Tour de France Exclusive
July 16, 2004
Odometer: 4000 km
Plateau de Beille, France
Graham Jones sightings by an OLN crew: 1!
Ah Le Tour! Remember the other day when I said never stay at the Hotel La
Renaissance in Aurillac? Well, I need to requalify that.
If your choice of hotels
is La Renaissance in Aurillac or La Randonee in Ax-les-Thermes, where we
stayed last night. Then take a big swallow and opt for the La Renaissance,
cockroach and all.
Why do the crappiest
hotels coincide with the longest days? Crew call yesterday was 8:30 a.m.
and we left the truck and La Mongie at 8:30 p.m. The quickest way to the
highway was back down the course to the foot of the Col d’Aspin and
out through Bagnerres de Bigorre. But that route was shut – kept free
for the TV trucks and race staging trucks. All other vehicles –
public included – were sent up the Tourmalet and out via Lourdes
– basically going round 3 sides of a square. So while the public sit
in their cars lined up on the right for miles coming off the mountain,
there is a strong Tour tradition that if you have accreditation on your
vehicle – you get in the empty left lane and you go like greased lightening.
So we were off the mountain in about 45 minutes – which is about a
record. Dinner was a stop at L’Arche, a motorway service station
chain. We had expected the worse – joking as we drove in that
L’Arche was the sound you made vomiting after eating there. (You can
see we were a little knacked.) But in fact it was quite acceptable.
So our drive to our
hotel at Ax les Thermes was 5 hours. We arrived at 1 a.m. Our keys had been
left on the desk and we went up to our room – what looked like a
skiing self-catering apartment.
First we realized there
was no soap (the Bobster likes a shower when he gets in). Then there was no
toilet paper. Then we noticed that there was only one pillow on the double
bed and then when Bob went for his shower he noticed that the only towel on
the rail was the size of a face flannel. So no shower for the Bobster.
So we lay there in the
pitch black – half a pillow each after a 17 hour day – and just
laughed out loud in that verging-on-maniacal punchy manner that you get
when things are a tad tiring. Most of our friends think we get this dreamy
month in France – how far from the truth it could be. Still we had
the “breakfast will be brought to your room at 7:30 a.m.” note
from the hotel directions ringing in our ears.
I slept like a log but
Bob apparently did not. He said I was dreaming that I was the TV Director
all night and talking in my sleep directing the live TV show. He had quite
a few conversations with me, so he says, as I directed away, but I never
So this morning after I
showered and dried myself on the face flannel and Bob showered and dried
himself on a bed sheet, we dressed and waited eagerly for the knock at the
door and our breakfast.
It never came.
So breakfastless we then
flogged ourselves 30 km from Ax les Thermes along to Les Cabannes and up
the road to Plateau de Beille. It will be ugly getting out of here tonight
and then we have a 300km+ drive to Nimes. Oofah. Monday’s rest day
cannot come soon enough.
We did manage to sneak a
teensy-weensy side trip yesterday at La Mongie. I mentioned that I had
ridden the cable car up above La Mongie last year on the rest day, so Bob
and I planned to do it at lunch. We just rode up, grabbed a sandwich at the
10,000 ft viewing platform and got back in the cable car but there was a
classic French experience up there.
So we get up there and I
head for the little sandwich window. If you have ever wondered what people
mean when they say that the French are so French here is an example. The
conversation went something like this:
Me (in French): “Hi, two ham and cheese
sorry, we don’t have ham and cheese.”
Me: “Oh, OK.
But you have ham sandwiches and you have cheese sandwiches?”
yes we do.”
Me: “OK, well
give me one ham sandwich and one cheese sandwich and I’ll combine
them and I can make myself two ham and cheese sandwiches.”
I can make you two ham and cheese sandwiches if you like.”
Me: (puzzled look)
The Bobster is somewhat
in shock. It is pretty much his first trip to Europe and the drives up the
mountains with the fans hanging off the road and partying and boozing has
pretty much blown his mind. Perhaps I will get him to pen a few words on
his impressions later on...
Onward and upward
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