The Road Trip
Packing the car with the tent, the knowledge that the route is unmarked. The opportunity to explore. To breathe that fresh air. To see things you’ll never explore by car. The texture of the road as it crunches and bobbles beneath the compressed tyres. That sensation as you pick up speed, as you lean into the corners. That moment when you’re rolling slightly too fast and hope the lane is clear of traffic when you get around the bend. All that is to be explored when you take on the cycling road trip.
With the mountains emerging from low cloud, the tarmac clearly fresh in preparation for the arrival of the world’s best cycle race we rolled into Huez. The place buzzing with a nervous energy, campers setting out their chairs, drinking, laughing. Music, of all genres, filtering down the row of vehicles as we cycle along. Flags pinging against their masts as the wind at altitude blows them furiously - adds to the sense of anticipation.
Having driven down from Calais in a single day, with the bikes wrapped up on the bike carrier, we arrived at the top of small mountain road, to a chalet which we were to call home for the next 5 days.
On the agenda: Col de la Croix de fer, Col de Sarenne, the Galibier and Alp d’Huez on race day. It was set to be an incredible and spectacular celebration of all that makes cycling great.
Huez being a highlight. A wall of noise, vertical, climbing into the clouds, through pockets of Poles, English, German and of course Dutch. A heaving jamboree, a wave of orange, shouting, smiling. A group of hands reach out to you and send you around the corner, pushing you up the climb. More than the noise, it’s the cacophony of smells and colour and the closeness of the crowd. Packed into shade, waiting hours for the glimpse of the peloton; of a winner.
Summiting feels impossible; ‘was that corner 13 or 14? I couldn’t see through the crowd’. The never-ending gradient, slow and brutal with a sun on your back. Watching everyone else doing the same, spinning out…but still with broad smiles on their face, relishing the torture. Every metre of the flat switch back savoured. Rolling through the corner before picking up the cadence again. That blissful moment when it feels like peddling is effortless before the lactic acid kicks back in and slows your revolutions to as if cycling through wet cement.
After our toil, seeing the leaders pierce through the crowds, the buzz and roar as they climb. The outriders, trying to keep the fans back. The idiosyncratic siren of the motorbikes, telling others further up the climb what’s about to arrive. The energy surges, people swell into the road, clambering for a view. A break. Someone makes a jump for the lead, leaden-legs try to pull him back, getting momentum going. Thomas takes the front, cheers - and boos - ring out. Now the wait. Who won? Every one listens, people call out the leader changes, in lots of languages but you keep hearing the same word. Thomas. Then amongst the crowd you somehow pick out a single voice: ‘he won, Thomas won’.
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