Waiting for Pinot (and Quintana) during an epic stage of the 2015 Tour de France on Alpe d’Huez

(#01 – Top 10 Highlights from 2015 Tour de Travoy) The photo above shows Nairo Quintana as he sped past us on Stage 20 of the Tour de France about 4.5 km from the summit of Alpe d’Huez. Earlier, we had watched enthralled as Quintana kept attacking Chris Froome at the start of the climb. On his third attack, he managed to get a gap and by the time he went past us had a lead of over a minute on Chris Froome. He only needed another minute or so to overtake Froome in the battle for the Yellow Jersey and considering the speed he cycled past us at, it certainly looked possible. But Froome recovered in the last few kms of the climb and did enough to limit his losses. In the end, Quintana’s valiant attack wasn’t enough to win the Tour de France but it made what had been an exciting day even more memorable.

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About 150 km traveled today from Grenoble to Alpe d’Huez and back. Our day had started at about 6 o’clock in the morning at a hotel in Grenoble. But this morning was no ordinary morning as today was Alpe d’Huez day, a day I had been looking forward to all year. The plan was for us to drive about 70 km from Grenoble to as near to the finish at Alpe d’Huez as possible and park our car on a side road in and around the ski-resort. This would give us an opportunity to both see the race and also go to the presentation afterwards.

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Bike and cycle gear all washed and cleaned and ready for the day ahead. Today, I was like a kid on Christmas morning and was up before 6 to get the bike and all my gear ready for the day ahead. By getting to Alpe d’Huez as early as possible, we would have time to take some photos and have a bite to eat. I would then have time to descend down the climb on my bike and try and cycle back to the top before the cavalcade arrived at around 3.

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Sign saying that the road up to the Croix de Fer was closed. We left the hotel before 8 and it took about an hour’s drive to get to the foot of Alpe d’Huez. On the way, we passed a sign saying the road up to the Col du Croix de Fer was closed due to the Tour de France.

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Road was closed at Bourg d’Oisans. Approaching Bourg d’Oisans, the main road to the left was closed off and we were directed into the town.

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D211 to Alpe d’Huez was still open. We didn’t need to look for any signs to Alpe d’Huez; we just followed all the cyclists.

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Start of climb to summit of Alpe d’Huez. The line across the road is the official Chrono start of the climb. It is 13.8 km from here to the finish-line for all the cyclists in today’s stage.

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Best vantage point on Alpe d’Huez. This fan looked very comfortable in his hammock and had a great spot to see the race go by. Notice the sign which says that the road had been closed overnight for the last 3 nights.

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Barrier along left hand side. From the bottom of the climb to Turn 20, there was a barrier on the left-hand side for people to walk up the climb. However, the barrier made the road very narrow for cars to pass each other.

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First hairpin on Alpe d’Huez. At Turn 21, we passed these Dutch fans with cargo bikes.

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Little girl in blue top looked a bit fed up. This little girl in the blue top on the right-hand side of the photo was the only person I saw that looked like they would rather have been somewhere else today. Perhaps, she had spent all week on the side of a mountain in a camper-van and was a bit fed up at this stage.

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 German fans on Alpe d’Huez. Turn 20 looked like German corner for the day.

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Between Turns 19 and 20 on Alpe d’Huez. We had only been climbing for 2 km and already were above the cloud-line.

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Not many people at Turn 19 on Alpe d’Huez. Turn 19 like Turn 21 was very quiet as I guess the view is better from other places on the Alpe.

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Much easier to get up the Alpe on a tandem. There were loads of cyclists going up the Alpe at the same time as us and even a few tandems.

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The car ahead is a Volvo. Toyota have a slogan “The car ahead is a Toyota”. Well, on Alpe d’Huez, the car ahead of us was a Volvo. We were behind this Dutch Volvo the whole way up the mountain from Turn 21. With cyclists and cars also coming down the Alpe, at times it was impossible to overtake.

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Follow that car. You know the classic scene in a movie when someone jumps into a taxi-cab and says “Follow that car”. Well, all I kept saying to Noel all the way up Alpe d’Huez was “Follow that car”. We copied every move the Volvo made on the way up the hill. When the Volvo overtook, we overtook. When the Volvo stayed in, we also stayed in

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Turn 15 on Alpe d’Huez. From Turn 15 onwards, the crowds of cyclists and hikers got thinner.

