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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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?

Put On Your Thong And Cheer On Your Countrymen

The Tour de France is known for the wild enthusiasm of its fans.  The fans are part of the spectacle.   Where else do you see people camping in devil costumes replete with pitchfork or dressed as Borat running up a hill?  I have never seen so many men in thongs.  As one of them explained to me, “we don’t normally dress like this, we do it for the Tour.”

Others dress like they normally do.  These guys might not normally plan to all wear same hot pink jersey.  Then again, they might.

People show their enthusiasm for the Tour in their dress.  This poor lady from Luxembourg had a cast.  She painted her toenails in her country’s colors and drew red and white polka dots (to represent the King of the Mountains polka dot jersey), yellow and green stripes (for the Yellow and Green jerseys that go to the overall tour winner and the leader in the sprint points).

Although the Tour de France is France’s premier sporting event, its international aspect is an integral part of it.  We saw people from:

  • Norway,
  • Luxembourg,
  • Denmark
  • Belgium,
  • the Netherlands,
  • Germany,
  • Switzerland,
  • Estonia,
  • the United Kingdom,
  • Australia,
  • New Zealand,
  • and the United States (although Boris and Natasha said that there weren’t as many Americans as there were during the Lance Armstrong era).

Having a rider win the Tour de France, is a huge boost to cycling in that country.  People become more familiar with the sport, it gets more publicity, people starts buying more bikes and riding more.  Australian’s interest in cycling and the Tour exploded with the success of Australian Cadel Evans who won the Tour last year.

We saw tons of flags we’d never seen before.  There were tons of Brits and we saw several of these three-legged flags.  We learned it is the flag of the Isle of Man, the home of legendary British sprinter, Mark Cavendish.   Undoubtedly, the Queen, Prince William and Kate are all Cavendish fans.

Someone else had a theory that the nationalities of fans on the mountain revealed something about how economies are doing.  Vacations in France aren’t usually cheap.  We saw tons of Norwegians (who went nuts for Team Sky‘s Edvald Boasson Hagen).  Norway is definitely not hurting.  The UK, the Danes and the Germans have some of Europe’s strongest economies.  Then again, it could have something to do with geography and when people have vacation time.

French rider, Thomas Voeckler, won stage 10 from Macon to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine.

How do Frenchmen celebrate a fellow countryman’s victory on a stage of the Tour?   With champagne, bien sûr.  We had to hustle to get to the next day’s stage so we didn’t stick around to see if they had thongs.