Watch for deer AND cows?  ...only in Italy.

Watch for deer AND cows? ...only in Italy.

Alpe d’Huez -> Tuscany After an action-packed first driving to Alpe d’Huez from Munster, the rain, the cold and the first ascent; the second day was far more relaxing. First climb up Alpe d’Huez in 5 years was a subtle reminder that a) I’m getting older b) that’s one serious climb and c) maybe half a bottle (or more, lost track) of wine the night before my ride (while blogging) isn’t the best way to “carb-up”.

Second day was spent in Bourg d’Oisans looking for essentials like arm-warmers, a gore-tex jacket and the perfect croissant. Of course the bike shop was PACKED full of every person on 2 wheels in the area looking for the same ‘essentials’ given the weather; feeling more like October than July. After deciding there was nothing in my size to buy except a jersey that I hadn’t seen in Canada I made my way back up the mountain (referred to as Dutch Mountain because they have the most wins going up) it was clear that the tour was almost near. With every intention on riding once the weather cleared, I stumbled into a bar and began watching the Tour on television at 12:30... Must have fallen into Tour-fever because I didn’t end up leaving until Stage 18 was over and it was almost dinner time.

Decided to try my luck on a pizza place called Pinocchio’s that got good reviews and then ended up back at Au p’tit Creux for dessert (cheesecake with berries). While having dessert I met a Belgian commentator that had been working every stage since the tour began nearly 3 weeks ago. We chatted and got on well as he recalled the World Championships in Hamilton in 2003. Seems everyone seemed to be speaking English this trip. First night at the restaurant I met a woman that works for team Leopard Trek as the event planner who I overheard speaking English, Italian, Danish and French. At the Pizza place there was an English couple in their 50’s that started up a conversation with me about the Tour which went on forever as we compared our list of Col’s climbed.

Onto the last day at Alpe d’Huez which was an early one as I wanted to get in one more climb before the mayhem and the road closures. I’d heard the previous day from several riders at the bar that there had been some bad accidents with cyclists hitting cars (or visa versa) and cyclists losing control and some serious injuries resulting. As I said before, thousands of people come here each year to ‘climb’ the 21 hairpins but few of them know anything about how to get down the mountain once they reach the summit (read: scary).

Leaving at 9 o’clock after my pre-ride croissant from Florentin it was abundantly clear that with the road closure at 1030, everyone staying near the mountain decided it was time to start making their way up. So you’ve got team cars, officials, spectators walking/driving, the press and a gazillion cyclists riding up Alpe d’Huez all at the same time... chaos.

If there was any kind of hope of trying to climb to set some sort of personal best, forget it. It was a good climb after the first few km’s and I felt WAY better than the first time up but too many people meant nowhere to find open road to ride fast. At this point people were madly painting the roads with their favourite team/rider and “Dutch Corner” had become a circus which is to be expected since it’s ‘their’ mountain. Picture a hundred or more guys that have been camping out in trailers, cars and tents drinking beer incessantly for 3 days leading up to the stage and you have a good idea of what kind of shenanigans go on.

Stage 19 was amazing. Watched a good part of it on TV and then quickly ran out to the nearest roundabout with my camera to catch them 500m from the finish. It was really awesome to watch them climb my favourite climbs, Telegraph and Galibier; knowing exactly where they were on their way up and way down as I watched on TV.

My last dinner had to be at P’tit Creux where I became instantly known as ‘The Canadian or Canadienne” and always had a table for me. While finishing up dinner it was awesome to have the Leopard Trek owners and big wigs celebrating their yellow jersey at the table next to mine and also see some of the people I met the first night. Continuing back to my hotel after dinner I saw team Movistar setting up shop as they did (when they were caisse epargne) 5 years ago when I was there and was fortunate to meet the eventual yellow jersey winner, Oscar Perriero.

With rain in the forecast (for the weekend) in the Alps, I thought it was time to relocate and begin the long drive to Tuscany where I’d find warmer weather and lots of sunshine. After a solid 8 hour drive to Turin, Genova and 600 km later I finally reached my destination, Montalcino. Found a hotel called hotel dei Capitani, got checked in, started tasting some fantastic Brunello’s then had an awesome dinner at one of the local places here.

This morning I woke up, saw how beautiful it was outside and decided to venture out into the beautiful countryside on my bike. Was having an amazing ride, really pushing hard as I passed vineyard after vineyard on my way to Siena. Well, clouds started rolling in; big black rain clouds. Cutting my ride (after noticing fields upon fields of sunflowers turned face down) I thought it would be wise to head back and beat the rain.

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And then it rained. We’re not talking a few drops. This was the biggest rain storm that I had ever ridden in... if Noah had been around I would have asked for an Ark because the run-off on the side of the roads was deeper than my rim and I was a good 20km from the hotel. First thing to get wet was of course my hair, then my back, then my feet, then I was full-on soaked from head to toe (including my ipod/blackberry). I used to love riding in the rain when I was younger but this wasn’t rain, this was a deluge; a torrential downpour of ridiculous proportions. Rain drops were as big as twonies and rain was coming from the side, the back and spraying up from my bike. Awesome. My favourite part however was riding the last 2km on cobblestones and then going down a 12% cobblestone hill to the hotel.

Fortunately I’m now dry. Bike on the other hand is going to need some help as water is in everything (read my nightmare on a trip next to not having it show up at the airport) and my shoes are completely waterlogged.

I swear this rain is following me. I’ve been dodging it since I arrived in Europe. Honestly, it’s actually been a miracle that this is the first time that I got caught. Looking on the bright side (which doesn’t come natural so I’m reaching here), it’s better to have been caught in 25C then 10C temperature.

Terminal velocity, Mr Happy and a day without wine

Terminal velocity, Mr Happy and a day without wine

Munster to the French Alps - the journey continues...