish commercialism on steroids.  The upside is it is that  entertaining while you wait for the riders and you get tons of free stuff.  The booty we brought home covered the dining room table!

We had to giggle at the brashness and sheer outrageousness of some of the floats.  Our top floats included:

I have a soft spot for anything dog related, but most people loved the giant puppy float (I’m keeping the key chain they threw us with the dog on it).

The Vittel float sprayed the crowds with water.  It was more of a cooling mist than a waterfall, but I still put my camera away when they got close.

Everyone loved the giant rubber duckie.   Forget the Viper I eyed at the Geneva Auto Show, I kind of want the duckie for my next car.  It looks like it would be a pain to park though.

I’m not a gambler, but the PMU horses were pretty cool.
Le Coq Sportif.  How can you not smile at a giant chicken?  If only they had tossed rubber ones instead of keychains…

Some of the floats were aimed at kids.  I’m guessing the cyclists are eating something more nutritious than loads of gummy bears.

To be one of the women (or few men) who toss the loot, you must be attractive, willing to spend a month throwing things out on a vehicle, good at dancing while harnessed into a vehicle (see above), and able to withstand blaring techno music 8 hours a day for three straight weeks.  They looked like they were having a pretty good time and there are worse things than spending a summer tooling  around France.

The vehicles are as large as the small mountain roads permit.  With spectators jumping into the roads, blaring music, bags of gummy bears flying through the air, steep roads and dangerous curves, the drivers must be amazing.  I get a bit nervous driving these roads without having to worry about crowds of people and the ridiculous amount of chaos.

A tow truck accompanies each part of the caravan, ready to immediately remove any breakdown from the road.   We also noticed that they were accompanied by an ambulance, just in case a vehicle hits a spectator (which actually happened on day two of this year’s Tour).

I Love My Husband, But Jens Voigt May Be The Coolest Man Alive

I adore him.  He’s great.  I love him so much that I married him and hope to remain married to him all our lives.  Nevertheless, cyclist Jens Voight may be cooler.  In fact, he may be the coolest man alive.  Fans of cycling love him.  Look at the enthusiasm on the guy in the red shirt’s face.  Heck, look at the enthusiasm on Jens’ face.

We watched the stage from Macon to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine, France and were lucky enough to see Jens Voigt (who at 40 years old is the oldest rider in the race) attack.  He is known for his epic attacks, ability to endure pain and delightful personality.  We got to see him climbing the last climb after he escaped from a 25-man group.  He attacked, lost ground and regained it, just missing the stage win, coming in third.  Seeing it live.  Priceless.

Just check out the determination on his face in every photo.  Here are 10 examples of Jens Voigt epic coolness:

10.  In the 2010 Tour de France, Jens Voigt’s front tire blew out, causing him to crash.  He’d been speeding down mountain in the Pyrenees (Col de Peyresourde) at 70 kilometers (40 miles) an hour. Needless to say, he hit the pavement hard, shattering his bike, breaking ribs and creating a huge gash in his elbow.   Stop?  Never!  Bleeding, Jens borrowed a kid’s bike and rode it for 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) until he he could get a new bike from his team car!

9.  While riding up Alpe d’Huez (an epic mountain) the Tour de France, Jens gave a kid his empty water bottle.  Happy and loving life, he was angered when we saw a middle-aged guy tackle the kid and take the bottle.  Fired up and pissed off that the jerk had rained on his parade, he stopped, turned around and coasted down the mountain.  Perplexed observers likely wondered whether he was injured or abandoning the tour.  Jens found the guy in the crowd, pointed to his bag and told him that the bottle he grabbed was for this kid.  The jerk gave it back and the crowd went nuts.

