Monday, July 27, 2009
At the Finish in Paris
Click here to see Liam's ride with Lance Armstrong
After a transatlantic flight, 3500 miles by car, 600 miles by bike (mostly uphill), 5 countries, travel through many of the Departments of France, seeing the majority of the 21 stages of the Tour de France, and 23 blog entries; our journey is coming to an end. In many ways I feel like I am on the final page of a really good book. I am about to close the cover and move on to the next story, however, the feeling is bittersweet because I don’t want the story to end.
Birthday Boy July 27th - Liam turned 9
The 2009 Tour de France finished yesterday on the Champs Elysees. Liam and I made it to the finish after a crazy all-night drive up from the heart of Provence. This drive was for me the most difficult part of our trip. The drive ended up being a seven or 8-hour affair, which had us arriving in Paris at sunrise. For the last hundred miles, I was finding it very difficult to keep my eyes open.
The 14th - Montparnasse - "our" little corner of Paris
Fortunately, we were able to check into our tiny hotel on the Rue du Parc Montsouris fairly early. The only hiccup was that the room was on the fifth floor and the elevator was broken – Just another workout along the road! We were able to get a few hours sleep, and then headed to our favorite local boulangerie for some sandwiches for lunch. The smell from the bread as you approach the shop is amazing. I don’t know why but bread made in France always tastes better than anywhere else in the world. I have been to several “French” bakeries in the States, but it never is quite the same.
Sundays in Paris are very relaxed days for the French. For most, the main event of the day is a family lunch that often ends up lasting most of the afternoon. This Sunday, there were several families and groups of friends having picnics in the Park beside our hotel. We finished our sandwiches and headed for the metro to go to the finish of the final stage of the Tour de France.
The party moves to Paris
The scene along the Champs below the Arc de Triomphe was entirely different from the relaxed atmosphere of Parc Montsouris. People were lined up 10 to 20 deep all along the several mile stretch of boulevard in the center of Paris. Liam and I found a spot near the finish line from which to watch the race. From my shoulders, Liam was able to get a pretty good view of the riders as they passed by during the several lap circuit. There was quite a party going on. The Spanish were out in full force chanting “Contador, Matador.” In the last lap, Mark Cavendish and the Columbia Highroad team put on an impressive display to win the day.
After the finish, we ran into Terry and Kendall who we had met a few days earlier on the Col de la Colombiere. We lingered around the finish for about an hour watching the riders take their celebratory laps around the Champs. They all looked very happy to have made it to Paris. We were hoping to see Lance to congratulate him for a job well done. That would have been the ultimate ending for our adventure. We never ended up seeing Lance, but we passed on the message through some of the people from the Astana team.
Lance looked like he wanted to say something on the podium. I think the world has already heard it by his remarkable Tour. The message is that the fight against cancer is not over. More needs to be done, and it needs to be done now! Lance may have come in third in the race, but he had already won by just being here.
Liam and I have seen and done some incredible things in the last five weeks. The challenge for us now is to take our experience and channel it into something really meaningful at home. If Liam and I can motivate other kids and families to become active together than we will have succeeded in what we set out to do.
As I write this blog Liam is asleep. He had his ninth birthday today in Paris. His next athletic goal is to qualify for the Junior Olympics with his swim team. We will keep up our weekend father/son bike rides. They will now, no doubt, be a little longer than when we left. He is already talking about doing the 65 mile Tour de Organics up in Sonoma County, California in August.
We also hope to keep the blog going! If you are interested in the story, check back in from time to time. We have seen this finish line, but there will be many more to come.
Bill and Liam signing out!
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Liam and I bring you this blog post on the fly. Tomorrow is the last stage of the 2009 Tour de France. We are about to make the 6 hour drive from Provence to Paris for the race finish. Today was an action packed day on the very windy summit of Mont Ventoux. Liam climbed the “Giant of Provence” for the second time. Today, however, it was extremely windy, and was by far our most difficult day in the mountains. The race itself was epic.
