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Video blogging the Tour de France - first mountain stage

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For those who missed my post on blogs.marketwatch.com/bambi/... here it is again: Tour de France 2006 - ride from the hotel in Luz St. Sauveur up the Col d' Aubisque and Col de Marie Blanque. On this day, our tour group started in Luz St. Sauveur, a quaint little town in southern France. Marty Jemison begins the video by outlining our ride, which consisted of descending for about 12k, and then climbing for about 18k up the Col d' Aubisque, which is about 2110 meters higher. The first descent was pretty sketchy as it was raining and there were many cars on the road. Additionally, Marty - a former U.S. Postal Service rider with Lance Armstrong and who now runs this tour -- isn't exactly slow. Even though he's put on a few pounds since his racing days, he's still above-average strong. After the descent, we begin the climb. I keep up with Marty for a few miles. Eventually, he and three other fast climbers dropped me! No matter, I enjoyed every bit of it - probably because I couldn't see how much climbing was ahead of me (it was cloudy that day). I made it in good time. Here's a shot of me at the top of Col d' Aubisque. You can see the mountains behind me. We then descended down a winding road (fun!) and headed for the Col de Marie Blanque (category 1 climb with 11% grade), where the pro riders would be descending. As you can see, some of my riding buddies were in rain jackets. It was a bit cold and rainy that morning. The weather can also be very unpredictable there, much like San Francisco. It can be 80 degrees on ground level, and misty and cold enough at the top of the Col de Marie Blanque to wear leg and arm warmers and a several layers. Since we are riding the course of race day, we have to make sure we get through hours before the riders, or the police will not let you on the road. (I learned to dodge the police a lot that week). We don't have much time that day to reach the top, so Marty essentially says, "Every man or woman for himself/herself." We all go on our own to attack the mountain with baguettes in our back pocket for lunch, and warm clothes to put on while waiting on the mountain. I make it up to the top where we're handed red and white polka dot t-shirts that represent the "king of the mountain." Marty makes friends with some men from the Basque region. They offered us pasta and wine. Now how often do you get hot pasta and red wine after a grueling climb! We then descend about 3k and find a spot to watch the racers. Here's where the video of the racers are taken. You'll see that first the caravan starts. About an hour prior to the riders coming through a long parade of floats precedes them. They are floats of the many sponsors of the race. The tradition is that the kids working on the floats throw all sorts of swag - hats, gummy bears, water bottles, sweets, etc. Here's a shot of Gary checking out the latest swag. After several days of the same routine, this kind of gets old. Imagine what those on the float feel like!?! Frenchman Cyril Dessel claimed the yellow jersey at the end of the first mountain stage of the Tour de France, won by Spaniard Juan Miguel Mercado. Later in the week, I'll meet Dessel, after Marty got our group VIP passes to meet the riders at one of the starts.

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