8.   In the 2011 Tour of California Jens rode two stages with a broken hand.  Even though it caused him constant pain, that wasn’t the reason he dropped out of the race.   According to the doctors who treated him, leaving it untreated would permanently damage his hand and ability to grip things.  He flew back to Germany to get surgery.  Before leaving, he apologized saying “I would like to apologize to the fans not only for withdrawing but for the two stages I did manage to do after I broke my hand. I was just operational on those days, and that does not satisfy me. I am never there just to fill up the numbers. So, please dear fans: Don’t be mad at me! Do not start thinking I am getting all soft in my old days. I will make up for everything in Tour of Colorado, or even maybe next year in Tour of California.”

7.  In the Amgen Tour of California the following year, a bee landed on Jens’ lip.  He tried to just leave it alone, but it stung him anyway.  Don’t piss off Jens, he’ll eat you, literally. “…[T]hen i (sic) decided to live up to my image and swallowed her and did chew every bit of honey out of that bee!!!”   His lip swelled in the middle of the race and joked about looking like he’d had a cosmetic procedure.  Always positive, Jens said, “Take that little bug as punishment for messing with me!!”

6.  If you want to have some fun, check out all of the Jens Voightisms on the internet.  One of my favorites, “Jens Voigt will never have a heart attack.  Jens Voigt’s heart isn’t stupid enough to attack him.”  I like them better than the  Chuck Norris-type tributes because with Jens, they are probably true.

5.  Jens went down hard in the 2009 Tour de France while descending the the Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard when his front wheel inexplicably lost traction.  He bit it hard, face first.  He lost consciousness for three to four minutes.  He had a concussion, a litany of bruises and broken bones in his face.  He hit so hard that  he was lucky to be alive.  In typical Jens fashion, he called his wife that night and told her that he knew who she was and their kids were, that he just needed some time to heal.

4.   He says one-liners like, “Shut up, legs” and “Make My Day” in a funny German accent.  Essentially, he laughs at pain.  His acceptance of it and ability to endure it sets him apart.  In the self-flagellating sport of cycling, this makes him a saint.  What really makes him remarkable is his ability to endure it with a smile and a sense of humor.  He summarized his attitude, by saying, “I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world – I’ve been able to make my hobby my job. Because it’s such a hard sport, it’s important to be able to work in an environment that’s fun. Imagine, you think: ‘Hey, now I have to go back to the races, back to all those idiots.’ That just doesn’t work.”

3.  He looks to differentiate himself from his competitors and has settled on determination.  Jens said, “It’s about determination.  These days, everybody trains hard and smart. Everybody has a decent technique or tactic… a good bike… You’ve got to look somewhere else to make a difference. Tour de France winners used to win by 15 minutes. Today, 15 minutes out, you’re in 35th. So the one with the highest pain threshold takes it. If you can suffer a little bit more, go out hard one more time, it intimidates the other riders, even if you’re only slightly better than them. That one more push could crack your opponents and you’re out front while everyone else in the back arguing who’s going to chase you. Let them play the poker game. Up front, it’s all or nothing. I try to tell the guys that. And I have enough experience to prove it.”  In other words, I am willing to suffer more than you, you don’t want to force me to prove it to you.

2.  In the 2011 Tour de France, true to his motto “always attack,” Jens escaped in a breakaway with several riders in Pyrenees.  On a steep descent, Jens tumbled off the side of the mountain into a ravine. He climbed out, dragging his bike with him. He got back on his bike, began riding and promptly crashed again, hard.  Jens rejoined the peleton so that he was there for at a critical moment in the race, to sacrifice himself for his star teammates, the brothers Andy and Frank Schleck. No wonder they love him.  After two nasty falls, his bloody legs broke the breakaway.  Vintage Jens.

1. Jens takes advantage of his job to see things.  Some people just sail through without looking.  He comments on seeing castles or the shortest town name ever.  How can you not appreciate someone like that?

Checking One Off The Bucket List – On A Mountain At The Tour De France

I have said it before and I’ll say it again.  I love the Tour de France.  Being the dork that I am, I have watched every stage of the Tour for virtually the past decade.   How have I accomplished this feat?  I get the TV to watch the Tour in July.  The rest of the year, I give him the TV the rest of the year to watch all the football, basketball and hockey he wants.  It’s a fair trade.  Watching it on TV, I always dreamed of seeing it live.  Guess what?  It finally happened. On Wednesday and Thursday, I was on mountains in France in a Detroit Red Wings jersey, getting sunburned, and taking in the spectacle.