I have put together two video blogs that give a good feel for the last two days. The Tour de France is truly “a movable feast,” and "move" it does --- we have put close to 6000 kilometers on our rental van.
Our next report will be from the city of light.
Allez le Tour!
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Friends on the Colombiere
Click here to view Liam's ride with Lance Armstrong http://www.livestrong.com/lance-armstrong/video/liamlivestrong-mp4/9b92cfee-9f90-4528-9e15-e722454f6151/
We have made our way back down to Annecy, France in the heart of the Haute Savoir. I feel that in many ways this region has been the hub of our trip. It is here, on the Col de la Colombiere, that we met Lance Armstrong one week before the start of the bike race. In this region Liam rode his first few alpine climbs. It is also here, over the last few days, that we have witnessed the drama of this year's Tour de France unfold. The stages here in the Alps are proving to be the core and heart of this year's race.
I had thought that we might be burned out by now, however, the stages and our adventures during them just seem to be getting better. Part of it is that we are getting better at the logistics of watching the Tour. We have gotten better at choosing the sections of the day's stage to ride, and also better at choosing locations from which to watch the riders pass by. We consider ourselves lucky, in that we continue to meet really amazing people along the way.
On Tuesday, we were making our way to Bourg de Saint Maurice -- the finish of stage 16-- from Switzerland. At a certain point, Liam and I decided to take a slight detour. It was beautiful weather and, as we were driving past Lake Geneva, the temptation to jump in the lake for a swim was to great to pass up. We decided to make a stop in Evian les Bains. Not only does this town have some great tasting spring water, but also the lake here, at this time of year, is phenomenal. We found a spot by the water a few miles outside of town and spent a few hours being -- well -- French. We did a little swim, got out, took some sun, ate a baguette, and then repeated every half-hour or so. We lost track of the time and it ended up being too late to be able to catch the finish of Stage 16. It was well worth it. I wish I could bottle the experience along with the spring water!
We met several dads with their sons on the summit. Jaime and Erik from San Francisco, Terry and Kendall from Australia, and two more from Wales; but, unfortunately, I didn’t catch their names. Everyone was really enjoying the experience. I saw several other families on the summit. It is great to see people uniting and sharing this celebration. Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and grandparents all joining in this festival of life.
After the stage, the ride down took us past the finish hamlet of Le Grand Bonard. It was 9 o’clock at night before we made it back to Annecy. When you are following the Tour de France, the days can be incredibly long.
Friends from the Annecy time trial
Today, for stage 18, we woke up at 7am to ride the Annecy time trial course. Unfortunately, the police closed the course at 8am. We were directed off the road and onto the Annecy bike path. On the path, we ran into Markus and Patrice whom we had met on the Colombiere the day before. We hooked up with these guys and really started hammering. Liam was holding 23 to 24 mph. The ride was a lot of fun. On the way back into town we met Collin and James from the north of England. The town of Annecy was starting to swell, and it was getting pretty crowded at the race start. We went by the Astana vans to watch some of the riders doing their warm-up for the time trial. After about thirty minutes of this we headed back out of town to find a good -- less crowded -- spot from which to watch the race. We watched the time trial and then rode another 20 miles after the race was over. It was Liam's first fifty mile day... at eight years-old!!! On the way back to the hotel in Annecy we stopped by the Versus television truck and met Frankie Andreu. Frankie is a former pro-cyclist who is now a sports commentator.
"Liam's favorite sports commentator."
Tomorrow we head back down to Provence for stage 20 which finishes on the summit of Mont Ventoux. Then it will be up to Paris for the final day of the 2009 Tour de France. The pace is furious, but we are enjoying the ride!
Monday, July 20, 2009
Friday, July 17, 2009
Click here to view Liam's ride with Lance Armstrong http://www.livestrong.com/lance-armstrong/video/liamlivestrong-mp4/9b92cfee-9f90-4528-9e15-e722454f6151/
Liam and I have made our way up to Switzerland from the South of France. We arrived from Montpellier by way of the Rhone river valley. En route, we drove past ancient fortresses and vineyards that have supplied the world with wine for the last 800 years. I wanted to stop and do some exploring with the palate; however, my eight year-old traveling companion was not quite as into it as I was. I started to explain the complexities of wines and the effect of the soils on the grapes. Liam liked the scientific element – he loves science – but the thought of extending the drive by a few hours was torture for him. The drive was seven hours as it was. I would have to put my wine tasting on hold.
