2010 TDF Stage 18 results: live from the road
After the let-downs of Stage 16 and Stage 17 (at least in terms of photos, and compared to last year), we headed into Salies-de-Béarn for the start of the 2010 TDF Stage 18.
We dropped Andrew off at the Pau train station (which by the way has the BEST croissants I have ever had, EVER – read more here – melt-in-your-mouth buttery bliss-bombs!) and headed out of Pau…straight past the hotel housing HTC Columbia and Rabobank. After my poor luck, I couldn't believe it.
Moreover, Erik Zabel was hanging out. Here's a photo I got with him (yes, I am looking a very flabby 68kg next to him – too many croissants, clearly).
Cycling is awesome like that, you can mingle with the pros and champions.
I snapped off some photos of the epic machines and we took off chasing the Garmin squad (as the SatNav was all over the shop)…straight into the Quickstep convoy.
Anyway, there's not much more I can say. We spent the next hour transiting amongst the Tour team buses, team cars adorned with very expensive cycling weaponry, Tour photogs and officials. It was very exciting.
Getting off the Autoroute, we hit major traffic, which afforded me the chance to walk along the buses, reeling off photos, including the one below of the front of the CTT bus. If you look hard (it's more obvious in the high-res shot), you can see Mr Sastre in the front-left seat.
We got pulled off the road 6km out of Salies as we were on the official Tour route between towns. We quickly got our bikes out and rolled downhill into what I have to admit is an absolutely beautiful town. We'd also passed through Orthez which has an interesting history.
Another thing I love about France is the marked change in architecture and landscape between small distances. We'd gone from a very Basque area, with a lot of stone buildings – all very old, with history seeping from every crack – to a much more rural area. Lots of corn fields, very hilly terrain and some very nice and large houses perched atop hills surveying the land around them.
We followed the Radioshack and BMC buses into town, feeling pretty chuffed with ourselves; ensconced as we were in a Tour de France motorcade. Arriving into the set up point, we locked our bikes up and positioned ourselves right where the riders were going past for sign in. Seeing these guys up close, and going slow, made me feel very, very unfit.
Now the below photo sits with a funny story. These girls wanted Stuey to pass a message on to someone about something. Now I don't know what the relationship is, but it sounded funny as – “can you tell Jonno I knocked out a ripping ride this morning?”. Gold.
After the excitement of the start, we rolled back out of town and headed home for an afternoon ride.
The weather since L'Etape had been pretty average; mid 20s, but constantly cloudy and drizzling on and off. A big humid Atlantic cell sat over us refusing to budge.
We decided to drive over the Col de la Pierre St Martin into Spain, and ride up the Col. There was some roadwork in Arrette, and I saw none other than the great comedian Billy Connolly. Amazing! He must be doing research for a new bit on French roadworkers.
This was a super interesting drive. Toward the top of the Col, the landscape and flora changed dramatically from verdant, lush, thick forest, into more sparsely treed, rocky woodlands. Before the switch, on the French side, cows roamed free, with cowbells on their necks. It was cool driving (and riding, on previous days) along and hearing the dingle of bells high up the hill as they went about their complicated cow lives. We did pass one group who were quite stubborn in moving. I have a very funny iPhone video I'll put up as we tried to get through. We got close enough that the car nudged them, and that just made them more curious. One came to Mike's side, pretty sure he was going to hop in for a pat.
Up the top, it was like an alien landscape but with weird-looking trees (almost like the cork trees of Portugal). We passed some horses, not sure if they were wild or not.
There were signs warning of bears, and I found out later wolves and vultures also call this desolate place home.
Crossing the border, the roads and road furniture immediately improved materially – the Spanish seem to like looking after their roads a lot more. Interestingly, road signs were adorned in Basque (a truly strange and interesting language), Spanish, French and sometimes English.
I was really happy to be in Basque country; I've wanted to get here for a while.
On the way down, we passed a big building which I guess could have been the old border station. Some commandos (or at least military guys) were doing some training; running up the road into the never-never. You don't see too many machine-gun clad soldiers roaming around in Australia. I got a very blurry iPhone photo.
We drove down to the base, and saddled up. We had to wear arm and leg warmers as it was lucky to be 15 degrees, and very windy.
The ascent was nice enough, a quick tempo was able to be set. Michael took off as I snapped some photos off.
Getting toward the top, the full force of the wind was upon me, as I battled into it – very reminiscent of the wind on the Ventoux. I was very cold, and conscious of my weak immune system (bordering on a cold already).
I pushed on past the border and entered the wooded plains at the top. Very, very eerie. I pulled over for some photos and felt very nervous, given the bear and wolf signs. There was no one around, no wind, and lots of cloud. Very Hitchcockian and Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles.
After we rode down hill, we stopped in Isaba for some food. It felt very strange being in Basque country; everyone was staring at us as we walked through town. I felt lost as I'd come to grips with French over the trip and now had to switch my brain to Espagnol. It all worked out, anyway.
The town was very old, you feel the history in the cobbled streets.
We propped up for some food at a restaurant the guys had been to a few days before. You can read a review here. It was a good way to end the day. We headed home pretty satisfied with the day.
If all of of this sounds awesome and something you have to do, check out the comprehensive Guide to Cycling through France.
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