Friday, July 20, 2012

Stage 16 Finish - Bagneres-de-Luchon

This year, stage 16 is considered the queen stage of the Tour, which means that it was the hardest stage. The stage had two HC (hors categorie, or beyond classification) climbs and two category 1 climbs: the Col d'Aubisque (HC), the Col du Tourmalet (HC), the Col d'Aspin (Cat 1) and the Col de Peyresourde (Cat 1). In addition to having the toughest mountains to climb, it also was the longest mountain stage of the Tour, running 197 km. Finally, the weather decided to clear up and the temperature rose about 10 degrees C, to 35. Everything was conspiring to make this stage an epic challenge.

We woke up Wednesday ready for the stage. I made eggs and toast for the two of us, then went down to the office of Tourism to use their Internet and send a few messages, check Facebook and post a blog post or two. Then we went on a little walkabout to see how the town had been transformed overnight.

First, we saw that they had put up the flamme rouge:

The flamme rouge on Allee d'Etigny in Luchon

We wandered down to the finish area to see what it looked like. They had the finish line all done:

The finish line in Luchon

In addition, they had set up a stand right on the finish line to get dramatic footage of the sprint probably wouldn't happen today.

A great camera angle for the finish line!

We also saw where they put the TV trucks, including the NBC Sports Channel truck where Phil and Paul work:

They apparently sit in the bumped out part up top!

Finally, with the walkabout complete, we went back to the apartment to actually watch the Tour on TV since it would be hours before even the publicity caravan arrived.

One thing that is interesting about watching the Tour in France is that it is covered by two stations: France 2 and France 3. We were happily watching France 2 when the telecast just stopped and went to back to back commercials. We were puzzled until we thought to tune to France 3 where sure enough the Tour was playing!

We watched the two HC climbs on TV then headed out to the street. We found a great location where we could watch the race from the front row (unlike in Pau where we were way behind the barricade and loads of people). In addition, the place was very close to a television in the Aussie bar nearby that we used to monitor progress. When things got really exciting, either Nathan or I would run to the TV to see what was happening since the French announcer of the PA system wasn't helping us.

We say yet another appearance of the publicity caravan and got some more swag, including the ever elusive PMU green hands:

The Kleber driving tire

A giant chicken advertising something!

Nathan with his prized PMU green hands

I took very few photos of the riders coming into Luchon as I wanted to make sure I showed them my appreciation for their hard work by cheering wildly for them as they came in. This was especially true for Thomas Voekler who is becoming an absolute deity in Luchon having won the last time the Tour finished here as well winning this year. Oh, and he's French so that helps with the popularity thing too!

I did get some pictures of the stragglers coming in, and here they are:

That's Cav in the very back...

Most of these guys were just happy to be done soon.

After the race, we hung around the apartment a bit, then grabbed a sandwich on the main street for dinner. Following dinner, we went back to the apartment and I absolutely killed Nathan in Mille Bournes. (FYI: he did the same to me the night before...)

We did a bit of reading and then were off to bed in order to be up and fresh for the start of stage 17.

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