Bonjour! Hautacam and the Pyrenees are in the rear view mirror as we head for the start of Stage 19 and the start of the long haul north towards Paris.
We were on the Tourmalet, yesterday – a beast of a mountain.
But first, Lourdes – go, see it and then leave, quickly.
At the bottom of The Tourmalet sits Sainte-Marie-de-Campan where – back in the days when men were men – Eugene Christophe had to fix his own forks but the commissars still nailed him because the blacksmith’s apprentice worked the bellows at the forge.
Lance would have had ten lawyers on the race organisers’ case by dawn.
La Mongie sits in a fold in the mountains – it’s a typical ski resort but you can get out of the car, stretch your legs and the bar we go to pumps a nice beer.
We parked up around two K from the top without too much fuss because the higher you go the harder it is to get a space.
The scenery really is stunning but the weather changes in a heart beat from scorching sun to low cloud, drizzle and chill.
From one K you can see the cleft in the skyline which is the summit – encouraging if you’re on your knees on 36 x 29.
There was a fair old breeze blowing which was helpful for much of the climb – small mercies …
And whilst the coureurs won’t notice, the views are stunning.
At the top there’s a restaurant and an over-priced souvenir shop and if there’s one good thing about the col, it doesn’t play games – the top is the top and the fast descent starts immediately.
And although our resident prophet, Viktor might not approve we have to take at least a few snaps of the ‘radges’ – here we have Dave deftly avoiding the mad bandsmen.
Valverde had fired men up the road in the big break to act as stepping stones – but as L’Equipe says today; ‘Valverde fatigué’ and Izaguirre’s efforts were in vain.
Tommy V. had been away too but his ‘sell by’ is fast approaching and he was glugging Coke and going backwards when he passed us.
Astana and Nibali were majestic at the head of affairs.
I may be wrong but I don’t buy into the ‘D-word’ Anglo vibe around Vincenzo.
As I said the other day, his progression has been steady ever since he won the Italian Junior Road Race Champs a decade and more ago.
And people seem to forget he won la Vuelta with Liquigas.
It was another bad day for big Jurgen Van Den Broeck who was shepherded up the hill by Adam Hansen.
And our long term VV friend, Michael Morkov wasn’t enjoying the views from the Tourmalet.
But the man has been working hard – first for Alberto then for Rafal.
Big Ale Jet Petacchi is like a fish out of water on the cols but it’s part of the job – you have to get over them to get to the next sprinter stage.
Last man on the day was fast man French Champion, Arnaud Demare – another coureur not over keen on the anti-gravity stuff.
We missed the finale live on TV – not a bar to be had…
But we did catch it on Radio Tour; number four for Nibali and an overall lead of seven minutes; grim determination from Peraud to go third with the cavalier Pinot up to second.
It wasn’t ‘all ice cream and fairies’ for the French though – whilst Bardet is still fifth he dropped two minutes on Nibali, Peraud, Pinot and Valverde.
He doesn’t have the build of a ‘chronoman’ and van Garderen is two minutes behind him with a better grip of the ‘alone and unpaced’ school.
It’s all down to Saturday – but first, we have a sprinter stage to cover…