Four day weekends are the best invention ever, I've decided, much better than sliced cheese. I went to see the Tour and poke around in the Pyrenees with Brendan (a family friend). You may recall that Brendan and I have had mix-ups/disasters with our planning every time we travel together; an impressive record that we managed to repeat this time.
Photographs are here: http://www.facebook.com/p.php?i=720958974&k=Y6C25Z63V4YM5AF1YEXXRT
We saw Stage 9 of the tour on a great big hill called the Col d'Aspin; it wasn't as steep as I imagined (it's not the Alps). We walked a few kms up the hill and found ourselves a nice spot where we could see the road below so we would see them twice.
The wait was anything but boring, people chatting to each other and to strangers excitedly, people cheering madly at every car that drives past. Two Aussie girls wearing flags are asked to pose for a photos; which they do, laughing. Someone walks up the hill wearing a Sponge-Bob-Square-Pants costume and a group of guys decide to help her by carrying her part way up the hill (she tries protesting and eventually gives in). The procession of sponsor arrives, throwing free stuff from their floats. In the excitement of free stuff we regress to childhood – everyone is grabbing key rings, lollies, water bottles and bags. Half an hour later everyone is wearing the same ridiculous hats, wrist bands and dodgy shirts and everyone is worn out from laughing.
Someone points to a spot moving on the road in the distance, everyone looks and comments on if they think it is the first cyclist. It's not. There is a long wait. Everyone is quiet. It is tense for twenty minutes until some cyclists are in sight on the road below, then it is just a few minutes more. A solo cyclist comes in sight; having waited for hours everyone cheers madly. I'm on the inside corner which he cuts tightly, only a foot away from me. His face is a picture of pain and also determination (later he is disqualified for drugs). Another comes into sight (the stage winner). He accepts a can of coke from a spectator which sprays on him so he throws it on the ground. More small groups emerge. Annoyance flashes over one cyclist's face as he is cut off by another cyclist right in front of me.
Larger groups emerge. Some cyclists are smiling, definitely not working as hard as the leaders. The last big group disappears around the corner and everyone walks back to their cars. We drove back to Lourdes where we were staying. It more or less lived up to my guide book's description as a town that "exists purely to exploit Catholic visitors (and there are lots of them)". It was worth going there just to see the number of hotels and touristy restaurants.
The next day we skipped the procession to watch the tour on TV while enjoying the best steak I've had since Australia. We left in time to see the cyclist come through Lourdes, got a couple of photos then headed for our car to drive to Pau and see the finish. This was very nearly the planning disaster of the trip but before we set off we realised they started the day in Pau they didn't finish there. Instead we drove towards Hautacam to see them go up the last mountain of the day. This time I managed to recognise some riders and to get some good photos. To my own disgust I yelled out 'Popovich' when Cadel went past (it's easier to recognise them from behind because they have numbers on their backs). Someone said they saw me on TV and I think it was that moment. This was also the day that Cadel took the yellow jersey so I was very happy to have see him there.
This was Bastille Day so that night we saw some fireworks and went to the best pub in town. We met a bloke called Willow, from the Gold Coast, who kept as thoroughly amused with unbelievable but hilarious stories. He eventually left and we found an outdoor stage with music. That was a great atmosphere (much better than clubbing). We didn't manage to get on the stage but we did manage to meet some locals.
The next day was a rest day for the tour and a day for us to see caves. On the way there we saw four Silence Lotto cyclists going the other way. Naturally we turned around and stalked them for a while. We got a good photo on Brendan's camera; I'm pretty sure one of them was Cadel but will need to check the photo on a computer. Driving behind them I said "they're not going that fast", looked at the speedometer and quickly added "oh wait, yes they are" (almost 40). And to satisfy Glen's curiosity, no he wasn't wearing the yellow jersey on the rest day. The cave was amazing, I think the biggest cave I have been in. It was formed by underwater rivers over thousands of years which boggles your mind when you try to imagine it. That day we also sat about eating some cheese (which as I have noted is a good invention) and sausage we bought at a market we drove past. We also drove about looking for good views to take photos of; which we did and also happened to stop a few metres away from pigs which we found surprisingly amusing (we may have regressed to childhood again).
Later, on the way back to the airport I got to try out some French to ask directions to a petrol station. We found it and got to the airport on time. But poor Brendan realised his flight was at 20:00 not 10:00pm, so he had missed his flight. He took it in his stride, spent an extra day in Toulouse (got a haircut) and is now in Spain having a good time. Next stop: Sweden in August.