Tally – Ho Bruce!!….. onward and upward and upward…. and upward!!!!
Heavy morning cloud makes visibility very difficult as we approach our camping destination; La Mongie, in the Haute Pyrenees. Pulling off the road we can only see 10 metres ahead and make a judgement call not to go any higher. This is where we will wait the three days for the Tour de France!! Bruce finds a suitable position in an aire (free car park really), 1.5km from the small ski town of La Mongie. The book says “room for 100 camping cars”, we counted 152 on the first night, but when the Tour de France finally descended upon us, we guess close to 400 in our “spot”.
Breathtaking scenery, with waterfalls, fast flowing creeks, hiking paths, snow-capped mountains!!
Our neighbours, and lovely new friends Lise and Arnold from Norway join us on this expedition!
Cows & donkeys roam the countryside & casually stroll in front of cars and bicycles at their own will!!
As we huff and puff upwards, we can only imagine the courage, pain and determination of the Tour de France cyclists as they power up to the summit.
We find this skeleton on the side of the road – it was obviously too high for him!!??
The cable car from La Mongie to a nearby mountain top – Pic du Midi – even higher than the Col du Tourmalet – was our reward for excellent hiking the previous day. At nearly 3,000m elevation, our camera was clicking away wildly! Could see an avalanche too. Our cable car became lost in the clouds on the descent! More info here for Pic du Midi http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pic_du_Midi_de_Bigorre
The atmosphere was festive on the eve of the “tour” with parties and patriotic decorations everywhere! The French TV camera crew arrived and filmed Bruce & Bev all decked out with Aussie flags (lots!!) – they told Bev it was being shown “world-wide”!?!?! Bev had just showered & had dripping wet hair!! Ha!! Ha!
Stage 18 of the Tour de France – Thursday 24th July – started in Pau – had two major hill climbs – and was to finish at the top of the second major climb – Hautacam – a total of 145km. We were camped five km from the top of the first climb – Col du Tourmalet.
Suitably attired in “Aussie Bruce” t-shirts, with Lise and Arnold in their Norway shirts and Jon with Fin (his border collie), we trek further up the mountain early to claim our vantage point for the race. Baguettes, jambon, fromage, wine, crisps, picnic rugs, sunscreen and water weigh down our back-packs!!
Blessed with perfect weather we relax and wait excitedly four hours for the riders!!!
About an hour before the riders, the advertising “caravan” goes through. This is where the sponsors all get a chance to show off to the crowd. Thirty-six sponsors – all with four to six vehicles each create a CARAVAN along the course. Six hundred staff are involved in this exercise alone!! The circus drives by …. music blaring, throwing away “freebies” to the now packed & crowded roads! It’s not only the children who enjoy this spectacle…. lollies, caps, tee-shirts, key rings, bottled water, …. all free if you are quick enough to grab them first.
When the five helicopters fly overhead, we know the riders are not far away!!…. here they come ……. there they go… Even on this hill climb, they pass pretty fast. Luckily there were a few groups and not just one big peloton!! Bev waves the flags wildly – hoping the Aussie riders gain encouragement from seeing it!…. who knows where they are in this mass of cyclists!?!?!….Lise and Arnold were very pleased to get a wave from Kristoff, the only rider in le tour from Norway!
A fantastic spectacle ….. full of like-minded people!… Think we must have said “Bonjour” & ” Merci” a few hundred times here!! It appeared that 95% of the camping cars were French – and we think there was over 1,000 Camping Cars at La Mongie – that is just one vantage point, on one day of the Tour de France!! This goes on for three weeks!!! It is certainly a major event…… tick this off our “bucket list”,…. but we have the “bug” now & will be back!!
More info about this stage here: http://www.letour.fr/le-tour/2014/us/stage-18.html
…… a white van has just driven into our “Aire” beeping his horn loudly — he has a large sign on the windscreen – FROMAGE & PAIN (bread) for sale!… how thoughtful! … just in time for dinner!