What Turns Your Wheels
2nd April 2021
Memories: Raid Pyrenean
5th May 2022

What Turns Your Wheels?

We're continuing our new feature for our next few blogs. We have asked some of our previous guests to contribute to a series of guest blogs about their experiences in the world of cycling. Some have chosen to tell the story of their cycling journey, others have focussed on just one of their amazing adventures, but all of them are fantastically motivating reads, and I hope you enjoy them as much as we have!

Today's feature blog is by Nikki Pearson who writes about the greatest bike race in the world... Enjoy!

My first experience of spectating at a professional cycle race was a damp and chilly morning in Carlisle for the start of a stage of the 2012 Tour of Britain. Because it was so cold riders stayed in their buses and the man I had come to see, Mark Cavendish, arrived to sign on just a few minutes before the start. We saw the riders set off and, following a quick dash up a back street, we saw the peloton hurtle past at full speed as they left the city and headed for the hills. At least we were able to see them racing, which was more than we had seen at Kendal the previous year when high winds meant the event was cancelled and the riders just did a short lap of the town to entertain the crowds. I did chat to the soigneur for HTC Columbia (Cavendish’s team at the time) and he gave me a full bidon that had been prepared for the riders and would now not be used. He said it was Mark’s and it tasted disgusting.

As for the Tour de France, I had watched it on the television for several years. It taught me about how professional cycle racing works and I enjoyed the amazing French scenery. I was entertained by the likes of Fabian Cancellarra, Jens Voigt, Tommy Voeckler and the man who turned out to be a cheat, Lance Armstrong. I was amazed by the crowds of people who lined the route and wondered if I would ever be able to join their ranks.

As for the Tour de France, I had watched it on the television for several years. It taught me about how professional cycle racing works and I enjoyed the amazing French scenery.

It was 2013 when my dream started to come true. We signed up for a VIP package for the final stage of the Tour, Versailles to Paris. We were taken to the start and had access to ‘the village’. I nearly got run over by Alberto Contador as he was parking up his bike. He asked my hubby to keep an eye on it as he disappeared off to shake hands with someone important. After the start we were driven along the route into Paris waving at all the fans lining the roads. We had another VIP compound on the Place de Concorde with more champagne and a good view of the final laps. A big screen enabled us to see Chris Froome pass the finish line to win. We were able to make our way to the Sky bus where the team were celebrating and I was able to stand next to a young man called Geraint Thomas. He had completed the race despite fracturing his pelvis in the opening stage and was now my hero.

The following year the race started in the U.K. and we went to London for the stage 3 finish. We found a spot opposite Buckingham Place and got a good view of the race. It was to be a year when the Tour de France cost us a lot of money. A good friend with a house in the Dordogne said they had been notified that the road at the bottom of their lane was to be closed one day that summer for a bike race. We had not been to visit them in France before, but they were happy to welcome us for the weekend this ‘bike race’ was in the neighbourhood. We not only stood at the end of their drive and shouted at the caravan to throw Tour tat in our direction, but also walked the 5kms to the next village to watch the cyclists climb a hill. It was pouring with rain but our spirits were not daunted as I cheered Geraint Thomas as he passed within just a few inches of me on the other side of the barrier. The next day stage 20, a time trial, was starting in the nearby town of Bergerac, so we spent the day there watching riders leave the starting ramp. Hubby was interested in the bikes, I found the view quite entertaining too. Our visit to the Dordogne was an enjoyable one, and not just because of the tour, the scenery is breathtaking and the way of life a delight. We returned the next year and ended up buying a house.