Liam remembers Switzerland from the year we lived there in 2006. He wanted to get in some lake swimming, rides in the foothills of the Alps, and to tour the Chocolate factory, instead of lingering in the vineyards of Chateauneuf du Pape. The “Adventures in Wine” blog will have to come at a later date, perhaps when we head down to Provence for the Tour’s second to last stage on Mont Ventoux.
In mid-summer, when the weather is good, I can think of no better place for bike riding than Switzerland. Throughout the country there is an organized system of bike trails, which takes you through little hamlets and around beautiful lakes. One of my favorite memories from our sabbatical, in this part of the world, was a kind of family adventure we would do. In the morning, I would get out the map and pick a spot, usually on a lake, to ride to. I would set off early in the morning on the bicycle, and my wife and the boys would leave a few hours later in our 1980’s purple van with a picnic lunch. We would meet up, have our lunch, and explore a new corner of our host country. Those were perfect days.
Liam remembers those days, and he also remembers, that -- as a five or six year-old -- he couldn’t ride his bicycle with his dad for those distances. For Liam, now, recreating and being able to ride some of those adventures is a sort of right of passage.
We have been staying with good friends in Thun, which is in the Berner Oberland. Some of the most pristine lakes and highest mountains in Europe are located in this area. Over the last few days we have gotten in some great rides and lake swimming. It has been a nice break. Of course, we are now anxious to get back to the Tour de France, but the rest and the time together has been really relaxing and comfortable.
Today it was raining -- maybe pouring is a better word. When you first come into Switzerland you are struck by the fact that everything is quite green. There is a reason for this. It rains a lot in Switzerland. In Colmar, France, just west of here, it was raining as well for stage 13 of the Tour de France. It is not so much fun to ride in heavy thunderstorms, so - unike the Tour riders - we took the day off.
Liam and I had been planning a trip to the Callier chocolate factory. Up until our ride with Lance Armstrong, Liam’s self-proclaimed "favorite day of his life" had been our first visit to this chocolate factory in 2006. The factory is located in Broc-Gruyere. The Tour de France passes through Gruyere on Sunday so we had been planning a visit. Gruyere is known for cheese and chocolate. According to the locals, it is the milk from the local cows that make both of these local products so great. By looking at the grass and herbs in the surrounding hills, I can understand why this would be true. We spent the day eating cheese and chocolate. At one point on the chocolate tour you enter a room, and there you can eat all the chocolate you want for free. If only we had had a glass of milk…
Tomorrow we head to Vebier to ride the Mountaintop Category 1 finish. It is time to reconnect with the Tour de France. This last week will be action packed all the way to Paris! Come along with us as we shake off our rest days and get back into the action! Allez le Tour!!!
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Saturday, July 11, 2009
The Best Known Cycling Fan in Europe
The best place to experience the Tour de France is in the mountains. It is on these high roads that the race takes on a real personal feel. Because the Tour route is often closed early, one must either hike or cycle up the mountain to get to a good spot for viewing the day’s stage. If you are in Europe during the Tour de France and want to pick just one stage to experience this race, I would recommend a mountain stage with a hilltop finish. These types of stages are always where the epic battles of the Tour de France take place.
Today, the Tour was coming to Andorra for its first mountain stage and hilltop finish. Liam and I had been camping about fifteen miles from the finish. We had ridden the climb the day before, so our plan was to try to drive up to a spot about 3 or 4 miles before the finish to take in the race. We tried to leave our campground, but found that the roads were already closed. But -- we are cyclists after all -- so, out came the bikes and the Livestrong jerseys, and we set off with a picnic and plenty of water. I was a little concerned about Liam because he had put in a really tough day the day before. But as we started up the mountain, the crowds were going crazy, cheering Liam on. This was really pumping him up, and he flew up the mountain. With a backpack full of food and water, I was really struggling at times to keep up with his bursts of speed.
