Part of our tour included climbing the famous L' Alpe de h'uez.
We arrived a day before the actual race and were given the rare opportunity to try the climb the pass on our loaner Trek bikes. Most of the crowds were already assembled around the tiny mountain road, with it's tight switchbacks and hairpin turns. I remember starting out my day in awe that the tour riders would scale this mountain as if they had wings on their backs. For me, it was a process of counting down the kilometers and turns, which were marked with big posters hung on the mountain walls, announcing which switchback you had conquered.
I slowly made my way up the road, constantly encouraged and cheered on by the heavily enibriated Basque spectators, who had been camping for days on the roadside cliffs happily awaiting their favorite cyclists from their home country. When I slowed, they would push me from behind. When I was out of water, they handed me their orange water bottles, like I was one of their own. I loved it.
The following day when the Lance and Jan Ulrich and the others were scheduled to ride, the mountain was completely closed to cars. Trek Travel, our hosts for the event, shuttled us up to the mountaintop in helicopters. It was an unexpected and awesome treat. We got to watch the riders come by at the finish line and cheer them all.
Lance did not disappoint. He finished this time trial stage in first place, and went on to claim his sixth Tour de France victory.
Watching the Tour each year brings back these great memories of the beautiful France countryside and the inspirational riders who compete each year in this epic event. It was a once in a lifetime experience. And one I will never forget.