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The Dutch were out in force on Alpe d’Huez. The further up the mountain we went, the more Dutch fans we came across.

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Turn 14 on Alpe d’Huez. Turn 14 was obviously the Welsh corner.

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At times it was hard to keep up with the Volvo. As the crowds got lighter, the Volvo started to speed up.

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Skiset billboard near Turn 13 on Alpe d’Huez. The skiset billboard is a famous landmark on the climb up the Alpe. I have Tacx trainer videos of Alpe d’Huez from 2007, 2010 and 2014 and the Skiset billboard is on all 3 of them.

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Turn 13 on Alpe d’Huez. At Turn 13, there was quite a few cyclists stopped for a breather and to take in the view.

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Rollerskating up Alpe d’Huez. We even came across someone going up Alpe d’Huez on a set of roller blades

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Irish corner on Alpe d’Huez. Turn 10 is Irish corner and there were quite a few deckchairs laid out when we went past, 7 hours before the race was due to go past.

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Turn 9 on Alpe d’Huez. By the time we got to Turn 9, we were well above the clouds in the valley below.

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Colombian flag on top of a Renault Clio. The Colombians were here to cheer on Quintana.

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Campervan with chock-blocks. Alpe d’Huez is so steep some of the campervans had chock-blocks to stop them rolling down the hill.

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Turn 8 on Alpe d’Huez. When we say the guard, we thought we might get stopped but he just waved us through.

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Turn 7 is Dutch corner. We were behind the cyclist with the Astana kit at Turn 21, overtook him just after Turn 19 but he caught up with us again at Turn 7.

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Dutch corner from above. Here is the view from a helicopter looking down on Dutch corner and the hairpins below it.

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Turn 6 on Alpe d’Huez. These kids had ringside seats to one of the biggest fights of the year. Why pay $10,000 to see Mayweather fight Pacquiao in Las Vegas when you can watch Froome slug it out with Quintana on Alpe d’Huez for free.

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Dutch flag near Turn 5. The Dutch were all over the mountain not just at Dutch Corner.

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Banner at 5 km to go to finish. I don’t remember seeing any banners at 10 km to go like on other climbs and there were certainly none at 9, 8, 7, or 6 km to go. Perhaps, they are not needed on Alpe d’Huez as every cyclist knows the climb well and they can also countdown the hairpins all the way to the top.

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Not easy to write on the road due to the crowds. Compared to 1992, there was less writing on the road even though there was maybe 5 times the crowd. But I guess it is hard to write anything on the road with the hordes of cars and cyclists going past.

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Rafa Majka fan’s car near Turn 4. The Poles were out in force too cheering on Rafa Majka.

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Turn 4 on Alpe d’Huez. Turn 4 was the last hairpin we went past as all cars were being diverted onto the Col de Sarenne road before Turn 3. Only cyclists were being allowed up the main road between Turns 3 and 1.

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Flower basket on sign fior Alpe d’Huez. After over an hour, in which we had only traveled 14 km, we made it to the ski resort of Alpe d’Huez.

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Guard directing traffic. All cars were being directed into a multi-storey car park which was free for the day.

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Inside the multi-storey car park. The car-park was quite full but we managed to get a space on Level 2. We stayed in the car-park for about half an hour after parking the car to get a bite to eat and to assemble my bike. For 15 minutes, a car went past us every minute and then all of a sudden the flow of cars stopped and we realized that the police had closed the road and that we had only made it up just in time.

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Ski resort of Alpe d’Huez. With 6 hours to kill before the race, we decided to head into town towards the finish and to where we had camped in 1992.

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Photo op at the 200m to go sign. In 1992, there was a big screen set up about 200m from the finish-line and we watched the race until about an hour before the finish. This year, the big screen was set up in more or less the same place but we were so early, the stage hadn’t even started in Modane yet and there was nothing being shown on TV. The biggest difference was that in 1992, there was maybe a hundred people at the finish 6 hours before the race whereas today, the finish area was mobbed with thousands of people.