Friends from Toulouse
We rode into a celebration of life and sport -- a multicultural carnival, taking place high in the Pyrenees. We met some of the famous spectators that we had seen on the television year after year. One who stood out was the "devil." This horned cycling fan appears to be sponsored by a German bio-fuel company. I drew this conclusion by seeing his bio-powered devil mobile with the company’s logo all over it.
Oliver from Australia
During the last part of the climb, we met up with 16 year-old Oliver from Australia. Oliver had ridden for six hours up from Spain. His dad and grandfather were following by car, but had been stopped about 20 miles below in Andorra. Oliver is on a junior biking team in Melbourne, and Liam really enjoyed talking to him about his riding. At 5 kilometers from the finish line, the police were stopping anyone from going higher. This was ok, because it was a great area from which to watch the race. We were standing on a steep switchback in the road. From our vantage point, we could look down the road and see the riders coming up for about a kilometer. It was a great place to experience the stage. We made friends with people from France, Spain, Andorra, Australia, Belgium, Britain, Ireland, Germany, and some fellow Americans. At any one time you could hear French, Spanish, English, Catalan, and German being spoken. Everyone was simply enjoying the moment. Liam at one point got on his bike and did some sprints up the hill. This really got the crowd going!
Liam the Photographer
As the race came by, we got some great photographs of some of the riders. Then my attention turned to getting Liam off the mountain before the descent got too crazy. As we were descending, some of the professional riders came by—it is faster for them to get off the mountain by bike than to wait for the team cars to make their way through the crowds and traffic. Lance came past us and gave Liam and me a little nod. It was a nice way to finish the day.
Popo, Lance, and Alberto
Tomorrow, the race heads back into France. Liam and I plan to go back to France for some more camping and bike riding. We will cross the Pyrenees and look for a spot at the base of the Col d’Aspin and the Tourmolet to wait for the mountaintop carnival to pass once again.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
New Video Blog preview of Stage 7 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3XJf85X6MIU
It is hard to get to Andorra. This independent mountain kingdom (Principality) is located high in the Pyrenees surrounded by the countries of France and Spain. When we first arrived by way of a twisting very high Pyrenean pass, I had two impressions, well, make that three, but I will get to the third later. The first impression was, “man this place is isolated,” and the second was “magical.” Liam and I were both looking for dragons flying overhead as we dropped down to the valley below. The valleys of this mountain enclave are a lush green, and traces of snow can still be seen on the mountain peaks at this time of year. The scene was -- for no better word -- majestic.
In our minds, we had just arrived in a fairytale mountain kingdom, that is, until we hit the main town. From this city, Andorra La Vella, came my third impression of the Principality, “traffic jams and duty-free retail.” Andorra has a duty-free status, and, apparently, the capital is designed for shopping frenzy. Today, however, despite the traffic, there were no shoppers. I guess the global recession has hit tiny Andorra. Everywhere we looked we saw signs for 50% to 70% off. Liam and I both wanted to get back into the fairytale. There is a time and a place for shopping, but we wanted to ride our bikes in the Mountains.
Just a few miles out of town the scene changes back to pristine mountain landscape. We found a great little campground at the base of the first mountaintop climb and finish of this year’s Tour de France. What is a father/son trip without a little camping? Liam has been wanting to camp since we got to Europe. I can’t say that I share his enthusiasm, but I have to admit it has been a lot of fun.
The Top of Arcralis with Shawn from Boston
Today, we got in a great ride up to the top of Andorra Acralis, the finish of tomorrow’s Tour stage from Barcelona. Liam bagged his second beyond category (HC) climb, and his first summit in the Pyrenees. At one point, I didn’t think he was going to make it. We were about 2 miles from the finish of this 12-mile climb. Liam was really struggling. Suddenly we realized he had been going up the mountain in his big front chain ring. It must have seemed like he was pedaling in quick sand. He changed into the lower front chain ring and I think we did those last two miles at about 10 miles per hour. Along the climb, we met Shawn from Boston. It was fun to share the climb with a fellow American, and talk about the race and the upcoming stage. Once again it was a great day in the mountains of Europe. When we got back to the campsite, I was beat, but Liam was pumped. He wanted to get in a brick workout so he ran around the campgrounds for about 20 minutes. The kid is an animal!!!
