Photographs from my holiday in Lourdes, France, July 2005
Tuesday 19 July - Tour de France Stage 16: Mourenx > Pau
It was another beautiful sunny day and I decided set off early and go for a ride up to Luz Ardiden before returning to watch the Tour stage that ran between Mourenx and Pau today, via the short but steep Col de Marie-Blanque, the massive Col d'Aubisque, and the very unimposing (from the western side) Col du Soulor. Despite the sunny weather it was much cooler today, but by mid morning I was climbing the road to Luz Ardiden and warming up very quickly.
I stayed at the top of the mountain only long enough to take a few photos and to take a photo for a group of about 7 elderly Basque men. They'd brought the ashes of a recently deceased friend to the top of the mountain where they would 'lay him to rest'. They emptied the ashes into a Basque flag that they all had a hold of, then on a count of 3, they all flung the ashes into the air, which I photographed for them. It was one of the more unusual but memorable things I've been asked to do recently.
After stopping for some much needed food at Luz st Sauveur at the foot of Luz Ardiden, I started off to join the hordes or people making their way up the Col du Soulor to watch the race. I stopped again at Arrens, about half way up the climb, for a dose of Haribo and Coke to boost my blood-sugar level.
Wednesday 20 July - Tour de France Stage 17: Pau > Revel
Today I went to Pau to watch the stage start since I thought the race would stay mostly together with not much action happening until quite late in the stage, and I didn't fancy the idea of travelling a long distance. Also it would give me a chance to climb the Col de Marie-Blanque after watching the stage.
From the eastern side, the Col de Marie-Blanque is a fairly innocuous climb. The first few kilometres start off at around 8% like most other climbs, but after about 5 km, the road starts to flatten out and the remainder of the climb is quite easy. In fact one of the kilometre sections has an average gradient of 0%. The other side is another matter though! The first 5 km of the descent into the pretty but very quite and sleepy village of Escot is very fast. A speed of 85 - 90 km/h is easy to reach as the average gradient for each kilometre is between 11% and 13% and there are no sharp corners where you need to use the brakes, but the thought that the road is open to other traffic eg. bloody camper vans, keeps crossing my mind! All the way down I was dreading the return climb but was just hoping I'd find a shop in Escot where I could get a sugar hit of Haribo and Coke. Unfortunately there was no sign of any shop and with only about 2 mouthfuls of water left I headed back up the return climb. It was as difficult as I expected, especially with today being about the hottest day so far, the temperature soaring well above 30°C.
There was a lot of painting on the road, probably put there when the Tour had passed through the previous day. Apparently our British Eurosport commentator David Duffield had some admirers there as at one point somebody has painted "Duffers Rox" on the road. There are also a lot of allegations that Lance Armstrong has been taking certain illegal performance-enhancing substances as well as slogans like "Go Lance, go home". Oh well, everybody's entitled to their opinion I suppose...