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Photo of me and Noel with the Alpe d’Huez finishline in the background. The tall cyclist to my left in the previous photo was an Aussie and he kindly offered to take a photo of me and Noel with the finishline in the background.

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Noel chatting with the Aussie cyclists. The Aussie was with a group of cyclists on a package tour and in return, Noel took some photos of them with a huge Australian flag.

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Noel with Greg Lemond’s car. Greg Lemond is working these days as a pundit on Eurosport and while we didn’t get to see him, we did come across his car.

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Queue for ski-lift down to the village of Huez. You can get a ski-lift down to the village of Huez about 5 km away. Even Superman, Spiderman, Captain America and Batman were taking advantage of the lift

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One last photo before I set off to climb Alpe d’Huez. At this point, I bid adieu to Noel as I planned to go down to the bottom of the climb and climb back up. But trying to get down was difficult with all the cyclists and some official vehicles coming up the hill. Then, on the way down, I broke my sunglasses when wiping my eye and I had to pull into the side of the road to try and repair them. It was now after 1 and with the cavalcade due about 3, I didn’t think I had enough time to go to the bottom and climb back up. We had already agreed to come back to Bourg d’Oisans on Sunday so I could attempt the climb with a lot less traffic. There was no point in trying to climb Alpe d’Huez on both Saturday and Sunday, so I decided to turn around and go back to the finish.

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Bag of stuff from the Tour de France cavalcade. I met up with Noel about 4.5 km from the finish and we decided to wait there for the race. Within an hour, the cavalcade started and as it was near the end of the stage, a pile of merchandise was being chucked out at the crowd. I was running around like a madman trying to get as much stuff as I could as today was last chance saloon. I managed to get 3 bags, 3 Carrefour hats, 3 keyrings, 1 madeleine and other bits and pieces. Festina is the last convoy on the cavalcade and I was determined to get one of their hats but no matter how much I ran after all their trucks I couldn’t catch one. But I was fortunate as another spectator noticed my disappointment at missing out and kindly gave me one of the hats they had caught. That hat now has pride of place in my collection of swag from Tour de France 2015.

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Screenshot from Eurosport of Lac du Verney near Allemond.  After the cavalcade had passed, I connected a digital tuner to my laptop and was able to tune in French TV. French digital TV is the same signal as Irish digital TV but I was amazed how strong the signal was halfway up a mountain in the French Alps. I was also surprised how few of the other spectators were listening to radios or watching on small TV’s while they were waiting; perhaps they were getting updates on their phones. The riders were already going past the Lac du Verney near Allemond and would soon be at the Alpe.

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The steepest parts of Alpe d’Huez are coloured black in this screenshot. The picture on the screen was poor due to the glare from the sun but I could make out a lone rider, Alexander Geniez, was leading, about 4 minutes ahead of the peloton. Geniez was still first at the foot of the climb, but his lead was down to a minute.

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Nibali puntured on the approach road to Alpe d’Huez. Meanwhile, last year’s winner, Vincenzo Nibali had punctured and had to wait for a spare wheel.

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First Pinot and then Hesjedal caught the leader. Ryder Hesjedal attacked along with Thibaut Pinot from the breakaway and they caught Geniez with about 8.8 km to go.

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Quintana attacked at bottom of the climb. We were able to watch as 3 times Quintana attacked once the climb of Alpe d’Huez started.

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Quintana escaped from the peloton about 10 km from the finish. It was only on the third attempt,with some help from Alessandro Valverde, that he managed to get away from Froome.

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Pinot then attacked Heysedal just before Dutch corner. With Quintana approaching fast, Pinot went on the attack.

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Quintana and Anacona at Dutch corner. By the time Quintana got to Dutch corner, Valverde had been dropped and he was getting help from his team-mate Winner Anacona, who had been in the early breakaway.

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Froome and Valverde at Dutch corner. Froome was losing 10 secs a km to Quintana and his lead overall was now only 2 minutes.

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Pinot with 5 km to go to the finish. When Pinot was going past the 5 km to go banner, we decided to stop watching TV and go down to the roadside to see the riders go by.