Liam getting in run after the ride
We can’t wait for tomorrow’s stage! There will definitely be fireworks on the mountains of Andorra!
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Liam on the time trial course in Montpellier
New You Tube Video -- Liam Jamming Montpellier TT Course http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJfHIvIjxCM
Today, in Montpellier, Liam and I really hit our stride. It was a good day for us and it was areally good day for the Tour de France. We were up early, had a great breakfast, and were out on the bikes to ride the team time trial course. Riding this 24-mile course had been one of our goals for the trip. We started out at eight in the morning. The start was from an impressive central plaza in the center of Montpellier. Montpellier is a fairly large university town in the Languedoc-Rousillion region of France. We set out from the plaza on a route that took us under the town’s Arc of Triumph. Liam, however, started to get a little frustrated because the roads were still not completely closed off to traffic. After about three miles, a French news crew approached us. They interviewed Liam and me, and then blocked the traffic with their van as they filmed us riding out of town. This really got Liam pumped. We jammed that time trial course in about an hour and thirty-five minutes. Our only glitch was Liam running off the road into the ditch at one point—It is the same spot that some of the professional riders went off the road later in the day during the race. Mais pas de probleme. A little dust off and Liam was back in the saddle in no time. After our time spent in the Alps and Mont Ventoux, Liam is riding very well. In fact, the speed at which he covered the twenty-four miles really surprised me.
At the halfway point of the race, we got off the bikes and took some yellow chalk and marked the road. GO LANCE LIVESTRONG, GO ASTANA! As we were finishing our ride several teams started to come by us. The teams were out riding the course once before the race for a preview of the course. The wind was starting to kick up and there were some fairly technical sections of the route. At one point, a rider came screaming by no than a few inches from the back of a team car. They most have been going 50+ miles per hour. That was quite a sight. Neither I, nor Liam, had ever seen anything like that.
Riders coming off the course after their preview
After we finished riding the course, we ended up hanging out and watching the professional riders come by after their previews. The Astana team came by and they looked really good. Lance even said hello to Liam, it was the first time we had seen him up close since our ride up the Colombiere. Instead of going back to the hotel before the race start, we ended up staying at the finish line for the rest of the day. And, what a day it was! The race was incredible to watch!
New friends Bruce and Alisa-two Californians now living in France see their blog http://www.ourjuicylife.blogspot.com/
By the end of the day, we had met some new friends, and seen some really fantastic racing. Astana won the day, and Lance Armstrong had now moved up to a tie for the race lead. We had ridden this same course just a few hours earlier. Tour de France history was being made, and we felt that we are now somehow a part of it.
From here, we will take a break for a few days. Our plan is to head into the Pyrenees on the boarder of Spain and France to preview a few of the upcoming climbs of the Tour. We will wait for the Tour to come through this region in a few days. It is a hard decesion to skip Barcelona, but there is only one-way from the coastal city up to the first mountain finish of the Tour in Andorra. Logistically, making this trip would be very difficult. We came to see the Tour and ride, so, it is off to the Pyrenees we go.
Allez Le Tour!!!
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
What is better-- the knife, the fork, or the spoon? For the last few nights, this is one of the conversations that Liam and I have been having at dinner. I always end up choosing the fork and Liam chooses the spoon. It is a funny little discussion, but one the has made me realize that as much as I am bringing Liam into the adult world, he is bringing me into his, the world of the eight year-old. Our relationship and bond has grown an incredible amount on this trip.
It has taken us a few days to adapt to following the Tour de France. It is a race that is constantly in motion and covers huge distances each day. You have to get into the rhythm of the race, and finding this rhythm takes some time. The second and third days of the Tour were great days, but somehow we weren’t quite in sync with the race.
