Stage 8: Pau – Bagnères-de-Luchon
Stage 8: Pau – Bagnères-de-Luchon
Saturday, 9th July 2016
Saturday, 9th July 2016

The day started well, a couple of pour-over coffees, a hot shower and a big bowl of cornflakes. On the way to the start of Stage 8, the traffic was flowing and our once-favoured Nostalgie had been replaced by Speedy’s driving playlist (since we had listened to their entire catalog already). Once we reached Pau and got in behind the Orica Greenedge convoy (yet to be re-vinyled as Orica Bike Exchange BTW), the traffic ground to a halt. By the time we got a parking spot and started walking to the team paddock, it was time to leave again.

We hit Col de Tourmalet without any dramas and just took in the lovely curves. As we reached the final couple of kilometres, the madness of the crowd spilled over and we found ourselves dodging drunken louts, rogue children and aspiring pro-cyclists. There was definitely a Star Wars theme as we saw a grupetto of storm troopers, a wookie and a small army of ewoks. In hindsight, the ewoks may have just been hairy old cyclists.

The final kilometre was utter chaos. I felt a little sorry for the poor Gendarmes who, despite being stationed regularly along the road, were ultimately failing at their attempts to keep the unruly masses under control. We eventually got over the summit, and made full use of our little SUV’s clearance in our less-than-conventional parking spot.

At 2000m+, the air gets a little thinner and you notice it way more than you think. A simple jog up to the summit made me feel light-headed and as breathless as a 3-pack-a-day smoker. Despite the stars in my eyes, we continued down the road - in search of a high perch and an epic shot.

The lead riders passed and I made my move, dashing down the incline at break-neck speed, dodging moss and loose shale - either of which would have sent me (and my gear) crashing straight into the ground.

I eventually reached the road and just kept running, carried on by my own careening momentum. The crowd was yelling “Allez! Allez!”, urging me to keep going, like I was battling for the Maillot Jaune. Even the Lampre-Merida driver gave me encouragement from the team car. If only he had also offered me a lift or, at the very least, a ‘sticky bottle’.

With 300m to go, the crowd was well and truly spread all over the road. Like Moses and the Red Sea, the riders had the magical power to part the crowd for a moment, before it closed back over behind them. As crazy and annoying as the crowd can be, the climb wouldn’t be what it is without them.

With the bulk of the riders already on the descent, we made our way back to the car. With all of our gear loaded, we sat and waited for the ‘fin de course’ car to fly past us as our signal to leave. It soon passed and we pulled out, only for a Gendarme to pull us back over - and quickly. A Katusha rider whizzed past before we promptly resumed our own rapid descent down the pass.

We had wanted to shoot the final climb, knowing that if someone was to make a move, it would be there. Unfortunately, the dawdling Katusha rider had caused us to miss this window, forcing us instead to head straight to the finish. We arrived just in time to watch Froomey comfortably cross the line and take the yellow jersey.

After the madness of the post-stage traffic and the annual migration of the grey-nomads we finally made it to our accommodation in Spain. However, just as we were getting ourselves into a state that could loosely be described as organised, everything went south. Our internet connection closely resembles two tin cans with a string between them at the best of times - however this one was next-level. If you’re reading this, it is the result of divine intervention and a triumph of will.

See beardy’s coverage of previous stages below.
Stage 21: Chantilly - Paris Champs Élysées
Stage 17: Berne - Finhaut-Emosson


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