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Pinot flew past us despite the 10% gradient. Pinot later put his ride up on Strava but here is a shot of him going past us.

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Hesjedal was next 23 seconds after Pinot. He eventually finished 41 secs behind.

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Then came Quintana, going like a train, 45 seconds behind Pinot. At the finish, he was 18 seconds behind Pinot, so gained 27 secs in the last 4.5 km.

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After Winner Anacona, Richie Porte and Chris Froome were next on the road. They were 98 seconds behind Pinot and 53 seconds behind Quintana when they went past us. Froome was still 98 secs behind Pinot and 80 secs behind Quintana at the finish so lost another 27 secs to Nairo in the last 4.5 km.

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Maybe the last time on Alpe d’Huez for Alberto Contador. About a minute behind Froome, Contador went past in a group being led by Vincenzo Nibali.

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Romain Bardet. About 30 seconds behind them came Romain Bardet in the King of the Mountains jersey.

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Dan Martin not as good in the Alps as he was in the Pyrenees. About a minute after him, Dan Martin and Andrew Talansky went by.

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Action camera on Simon Geschke’s bike. Simon Geschke had won the stage to Pra-Loup on Wednesday but he was well behind the leader’s on today’s stage. Notice the Shimano camera on his bike though; I am sure he got some great footage today.

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Noel shouting encouragement on Alpe d’Huez. This photo reminds of one I took in 1992 of Noel on Alpe d’Huez. That year, we were about 1.2 km from the finish as the barriers only went down the road for 1 km. Now there are barriers for the last 4 km.

Noel with an Irish flag draped across him on Alpe d'Huez in 1992

Noel with an Irish flag draped across him on Alpe d’Huez in 1992. Back then, there was no such thing as digital cameras and I only took about a dozen photos all day. Today, I took about 500 photos and also about 50 videos.

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Gruppetto on Alpe d’Huez. About half an hour after the leaders, the gruppetto went by with the last of the cyclists on the road.

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Thibaut Pinot wins Stage 20 to the summit of Alpe d’Huez. By the time the grupetto had went past us, Pinot had long since crossed the finish-line.

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Pinot was followed home by Don Nairo. Quintana’s time for the whole climb was 39.22, Froome took 40.42 and Pinot 41.16.

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Valverde outsprinted Froome for fourth. Movistar had landed blow after blow on Froome but they weren’t able to knock him out and he just done enough today to hold onto his overall lead and win his 2nd Tour de France..

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Results from today’s stage and the general classification. Froome did enough today to win the Tour by just over a minute overall. It was been the closest Tour de France in a long time and had Quintana not lost 2 minutes due to cross-winds on Stage 2 in Belgium, he may well have won the Tour de France overall. In 1992, myself and Noel were privileged to witness one of the greatest solo attacks ever when Claudio Chiapucci won in Sestriere and this year, we got to see an incredible battle between Quintana and Froome on the slopes of Alpe d’Huez for the Yellow Jersey.

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The weekend’s racing is already part of Tour de France folklore. Matt Rendall, the journalist, who now works for ITV,  has been covering cycling for 20, 30 years and is someone who has been to more races than I’ve had hot dinners and he tweeted that the weekend’s action was the most exciting he had ever experienced. Noel, who hasn’t been to a bike race since 1992, couldn’t have picked a better weekend’s racing to watch in the last 20 years. I had cycled over 1,000 km just to get this far and at one stage, almost collapsed from heat stroke. Noel had to endure a round-trip of over 3,000 km in just a few days by car and plane. We had spent 6 months organizing this trip and it could not have gone any better. Getting to see one of the most memorable stages ever on Alpe d’Huez made all that time and effort just to get to the Alpe worthwhile. On May the 2nd 2015, Floyd Mayweather Jr  had fought Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas in what was dubbed the “Fight of the Century”.  However, it proved to be a pale imitation of the real “Fight of the Century” in 1971 between Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier, the so called “Thrilla in Manila”. The battle between Froome and Quintana on Alpe d’Huez truly was another thrilla and unlike those at the Mayweather – Pacquiao fight in Las Vegas, everyone on Alpe d’Huez had a ringside seat to what was the real fight of the year and a contender for cycling’s “Fight of the Century”.

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