On Sunday, stage 2 was from Monaco to Brignoles. Liam and I had studied the map and decided to hit the race at the finish in Brignoles. The logistics of moving down the road each day require some planning, and we got a late push off from Nice. It was about a two-hour drive from the Cote d’Azur to the race finish in the heart of the Var. While in route we knew we were headed the right direction by all the race support vehicles at the rest stops and on the road. Liam was excited to be driving next to the team buses and French Television cars. As we approached the finish town, however, the road was blocked and only race support vehicles could get through. We got diverted onto a country road and ended up in a pine forest about ten miles away from the town.
On the Lake Outside Brignoles
I have learned that instead of getting frustrated by these detours, the better approach is to make the best of what ever you run into. On this day in France, Liam and I ran into a lake that was about two miles from where the race would pass by. It was a very hot day so what better place to wait for the race to come by. We spent about an hour by the lake among the French picnickers. Liam and I swam across the lake a few times – Liam is on a swim team in California and hopes to be going to the Junior Olympics this spring. Liam met a few kids his age who were very impressed by his swimming. As we were leaving to go to watch the race, I looked back to see a group of French children trying to do the butterfly. Sport transcends language, culture, and generations. We got on our bikes and headed to a good spot to catch the Tour as it rolled down this country road in France.
It was a great place to watch the race and be able to get a good snapshot of the people and culture of the Var. The Varois as they are called are about as close to country folk as you get in France. We made conversation shared a picnic and had a great time just standing on the side of the road. After the riders past, we returned to the lake to spend the rest of the afternoon.
When we got into Brignoles later that evening I had almost forgotten about the race. When someone in the café asked me about race, I realized that I didn’t even know who had won that day's stage. The race had been a backdrop to our day, but the lake and our time there, as well as our time meeting the people of the Var had been the main event.
People from the Var are called Varois
The next day the race started down in Marseille and finished at a modern beach resort in the town of La Grande Motte. Everything was on schedule for an early departure until we ran into a snag at the gas station. When I went to pay for the gas the female attendant said that my credit card was not valid. I had just paid for the hotel and bought our breakfast at the market with the same credit card. I gave her another card…same result. There was no convincing her that there might be a problem with her machine. I left the car and my driver’s license at the station and headed into town to find an ATM. The first bank I came to was out of order, the second and third as well. The Tour de France had just finished in this town the day before. I guess a lot of people were using the ATMs because apparently they were out of cash. At the forth and final bank in the town, I was finally able to get some cash. I returned to the station to a scene of mayhem. Five other cars were pulled over beside mine with their drivers headed into town, with a line of five other cars trying to pay. As we pulled out of the station, I was wondering just how much cash that final bank machine in town would have. It was another adventure for Liam in that silly adult world of financial transactions.
Nike France Raising Money for the Fight Against Cancer at La Grande Motte
We arrived at the La Grande Motte a few hours before the riders would finish there. It was enough time for a bike ride and a swim in the ocean. It was at this town that we also found the best place to watch the finish of the race. There is a VIP section called the Club Tour de France. It consists of a trailer that turns into a kind of two-story restaurant. The VIPs can watch the race finish from the top of the trailer or from the roped off area in front which is set up with tables for sipping champagne. There is always a big screen monitor here, as well, with television coverage of the Tour. From the roped off sides you get a good view over the champagne tables of the riders as they come by and you can also follow race developments from the monitor.
Club Tour de France
The race into La Grande Motte was a flat stage that everyone was thinking was going to be uneventful, including some of the riders who missed out on a very important split in the peleton in the final stages of the race. Lance Armstrong and two of his teammates were able to get into this split. By the end of the day, Lance had moved up from 10th to 3rd place in the race. In the final kilometers of Stage 3 the race had fundamentally changed. Liam and I were there, in France, watching it all unfold. It has taken a couple of days, but we are finally starting to get integrated into this train across France.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Our gear on the Beach in Monaco
Video Blog Race update from Bill and Liam from Monaco http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfTXdZzYowE
Liam and I are slowly putting together a tapestry of our experience here in France. We are quilting together patches of the fabric that represent places we go, the things we experience, and the people we meet along the way. The common thread that ties all these pieces of fabric together is the influence they have on our growing bond as father and son. It is a bond that is growing stronger, by the day, as we follow this great caravan of sport and human endurance through France.
