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Sine Waves in France at the 2010 Tour

This post originally appeared on Groucho Sports on July 3rd, written by Trek Travel guide Jon Vick. Seeing the Tour is over and we are all going through various states of withdrawl, I thought it appropriate to share! Enjoy, it’s a great read. –Ed.

To me, life is a sine wave. It has ups and downs. In general, the highs and lows fall about an equal distance from those moments where you’re just cruising along. I spent a lot of years of my life as a guide for Trek Travel. Life as a TT guide is no different. It still has its highs and its lows, but for me, the wave was a lot more amplified. The highs were unbelievable, riding my bike through the Alps on a beautiful sunny day, mountain biking in New Zealand, eating Michelin starred meals in Provence, or drinking 100 point wines in Bordeaux. At the same time, some of the lows I experienced were on the other end of that sine wave. Rarely did the opposite ends of the wave closely coincide, but one day in 2010, they came pretty darn close together.

The Tour de France is an amazing spectacle to experience. There are so many sounds and sights and smells coming at you from every direction, it can be sensory overload. The French Gendarmerie has the difficult task of managing the thousands – hundreds of thousands even – of people who want to see the race live. They close roads to cars hours and sometimes days in advance of the race. Sometimes you can ride your bike up the route until the publicity caravan arrives, and other times they close the road to cyclists in advance as well. They’ve even been known to threaten to close the road to fans on foot once the crowds at the top of climbs swell and squeeze the road.

I was on a trip with three other guides at the Tour de France in 2010, heading into the Tour’s queen stage, finishing atop the legendary Col du Tourmalet. Our group way staying on the back side of the mountain, and we were planning on riding over the top, through the finish line, and descending to our viewing area. The afternoon before we heard rumors that the top of Tourmalet was already closed. Other information told us that we would still be fine to go through. After hours of our advance team scouting the road for actual closures, talking to the Gendarmerie about their plans to close the road, and talking to our contacts within the Tour organization, nothing could be definitively concluded.

We couldn’t risk getting caught out and not seeing the stage, a stage that promised to be one of the most dramatic battles on the road in recent Tour de France history, so we made a tough decision. We called every guest in their room and told them that rather than being ready to ride at 9am, they should have their bags packed and be in the lobby for a 5am bus ride around to the other side of the mountain – where even there, there was a possibility we would run into road closures and not get to our viewing spot.

There was just one problem. We didn’t have a place to start from. Okay, two problems, we didn’t have a written route either. So at 3am, a guide from the other group that was staying at our hotel and I set off in tandem, driving vans loaded with bikes to the other side of the mountain, to a spot that she had in mind. What we found was not necessarily ideal, but it was functional, so we rolled with it. After determining that we could set up and ride as a group to the start of the climb, I kicked back the driver’s seat for an hour of fitful sleep as the rain poured down and thunder echoed off the mountains around us.

Eventually we had to brave the rain to get out and start setting up bikes. I jumped up on the roofs of our vans to pass down the bikes from the roof racks. As I stood on the huge metal plate that comprised the base of our rack system in the middle of a gigantic Carrefour parking lot in an epic lightning storm, I came to terms with the fact that I was soon to get struck by lightning and this morning was going to be the end of it. Our guests arrived on their bus that left a couple hours after us, and they reluctantly hopped on their bikes and headed off in the rain toward the climb of the Tourmalet. The other van headed off to get as far up the climb as it could, and I was left to find parking for my van and trailer. As you could imagine, parking for a rig that size the morning the Tour was going to come through was no easy task.

By the time I found parking I was certain there was no way I would get to our viewing spot before the officials closed the road ahead of me. I considered bagging it and just going to sleep in the van, seeing my co-guides and guests at the end of the day after they Tour had passed and they descended to our finishing spot. Responsibility set in, and I kitted up and began rolling down the bike path toward the start of the climb, still certain I wouldn’t make it to our viewing area.

The kilometers ticked away slowly, the wind and torrential rain made sure of that. It also made sure I spent every second miserable and second-guessing my decision to get on my bike. I rode along solo, in terrible conditions, certain that it was all for nothing.

Eventually I got to the base of the climb, and to my surprise, it was a ghost town. There were no other riders. There were no cars on the road or parked along the side. There was no one walking up the road. It was just the road, the gradient slowly increasing, and me. In my somewhat delusional, miserable, sleep deprived state, I began to convince myself that I was on the wrong road. There was no wrong road. There is only one road. I knew I was on it, but I was convincing myself I wasn’t. If not for the fact that the Livestrong Chalkbot had been through, I may have turned back, but there was no way that thing had gone up a different road.

Then my mind flipped. This was epic. This was what it’s all about. The photos of Lance training in the snow, the stories of the pros training and racing in all conditions, and here I was, climbing one of the most storied mountains in Tour de France history, in horrific weather, and it felt like it was just me versus the mountain. I felt like a badass.

Even as the grade increased, my legs ticked over a little faster. I rode under an overhang where there was a car parked, and just as I passed, a head popped out a cracked window to yell, “Allez, allez!” I rode faster again.

Then I started to come into some cyclists. I chatted up a Backroads guide from Texas who was on the climb. I ran into other guides and guests from other Trek Travel groups who were on the climb and checked in with them. Finally I reached the point where I knew the last road closure would be and I rolled right past. I was going to make it. A few hundred meters later, standing on the corner, was a really great friend of mine who had started guiding for Trek Travel that spring who I hadn’t seen in the four months since our season started. The smile on her face when she saw me and a huge hug when I stepped off my bike and life was great. We pedaled on for a kilometer together before she dropped back to ride with her guests, and I continued on. I finally reached the refuge of the Trek Travel viewing area. A huge tent on the side of the road with a live satellite feed of the Tour, a huge hot buffet, a bag with dry clothes and a tent to hang my wet clothes to drip. – it was like an oasis on the side of the mountain.