2017 and the Tour was back in Bergerac for stage 10 and so were we. It was less than an hour’s drive from our French home, so we felt like locals. I had another near miss with a pro-cyclist as the AG2R team were riding back to their hotel, it was Romain Bardet who nearly ran me over this time. They had just completed a transition stage of 178kms and there was not a bead of sweat on any of them.
In 2018 the race was nowhere near us so we needed to come up with a plan. Seeing the riders go uphill makes for great spectating, they don’t go so fast and you can really see them working hard. The Category 4 climb, where I was close to Geraint in the rain, doesn’t really count, I have ridden up it several times so I am sure it was just a bump in the road to the pros, they certainly weren’t going very slow. We needed to get to the mountains. Allons-Y-Pyrenees were advertising a weeklong tour break, 4 days viewing the tour and a chance to ride some of the routes. I was a little apprehensive about the booking as I am not a great cyclist. Don’t get me wrong, I love riding my bike, but at my pace and preferably on the flat. I need not have worried; we were well looked after and had a fabulous time. The first stage Chris and Rachel took us to was the stage 16 finish in the very pretty town of Bagnères-de-Luchon in the middle of the mountains. We found a great spot by the barriers and a huge TV screen. We sat for hours, entertained by the passing caravan and the race unfolding on the TV. A few things happened: protesting farmers on the route dispersed by tear gas, which then affected some riders; race neutralised so they could see again; breakaway by Phillips Gilbert who then crashed on a descent (dramatic sharp intake of breath as he disappeared over a wall followed by cheers as he reappeared - he finished but did not start the next day due to broken knee cap; Yates took over the lead and also crashed leaving the French hero Alaphillipe to win. Worth standing by the tv screen as it all unfolded. We even managed to buy some Tour souvenirs (to sit on and to keep off a rather cheeky shower). We had a great view of the riders coming in to the finish, all in all, a great day out.

For the next stage we needed our bikes. It was a short stage comprising of three mountain climbs. We were planning to ride to the top of the middle climb, Col d’Azet. Chris and Rachel looked after us well, supplying us with drink and food, Chris managed the climb with a huge rucksack on his back to ensure we had provisions for the full day. I had told the rest of the team not to worry about me, I was not sure I would make it to the top. However, I was a big girl, had food and drink and could look after myself. I made it about half way and then joined a group standing by a union flag on a hairpin bend. The view of the race was amazing, the riders were going slow enough for me to really appreciate the effort they were making. Hubby says they had a great time at the top too, able to see riders coming over the previous climb in the distance. I managed to ride the descent when it was all over and rejoin my group for the drive home, another great day.

Day 3 we went to see the stage start in a nearby town, Trie-sur-Baïse. Lots of excitement as my man Geraint was in yellow! We gathered around the podium to watch the riders sign on. I had got myself in the front row, prime position in the middle of the stage. The Sky team were presented with goodie bags and Geraint turned to the crowd to hand his over to someone. I waved my arms to attract his attention, he walked towards me and bent down, I held my breath as he reached forward and then he handed it to the little boy who was stood next to me. Ah well can’t win them all, but Geraint did win the Tour! Our final day at the tour was the big one, the route was going up the Col de Tourmalet. Now that is a mountain well out of my league. Rachel and I opted for another day spectating on foot alongside the road in a little village with no barriers. Goodness me, those cyclists come close! Chris, Hubby and the others cycled over to the mountain and enjoyed their viewing from there. The rest of the week was spent enjoying the scenery and riding some wonderful routes under the careful guidance of Chris. I did make it up a Col (albeit a little one) and I’m sure my cycling improved a great deal as a result. Hubby cycled up the Tourmalet, of course!
2020 was a strange year on lots of levels. However, the Tour of France did take place and we were able to be there. We had managed to make it to our French house and as the Tour dates were later in the year, we decided to head back to our lovely new friends at Allons-Y-Pyrenees for a socially distanced weekend at the Tour. We wore masks, we stood apart from other spectators and we had a fantastic time. Firstly, on a corner coming up a hill to the finish next to the beautiful Lac-de-Genos-Loudenvielle, and on the second day in the village of Artiguelouve with a bar serving drinks and food right on the route so we could relax with refreshments while we waited. We even got a close look at the helicopters that were parked on the edge of the village, we were able to see them take off after the riders went through. Rachel and Chris did an amazing job making sure we had the most wonderful time. They got us just where we needed to be so we could enjoy the sight and sounds of the tour in all its glory.

Allons y Pyrenees have a Tour Week planned for July this year and at least 3 local stages to view. If you’d like to experience it with us, get in touch today.

If you're thinking about booking a cycling holiday in France, then here's what you need to know.

We can't wait to welcome guests back to Allons-y-Pyrenees, and are looking forward to lots of new adventures.

Make sure you follow us on Facebook @allonsycycling to stay up to date with all of our current news and offers!

Want to find out more about our Tour adventures? Check out our blog post here.

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