We didn’t get to Monaco as early as we had planned. The idea had been to get in early and ride the course a couple of times. I had seen Formula 1 racing, and the idea of riding bikes in Monaco on those same perfect roads was too good to miss. In my mind it was going to be a classic experience.
The Tour Caravan travels the whole race course about an hour before the stage begins.
All had all been going to plan. We arrived in Nice the afternoon before the start of the race. Took a dip in the ocean. Ate a pasta dinner that cost fifty euros. (The prices here are insane, but it was good pasta!) Then we turned in to get some sleep before the big day. I awoke at midnight with a strange feeling. It was a sensation that we were under siege. I felt like I was being eaten. The window to our hotel room was open, so I thought that, perhaps, mosquitoes were getting into the room. When I turned on the light, I discovered--to my horror-- a different story. The beds in our hotel room were infested with bed bugs. I had always heard the saying – “Good night. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” There was no way we were going to be able to sleep here. In fact I started to get the suitcases and clothing away from the beds as fast as I could. How do you say bed bug in French? I wanted to change rooms, but the hotel was full, as was every other hotel in Nice, because of the Tour de France. After much negociation (which included actually taking the lady at the front desk up to the room to show her the bugs,) we were able to sleep on the couch in the breakfast room of the hotel. What did the hotel do about the situation? Did they refund our money for the night? We still had to pay full price, but they did, however, throw in a complimentary breakfast in the same sale de la petit dejeuner that we slept in. Although it was a really bad travel experience, ironically, I think the night spent in that little breakfast room will be one that Liam and I talk about for the rest of our lives.
We left our bags in a new room (that was hopefully bed bug free) grabbed the bikes and headed to the train station. It was at the station, that I started to realize the full impact of our ride with Lance Armstrong. It seemed that almost everyone in the train station knew Liam’s name. Wow, the video clip of our meeting on the Livestrong.com website had seemed to strike a cord with people. It was really incredible to meet people, who had seen the clip, and to not only share our experience, but to hear their experiences here in France as well. We met Ken from England and his wife. They had come to France to see Lance on all seven tours he had won before. Now they were here for an eighth time. Ken was wearing 7 Livestrong yellow bands on one wrist and an eighth on the other. The couple were dedicated cycling fans and fellow supporters of the fight against cancer. There was also Craig and Tracy, from Houston, Texas (I hope I have their names right) They are here in France on an organized bike tour, with their professional cycling guide. We meet them at dinner, and they were kind enough to pass on some tips about sections of the upcoming stages that would be good for Liam to ride. It is the people that we meet along the way, and our interactions with them that are becoming some of the most memorable moments of our trip.
New Friends in Monaco
We arrived in Monaco a little too late to ride the whole course, but we were able to ride open sections next to the course. We found a great section of beach, and took a swim in the Mediterranean. I could think of no better place to spend a few hours just before the start of a bike race.
Winner Fabian Cancellara with Prince Albert, we had passed the Prince on the street on his way to present the Yellow Jersy this presentaton.
We ended up watching most of the time trial from a section of the course near the finish line that was also within viewing distance of a huge screen with live coverage of the race. We were there –father and son in the center of Monaco and at the heart of the Tour de France—soaking in this incredible first day.
Allez! Le tour!!!
Click here to see Liam's ride with Lance Armstrong http://www.livestrong.com/lance-armstrong/video/liamlivestrong-mp4/9b92cfee-9f90-4528-9e15-e722454f6151/
Thursday, July 2, 2009
The Tour starts tomorrow in Monaco. We are getting in one last ride on the slopes of Mont Ventoux this morning before we head down to Nice. It is easier to stay in Nice and, from there, take the train into Monaco for the opening stage time trial. We are going to head in early with the bikes, and, if the course is closed to traffic and safe, we will try and ride a part or all of it. We are both really pumped for the race to begin!!!