Watching the tour on TV, you can’t fully appreciate the beauty of the mountains the colors, the helicopters, and the excitement.  You can’t meet the other fans.  They are delightful and quite friendly.  I don’t know of many places where you can meet so many people from other countries in such a congenial environment.  The excitement was contagious and everyone made the most of it.

On the way up Col de la Madeleine, we stopped and bought this wonderful hunk of local cheese out of someone’s barn for our picnic.  Because you have to get on the mountain early before they close the roads, people picnic, eat, drink and are merry.  Everyone was having a good time.

True fans of bicycle racing appreciate seeing these guys and go to great lengths to do it.  My guests (Boris, Natasha and Mr. Peabody) hiked with me 18 miles up and down a mountain to see the stage on the Col de la Madeleine.   Others, biked up to the peak and back down.  Some people camp out on the mountain days ahead of the stage to get a good spot.  The rich and lucky get to ride in the cars (although I can’t imagine the view of the cyclists is that good) or get shuttled to a viewing area with a TV at the top.

Even the trip from one stage to another was exciting for us cycling fans.  We saw NBC Sports cars racing down the highway to Albertville.  Although we had no idea who was inside (NBC Sports probably pays their speeding tickets), since we couldn’t catch them. We’re swearing that it was Bob Roll (who doesn’t love Bobke) in one with Paul Sherwin and Phil Liggett in the other.

It was just amazing to think that caravans travel from distant countries to experience the Tour.  Observers spray paint the name of a relatively unknown cyclist from their region on the pavement.  Some guy from a village in the Netherlands who drove a thousand miles and spray painted his countryman’s name on the mountain.  He’ll be lucky to finish in 45th place.

We have done the All-Start NASCAR race.  While there is huge excitement and the fans are devoted, you have a drunken, often belligerent atmosphere.  The most intoxicated people we met were some nationality censored who offered us beverages, told us some great stories and played us some great music.  Rock on.

We saw last year’s winner Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggens in the yellow jersey surrounded by team Sky.  We saw all of our favorite American riders: Chris Horner, Levi Leipheimer, big George Hincapie, the hilarious Dave Zabriskie, Tyler Farrar, Christian Vande Velde, and the awesome Tejay Van Garderen (who should be BMC’s GC rider).  I even got to see some of my favorites: Frank Schleck and Fabian Cancellara.   Even going uphill, they whipped by us at amazing speeds.  I was still able to see enough to tell you ladies that Spartacus (aka Fabian Cancellara) is just as handsome in person.

Les Incompetents Vol. 10: Nothing Beats The Simple Pleasure Of A Bike Ride

Making a Jet d’Eau by pedaling

We finally got our bikes out of the our basement bomb shelter and went for a ride.   The weather had been so nice, how could we not?  Actually, we got them out a while ago, but I didn’t bring my camera along on that ride.  This time, I was a little wiser.

Note the stiff breeze

The good news is that we went for a bike ride, made it back in once piece and successfully investigated beaches for the summer.  The bad news is that (a) Geneva isn’t flat, (b) we didn’t look take the weather into account, and (c) we didn’t bring our passports so we couldn’t go across into France.

A team from Lake Geneva won the America’s Cup a few years ago. Seeing a sailing competition as we were heading out of Geneva should have been our first clue that it would be quite windy.

Traffic wasn’t a problem.   I wish we could say the same for the hills.  Living in Eaux-Vives, there is nowhere to go but up… literally.  Switzerland isn’t flat and we can’t bike more than a kilometer without heading up a big hill (or two).   A couple of years ago, we biked from Lisbon to Sagres and Sagres to Spain (with A2Z Adventures on a fantastic trip).   Portugal isn’t flat either.  Heading uphill on a bike on a sunny day, he had flashbacks.

