A TdF 2004 Special

By Kirsten Begg
Cycling Historian









A CR/OLN/CCB Tour de France Exclusive


Hotel: 14

July 16, 2004 

Odometer: 4000 km

Plateau de Beille, France

Stage: 13

Day: 19

Graham Jones sightings by an OLN crew: 1!

Stage 13

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 roused.

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 sandwiches please.”
Bloke: “Ah, sorry, we don’t have ham and cheese.”
Me: “Oh, OK. But you have ham sandwiches and you have cheese sandwiches?”
Bloke: “Yes, 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.”
Bloke: “Well, 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...

'Til then
Onward and upward



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Kirsten Begg (L), Kirsten Gum (R) in the office. Click picture for larger version.