We were a little sad to pack up and leave the Annecy area. We had had several days of great rides in the surrounding Alps followed up by afternoon dips in the beautiful Lac de Annecy. Before we left we rented a paddleboat and just kicked it for several hours out in the middle of the lake -- father and son chillin’ in France. The best word to describe the feeling would be peace. It was one of those moments in time that you want to freeze and have last forever.
We will be back in Annecy in three weeks as the tour rolls through, but somehow I don’t think that we will be able to repeat the relaxed timeless atmosphere of the last week. We had made friends with everyone at our little hotel. I will never forget Monsieur Jose, the owner of the hotel, excitedly taking us back to the storage area to show us his amazing Spanish road bike. I will also remember the time, on our last day, when we came down for breakfast to a standing ovation. I couldn’t figure out what was going on until I saw the local newspaper. There had been a reporter and photographer at the top of the Colombiere, and there it was, on the front page, Liam and Lance. On the back page was another large photo of the Col crossing and a very complimentary article about Lance’s return to cycling.
After a quick stop at La Poste to mail a copy of the newspaper back home to California, we set off for an afternoon’s drive down the Rhone river valley into the heart of Provence. In just three and a half hours, we moved from the land of glacier lakes and cowbells to the land of fields of lavender and sunflowers.
I had been to Provence before, but only to the Cote d’Azur. I had read several of Peter Mayle’s books, but, for some reason, I had chalked up what he describes in his books as a bit of exaggerated fantasy. When Liam and I arrived in the hilltop village a Sault at the base of Mont Ventoux, we walked right onto the page of a Mayle novel. Here it was, a several hundred-year-old town perched on a hill surrounded by fields of lavender. I was halfway expecting to see the British author sipping pastis in the local Café watching the game of boule taking place in the town square.
When we awoke the next morning, the first thing that we felt was the heat. It is hot in Provence at this time of year. We had planned to do a morning ride from the town up onto the slopes of Mont Ventoux, but the heat was sapping our motivation. Luckily, Wednesdays are market days in Sault. Instead of setting off on our bikes in the wilting heat, we spent the morning checking out the Market. This symphony of fruits, vegetables, spices, and crafts had taken over the streets and the central square of the town. Liam made friends with a few of the local vendors. He got to discover the history of the local olive oil which they prefer cloudy not clear. (I have to admit the cloudy version does taste better, and the vitamin and mineral content is much higher.) He also spent an hour with Pamela, a local vendor, who was kind enough to give Liam an insight into all the local spices of Provence.
So if you happen to be in Sault, on a Wednesday, be sure to look up M. Alain Farnoux and his wonderfully healthy Olive oil, and Pamela with her great selection of savory spices.
As we were finishing our lunch—lunch is the main meal of the day here, and it typically can go on for several hours—a thunderstorm rolled in and cooled things off. Being from Southern California, where we don’t get that much rain, it was cool to stand in the middle of the plaza just getting wet. That is, of course, until the hail started pounding down!
The storm passed and we were able to get in a great ride. In fact, it was a ride that we had not planned to do this early in the trip. We set off from town and were going to head up as far as we could go onto the summit of Ventoux. Liam was feeling a little more pep than usual after our meeting with Lance Armstrong a few days ago. In Fact, WE MADE IT TO THE SUMMIT!!!
The ride was an incredible 26 kilometers which drops down from the town, passes through fields of lavender, heads up through a forest, and finishes with the classic switchbacks on the windswept barren summit of the Ventoux. From the top there is a view of the whole of Provence. This route is one of three ways to climb Mont Ventoux, and it is a bit easier than the classic route up from Bedoin that the Tour will follow. However now the pressure is off. No matter what happens in three weeks, when we are back with the tour, Liam can now say he has climbed the "Giant of Provence."
After some time to take it in at the top. We descended back down to Sault in the golden afternoon light of the Vaucluse, to finish, yet another, perfect day for a father and son on a grand adventure in France.