What Turns Your Wheels2nd April 2021
Memories: Raid Pyrenean5th 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.
2021 still remains uncertain. As I type this, we are still waiting for our 2nd Covid vaccinations and
remain unsure as to the travel arrangements for the summer. We don’t know if we will make it to
France. The Tour has a time trial stage not too far from our French house and we would love to
return to Allons-Y-Pyrenees for more fun in the mountains. Only time will tell.
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.
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.