My Busman's Holiday, Le Tour 2009 by Ian Coles

My Busmans Holiday - By Ian Coles  (photos to follow)

Le Tour de France 2009

It has been 10 years since I had ridden in the Alps and deciding that working at Redbridge Cycling Centre and riding as a hobby was not enough I decided that it was about time I had a cycling holiday! A last minute booking in June resulted in a mobile home at a campsite in Doussard at the bottom end of Lake Annecy. Luckily my long suffering wife and cycling widow was understanding and was equally as keen to come, especially as the Tour de France would be passing by literally metres from where we were staying, so it was too good an opportunity to miss.

Sunday July 19th

Arriving late afternoon after a good trip down through France gave us time to unpack the bikes and for me to grab a quick spin up an unclassified mountain road directly behind the campsite. It was a good leg stretch at over an hour of climbing that included waterfalls and a fast bubbling stream that soon turned into a gravel track. At this point I decided that it was time for a rest and to save myself for a big ride the next day.

Monday July 20th

A ride around Lake Annecy was the plan for today but unlike the Tour de France time trial I included the Col de la Forclaz and the Col du Semnoz. Beautiful sunshine and hot conditions made this a real test for my first ride in the mountains and even though the Forclaz was only 8 km in length it included long stretches where it ramped up to 12% and 13% in gradient to reach over 1000m. The views from the top though were stunning and after a couple of photos it was time to have some fun on the steep descent with long sweeping bends back down to Annecy. A quick spin along the lake and through Annecy then it was time for the long slog up through the forest to the Col du Semnoz, which at 17km long and over 1600m high is easily worthy of a first category climb. Riding this climb ten years ago I remembered it being relentless and painful and after being lulled into a false sense of security on the lower slopes I found it to be the same in 2009 as the final 7km were constantly over 8, until the top with no hairpin bends to break the rhythm. The views of Mont Blanc were well worth it as was the descent where I put my increased weight to good use catching other riders!
Wednesday July 22nd

After a day recovering on the Tuesday I rode out to Flumet up the Gorges D’Arly to catch the Tour de France after they descended off the Col de Saises. There were thunderstorms echoing around the valleys, which added with the helicopters gave real atmosphere and anticipation. I found a good spot and after grabbing a few goodies from the caravan (including a cut and bruise to my leg from a well aimed rolled up newspaper) I awaited the first riders to come through. Luckily a Rabobank support van was on the same stretch of road and so I could see his TV and knew that Thor Hushvod was going to arriving imminently. Thor soon flashed by in a blur of green, followed shortly by a large chasing group including Hincapie, Kirchen and Voekler who had his usual grimace of pain when coming past me. The bunch soon arrived and a quick shout of encouragement for Wiggo and Cav saw me stepping back before getting run over by the numerous support cars.

I was quickly back on my bike with a plan to ‘nip’ over the Col de Aravis to get to the finish in Le Grand Bornand before the riders who were taking the longer route around the valley and up the Col de Colombiere. I managed to achieve this in plenty of time with the Aravis being a pleasure to climb especially with shouts of support from all the British cars that saw my union jack on the back of my bike.

At the finish I found a great spot in the last 2 km on top of a grassy bank that gave panoramic views of the mountains and the last stretch of road and I witnessed one of the best days of the 2009 Tour as the peloton was blown to pieces by Contador and the Shleck brothers, who whizzed past me on the way to the finish hotly pursued by Armstrong, Wiggins, Kloden and many others all in small groups. The spread of the riders was huge and the ‘autobus’ came in nearly 50 minutes down on the winning trio with a very dirty and drawn looking Mark Cavendish in the group appearing very pleased to get to the finish.

A fantastic descent nearly all the way back to Lake Annecy topped a fantastic day, with added anticipation of the next day’s time trial still to come. Along the lake there was not a spare spot that a campervan and tent was not occupying, the roads were being painted and there was a real festival atmosphere in the air.

Thursday 23rd July

Crowds started building over 3 hours before the first riders came through near where we were staying and it was fantastic that the organisers managed to close off the main route around Lake Annecy. We rode along the adjacent bike path and found a spot about 500 metres from the first time check which would give us good views along the straight. The publicity caravan came through an hour before the first rider and my kids thought this was fantastic, in fact I do not think we will never need to buy any hats or key rings again for a while! After the caravan we were treated to a few riders going around the course including the legendary Stephen Roche riding with his son Nicholas. Then the first rider came past and this was followed every two minutes through the day up to the last twenty. For the last ten riders the atmosphere in the crowd was highly charged and the riders were getting noticeably faster as they thundered past with their disc wheels. After watching Contador fly past in a flash of yellow we jumped back on our bikes and rode back along the bike path to watch the finish in the bar at the campsite.
Friday 24th July

When waking to blue skies I decided this was the day to grab a big climb, and an hour’s drive took me St Jean de Maurienne at the base of the Col de Telegraphe and the legendary Col de Galibier. With 30km of climbing in total I knew this would be quite a climb and on the Col de Telegraphe I took it easy enjoying the views and not wanting to get carried away. A short descent to Valloire saw me starting the epic climb of the Galibier (2600m high) that dragged up through the valley climbing steadily and steep enough to hurt, but it wasn’t until a sharp turn over a river that the climb really ramps up in the last 6km. This saw me looking up and seeing dots in the distance on the slopes that were obviously other cyclists toiling their way up the climb. This part of the climb really took a toll on me and even though I was passing other riders I still wanted to stop and take a breather with the altitude making each steep section a nightmare. Eventually I got within the barren landscape of the last two km and looking up I could see the top of the Galibier above. This inspired me for a final push and I was rewarded with spectacular views and a feeling of achievement that will last with me for a long time. The descent was fantastic and including the Telegraphe at over an hour long which saw me catching and passing cars on the numerous switchbacks on the way in to St Jean de Maurienne. 
Saturday 25th July

Waking on our last day to more beautiful sunshine I was determined to bag one more col before returning back to the UK. A shorter ride to the Col de la Croix Fry was the order of the day, which again turned out to be a nice easy start before ramping up steeply after the town of Manigod. This climb was ranked in the top 50 hardest climbs in the world in an edition of ProCycling and with sore legs from a hard week of riding I could easily see why. After cresting the Croix Fry I was rewarded with another fantastic descent before a gentle spin back to Lake Annecy.
The week was fantastic and we were extremely lucky to have such beautiful weather. I would like to thank the Tour organisers for choosing such a great route, Canvas holidays for letting us book their last available mobile home for that week, but most especially my wife and children who understand that cycling is not just my living but my way of life!


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