The morning of our ride, I took our visitors to the airport on the tram and squeezed in a quick 7 miles by running home.  After breakfast, we decided to go for a bike ride.  From our window, we couldn’t tell how windy it was.  Heading up the lakeside to Hermance, we had a tailwind and didn’t really notice the wind’s strength.  Even when we reached Hermance, and saw a kite surfer, we didn’t think about biking back in the wind.

We checked out the Hermance‘s beach, did a tour of the cute town, and rode on to the border.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t go into France because we forgot to bring our passports.  Ooops.

This stream is the border between France and Switzerland

We rode back toward Geneva, straight into a headwind…the entire way.  Even though we wanted to see more aggrestic splendor, I was pooped.  How did I not notice the wind?  There were signs.  Flags, sailing competitions, kite surfing…  How could I have been so blind.   By the time we hit Geneva, my legs were burning and I was hungry enough to eat the back end out of a dead rhino.  After we put our bikes away, we ate an insane amount of chocolate, collapsed on the couch and watched Top Gear.

Despite our unpreparedness, it was a great ride.  We saw here were amazing views of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva), the Alps and Mont Blanc.  Switzerland is very cycle-friendly and we saw tons of other bikers.  Cars were considerate and seemed used to cyclists.  Unlike cycling in North and South Carolina, we weren’t honked at a single time!  Indiscriminate honking is frowned upon here as it may disturb others, definitely a cultural difference.

The Vuelta is Coming! The Vuelta is Coming!

Spain‘s Vuelta (pronounced Welta) is one of cycling‘s three “Grand Tours.”  The other two are the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France.

It starts Saturday, August 20th and continues through Sunday, September 11th. One of the nice parts about living here is that cycling is BIG.  I think that I will be able to watch it in at least four languages with my cable package.* He will not be excited about this. Our deal is I get to watch all of every stage of the Tour de France in July and he gets football season.  With better cycling coverage, the two seasons are colliding!  If I am sent back to the states, you know why.

Enjoy the picture of Taylor Phinney above.  Here’re the basics for this year’s Vuelta:

  • In the Tour de France, the lead rider wears the yellow jersey. In the Vuelta, the lead rider wears the red jersey.
  • The Spanish are disappointed because Alberto Contador (last year’s winner of the Tour de France) isn’t competing. He worn out after getting spanked in this year’s Tour and has upcoming legal actions (relating to his positive test in last year’s tour). It sounds like he has his hands full.

 

“Contador is god.” Graffiti from the road when we were over here last year.**

 

Taylor Phinney getting ready to start a time trial.
  • This year, the Vuelta is going back to the Basque region. Previous years have avoided it because of the constant fear of terror attacks. Basques are huge cycling fans and should show mad spirit.
  • There were so many crashes in this year’s Tour de France that a lot of good riders were out of contention in the first few days.  They will be looking for redemption at the Vuelta.
  • Americans who want to root for one of their countrymen can cheer for Taylor Phinney. We were lucky enough to see him ride in Greenville, South Carolina before we left!

* In the US, Versus has great coverage of the major races. Unfortunately, it isn’t as extensive, but the up side is the commentators are better. Expect a post devoted to the wonderful Bob Roll at some point.
**It is not the best shot and has to be dispalyed upside down to be legible because it was taken from a bike while going up the mountain at a snail’s pace. Please note that to do this, I was going so slowly that I was able to spy the graffiti, read it, get my camera out, focus and snap the picture.

 

 

Tour De France 101

The 2011 map of the Tour

While we are travelling over France, I thought I would send out a little info about the Tour De France.  Hopefully, my next post will be from Geneva.

Who Competes:

  • 20 teams of the best professional cyclists in the world.
  • Each team starts with 9 cyclists. If a team is reduced to less than three riders (see crashes below), they are eliminated.
  • If a cyclist does not finish the race one day, they are eliminated from the entire tour.
  • If a cyclist does not finish the race within a percentage of that day’s winner, they miss the time cut and are eliminated.