The promise of an epic stage came true, as Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck battled up the mountain. We watched on our TVs as they sat on the front of the peloton until we knew they were close, then scrambled from the refuge of our tent to the side of the road to watch the race come by. Everyone went crazy when Schleck and Contador emerged through the crowd, a gap between them and the rest of the race. After the main bunch passed, we sprinted en masse back to the tent to watch the finish on our satellite feed before descending with thousands of other cyclists back down to the valley floor.

Too often, the significance of an event is only recognized in hindsight. I was fortunate to realize in the moment that I was there, in person, for what will go down in history as one of the legendary stages of the Tour de France. Just another Thursday at work? Not exactly.


The Tour de France in July…the Rest of the Story!

We have another great post by superstar guest Bob Joy. He has been on many Trek Travel bike trips and captured many great moments through his camera. Here he discusses the joys of July and the 3 weeks of the Tour de France.

If you are a cyclist, July is the best month of the year. Not just because the long days and warm weather are ideal for riding, but because for three magical weeks the Tour de France comes around. For the committed, the Tour eclipses March Madness, the Stanley Cup, and the World Series in importance. It’s like having a Super Bowl every day for 21 days, but with a caravan of vendors instead of the beer commercials. And the best part is that you get to stand right on the sidelines!

The Tour de France attracts the largest live audience of any sporting event in the world. This year, fans will stretch out over 3,430 kilometers of some of the most scenic roads in France. Seeing the Tour in person, especially with Trek Travel, is an amazing experience! No other travel company has the connections to get you inside the action.

The photo below was taken about one kilometer below the summit of the Col d’Aubisque on the final mountain stage during the 2007 tour. Our group had dined with the Discovery Channel team the night before and learned that they were planning to change out the rear wheels for three of the riders – Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer, and Yaroslav Popovych – after the first steep climb up the Port de Lareu. This would enable them to start the day with larger climbing cogs “as the road turned up in anger,” as Phil Liggett might say, and then switch to a tighter cluster for the rest of the stage. This novel strategy required split-second timing; the mechanics in the support vehicles had be in just the right positions to switch the wheels without causing the riders to lose precious seconds to the peloton. The gambit worked! Even the commentators were taken by surprise and exclaimed that Levi, “must have had a mechanical or a flat tire.”

We also knew that Leipheimer was going to press race leader Michael Rasmussen on the final climb to the summit finish on the Col d’Aubisque in an effort to soften him up for Contador. Johan Bruyneel thought that Rasmussen was at his limit, but that was not the case. Just after they passed us, with Levi setting the pace as planned, Rasmussen accelerated to the finish and won handily. You may recall that he was then whisked away by his team management and forced to withdraw from the Tour, not for testing positive for any banned substance, but for lying about his whereabouts several months earlier.

Alberto Contador thus became the race leader overnight and started the next day in Le Maillot Jaune. He went on to win in Paris and we were able to join the celebration at the team bus. Few people in the crowd knew what had happened in the pivotal mountain stage that led to his victory. But as Paul Harvey used to say, now you know the rest of the story!

Bob Joy’s 2011 Guide Commencement Speech

I was just looking at the photo album of the new guides that Trek Travel posted a few weeks ago.  I would have loved to deliver the inspirational commencement address at their graduation ceremony.  If I had, here’s what I would have said:

Congratulations to the Trek Travel guide class of 2011!  You have distinguished yourselves among your peers by gaining admission to a training program that is more selective than many Ivy League colleges.  During your course of study you learned how to refill water bottles and tune bikes while your guests make leisurely laps through the breakfast buffet.  You learned how to fit a premium carbon bike to the precise measurements and personal preferences of each guest.  You learned how to fix a flat on the road using nothing more than a cheap plastic comb and a folded dollar bill.  And you learned the art of laying out a classic Trek Travel Picnic that captures the romance of a small village in the French Pyrenees, the majesty of a Redwood forest, or the abundant sunshine of a winery in Mallorca, each time introducing your guests to local produce, specialty foods, and delicious wines.

For all you have accomplished, you know that you have much more to learn.  So, for your first few trips you will be paired with a veteran guide.  Jacob Young  will share his famous recipe for guacamole so you can welcome your guests back from a long day of cycling with chips, salsa, and cold beer.  Stephanie Stewart Chapman will tell you she is an “enabler” because she enables her clients to strive for and achieve more than they ever thought they could.  Greg Lyeki will show you the art of happily riding along with the slowest cyclists in your group to be sure they find their way.  And Cendrine DeVis will show you how to hide champagne in your knapsack so you can toast your guests in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower after they have completed laps on the Champs-Eleysee.

You will also hear stories about some of the legendary feats of your Trek Travel colleagues.  You will learn how Dan Frideger persuaded a local boulangerie in central France to open early so that his guests would be greeted by warm pastries as they boarded the 6:30 AM train to Paris for the finale of the Tour de France.  You will learn how Diane Suozzo and Doug Kirkby responded when the Italian authorities abruptly closed of the following day’s route at the Giro d’Italia by devising a fantastic climb into the marble quarries above Carrera that include five “gallerias,” or tunnels.  And you will learn how one of the guides spent the night sleeping in a van on the Col d’Aubisque in the Pyrenees so she could make it to Trek Travel’s exclusive viewing perch in time to personally congratulate every guest who scaled that legendary climb the next day.  Her name?  Tania Worgull, Trek Travel’s president!


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