After spending the night in Grenoble, we were ready to watch our first stage. Today the riders were going from Pinerolo in Italy to the top of the Col du Galibier, marking the 100th anniversary of the first climb of Galibier in the tour. Wisely (as it turned out) we abandoned plans to drive to the base of Galibier, and instead took a 150km round trip through Italy to Briancon, the last town before the finish of the stage. The trip included passing through the Fréjus Road Tunnel which connects France and Italy, and is very impressive at 13km long.
We stopped off in Italy for a little shopping and a very good espresso!
We arrived in Briancon in plenty of time and found the Boulangerie. Staking out a good spot at a small roundabout, we took a calculated guess as to which way the riders would come around the circle.
First was the Caravan with all kinds of free giveaways… hats, fridge magnets, sweets…
Then a long wait… The Gendarmes on motorbike came first and the sound of helicopters overhead was a sure sign of approaching riders.
Then a single Astana rider (Roman Kreuziger).
Then 1min 30sec later Andy Shleck and one of his teammates,
then nearly 3 minutes until the Peloton lead by a BMC rider, with Cadel and the Yellow Jersey, Voekler, close at hand.
Then a second peloton group and finally the Autobus.
The tough climbs before Briancon had really blown the peloton apart!
And that was it… 10min and it was all over!
Because Briancon has a Carrefour Supermarket, who sponsor the tour, we were able to sit in the park and watch the ascent of Galibier live on the big screen! When Andy rode off the front and finished 2 min ahead the crowd went wild!
As it turns out some of the teams decided to say the night in Briancon and the team busses were parked at various hotels. Omega Pharma Lotto, Astana and Quick Step were parked right next to our spot.
The mechanics were there ready to service the bikes.
We hung around in Briancon for a while, getting dinner, with the idea of taking the direct route back to our hotel in Grenoble (the same way the riders went) once the road was opened. The Team busses were back quite quickly and the mechanics were washing and servicing the bikes. They seemed totally relaxed about the crowd of people gathered who were closely inspecting the bikes.
Soon the riders were back at the hotels, and a crowd of fans was waiting.
Finally we departed for Grenoble… 1 hr later we had moved 10km of the 100km. When we reached a point where we could see campervans stretching 5km ahead of us and another 5km procession of vans coming down Galabier, we decided to bail and drove back through Italy. In the Alps, the traffic jams are “tres incroyable”!
What a cracker day though!