What They Do:

  • Get on their bikes and ride a “stage” each day for three weeks. Each “stage” has an individual winner but the total time raced over all the stages is what adds up to determine the winner of the entire Tour.
  • Each day’s time is added to the previous accumulated total time.  They cyclists try to finish the race with the lowest accumulated time.
  • Crash.  The past few years have been filled with brutal crashes.

When:

  • The first Saturday in July and the three subsequent weeks (with 2 rest days they have 21 days of racing).
  • The final ride into Paris takes place the third Sunday in July.

Where:

  • The cyclists ride around 3,500 km (2,200 miles) total through the French countryside and into Paris (the final day is always the ride into Paris).  The race is called the Tour De France for a reason.
  • Over the past several years, the Tour has tried to make the race more international and has ventured into neighboring countries.

Why:

  • It is really cool and an amazing test of endurance.
  • Plus, there are prizes.  They are listed below.
    • The Yellow Jersey/General Classification (GC) – The overall winner at the very end is determined by cumulative time (all of the cyclist’s daily times added up at the end of t
    • The Green Jersey – It is worn by the Tour’s fastest cyclist.  This is determined by “sprint points” that are awarded during sprints during the “stages”. The cyclist with the most “points” wins the Green Jersey. This is awarded each day to the cyclist with the most “sprint points” and at the end of the tour.
    • Polka-Dot Jersey/”King of the Mountains” – It is worn by the cyclist who is the best climber in the mountains. Like with the Green Jersey, cyclists are awarded points for making it over the top of the climb during the “stages”. The cyclist with the most “points” wins the Polka-Dot Jersey. This is awarded daily and at the end of the tour.
    • White Jersey/”Best Young Rider” – This is awarded to the best-placed overall rider under the age of 25 each day; this is known as the “Best Young Rider” competition. Like the other jerseys, this is awarded daily and at the end of the tour.
    • Most Aggressive Rider – This is awarded daily to a rider for feats of strength and bravery. This year it was awarded to two cyclists on the same day for the first time every.  They were hit by a TV car and crashed horribly (one of them landed on a barbed wire fence). They got back on their bikes and finished the stage. After receiving this award, one went to the hospital and received 33 stitches!
    • Team Competition – The team with the fastest 3 riders wins the Team Competition.
    • “Stage” Victories/Wins – Each day of the Tour De France is its own individual race.  Winning a stage of the Tour De France is something every cyclist would love to have on their resume.  It is a big deal.
  • Every stage ends with a podium presentation for the day’s prizes.  The prizes are presented by Podium Girls. Podium Girls are very pretty young Frenchwomen attired in French fashion and kiss the winners on the cheek (while handing them flowers and stuffed animals).  What’s not to love?
 

 

Fabulous Fabian Cancellara

We are busy getting culturally drunk on our new adopted culture and embracing all things Swiss, it is a perfect time to discuss a major Swiss athlete.  No, I am not talking about Roger Federer.  I am referring to  the professional cyclist, Fabulous Fabian Cancellara (nicknamed Spartacus). Right now, he is riding in the Tour de France and is on team Leopard Trek (one of my favorite teams). He is a time trialing specialist and domestique.  On Sunday, he led the team to an outstanding performance in the team time trial.  He has won the World Time Trial Championships four times, won a gold medal in Beijing and many other races.

He is so good that there was a controversy last year over whether there were motors hidden inside his bike. People claimed that no one could be that fast without help.  They x-rayed it and didn’t find anything.

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Fabian grew up just outside the Bern, the Swiss Capital.  When we visited Bern, they informed me that there is a bridge named for him in his hometown. He is, without a doubt, the biggest name in Swiss cycling.  When the Tour de France goes to the east side of the country for the time trial on July 23, I am sure that a lot of Swiss will go to cheer him on.  He stands a good chance of winning that day’s race.