Thursday, July 22, 2010

And we're back...

So... Greetings from the world's smallest hotel room... Literally, we have 2 single beds, 2 bikes, 2 bags, a bathroom... and our handlebars hang over our beds. So much for the wonderful spacious rooms we had the first 2 nights. This brings new meaning to the phrase "Close quarters"... especially for this couple! ;-)

The story of the past four days has included many ups and downs both "geographically" and emotionally.  We have been happy, we have been sad... we have laughed, we have cried... we have been in beautiful sunshiny mountains and farmland where it was pissing rain.

We have met some amazing new friends, pissed off some old friends (that would be Bo pissing off others... no surprises there), and we've learned that Lourdes sucks, Pau ROCKS, the mountain is THE BOSS... And pro tour riders are almost every one of them good guys... Yes even Cavendish whom Nikki was able to score a couple photos with and get his autograph.

Long story short... following the Tour de France is a full-time job and we have honestly meant to provide more updates but haven't had the chance (ie: we've been exhausted and sleeping).

In spite of a poorly run "guided" (in the loosest send of the world) tour, we are having the time of our lives.

A quick note about today... (we'll catch you up on previous days later)... We caught the start of today's queen stage in Pau due to the awful (pissing rain) on the Tourmalet.  All the buses were accessible to tourists, as were many of the riders.  Courtney and Nikki hung out at the HTC-Columbia bus to meet the likes of Eric Zabel (won more green jerseys than anyone in history), Mick Rogers, Tony Martin, Bernie Eisel, Mark Cavendish, and others.  They even gave us water bottles which we had them sign.

Mick Rogers
(more pictures to come from a guy who ended up taking great pix of Nikki & Courtney w/ his super nice camera and promises to email them to us!!)

 Cav's Bike... crazy huge stem... and the marks on the top tube are for each of his stages wins so far in this year's tour <-- The HTC folks were SOOOO nice... you could walk right up to any bike and check it out... and pretty much do anything but sit on it! While other teams (like Rabobank pictured below) kept everyone away from their bus and bikes.

We also caught George on his way to the start and grabbed a photo (We could only download the pix from the iPhone... the pic w/ George and all the others are on our "real" camera... to which Bo forgot the cord to connect it to the computer for downloads)... Court & Nik were also in their "Io non sono Ted King" shirts so the Cervelo guys got a picture of them to send to Ted King... to prove they aren't him!  Nikki spoke a little Italian with Alessandro Ballan and got a photo with him... and then Bo and Nikki hung out with Allen Lim... aka "The Mad Scientist" for a little while at the Radioshack bus and he gave them hats and a water bottle <-- Crazy nice guy!  We gave him tips for where to eat when Team Radioshack shows up to the US Pro Nats this year!  He mentioned he hopes the entire team (US riders of course) come... and we do too!!!! (Also saw Lance and his entire fam.)
While Courtney and Nikki were hanging w/ the HTC boys, Bo was reaching out and giving a pat on the back to all his favorites like Thor Hushovd, Ivan Basso, Fabian Cancellara, Andy Schleck, Chris Horner, Big George, Wiggo, Juan Antonio Flecha, Silvain Chavenel, Christoph Moreau, Cadel Evans, and of course a completely bandage covered Jens Voigt... who responded with (in a perfect Arnold Schwarzenegger voice), "Don't touch anything, it all HURTS!"  To which Bo apologized and Jens said, "Eeeets Okay."

More later but we've got to get ready for dinner and figure out what's in store for tomorrow... either we hit the feed station for a sprinters' stage, or we climb the Tourmalet (too cold, wet, and foggy today... not to mention the million people on the way up it!!)

Au revoir for now!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Chateroux to Toulouse

7/18/10 Post 1 – On the Road from Chateroux to Toulouse

So, I’m (Bo) sitting here in the bus on day 2 of this trip trying to get some thoughts down. Jeff Buckley is on the ipod, and the French country side (complete with hay bails straight out of a Monet painting) rolling by. The sun is shining, and we’ll be able to ride our bikes soon.

Life is good.

So, about yesterday. Nikki and I had a perfectly uneventful trip from GSP to CDG. (Big thanks to Matt at the USAirways check in desk for putting our suitcases and bike boxes on priority status). We have a super comfy flight on an Airbus over the Atlantic that took off an hour late but only landed 30 minutes late. After navigating our way though the bowl of spaghetti with meatballs that is Charles de Gaulle airport and finding the correct baggage claim carousel, we had all our stuff. (side note: here is where priority status really helped. Our bike boxes were brought right up to the carousel no problem while about 5 or 6 guys on a separate trip from us looked like they were going to have a bit of a wait before they got their stuff). No probs with immigration, and, as luck would have it, we had come in to Terminal 1, where the buses would be waiting for the group.  Wouldn’t you know it, right when we got to the exit on our itinerary, up pulls the bus, right on schedule. All we had to do was to wait for the big group from Atlanta to arrive an hour later and make their way over from Terminal 2 and we’d be off. All was going according to plan.

 One of our Bike Trailers

Then, everything went wrong.

In spite of the fact that all the documentation that we all had instructed us to one location, (Terminal 1), most of the big group from Atlanta was told to hang tight in Terminal 2 while a couple of people made there way over to Terminal 1 to drag the buses over to Terminal 2.  Only one problem: we had been waiting a while, and Nikki went to the tram to see if she could help out with people making their way, bike boxes and all, between the two locations. So Nikki had headed that way (or so I thought) and, after bit of haggling, the buses headed over to Terminal 2, where the big group was waiting.

At this point, the wheels came flying off: Nikki wasn’t there, nor were four others from the big group, who hadn’t gotten the memo about sitting tight in Terminal 2 and were actually doing what they were supposed to be doing. So, now my wife was lost (I had yet to find out about the quartet making their way to the appropriate location), and the buses weren’t going back to Terminal 1. The two buses left to take people to a Paris hotel where we were set to unpack, build up the bikes and have lunch before re-loading and heading south. One was coming back to pick up the rest of the group who were coming in on a later flight.

So, I was left to grab our rucksacks and head BACK to Terminal 1 to hopefully find my lost wife (no cell phones.) I finally got there and found Nikki with the quartet of lost souls who, again, had actually followed instructions, and we turned them around to get back to Terminal 2, where the second bus would be returning in about 3 hours. I have no idea what these people would have done had Nikki not found them. They had no other way of knowing where the bus would be going.  A little advice to you travelers out there: if it’s a group trip STICK TO THE ITINERARY. Without cell phones, there’s no way to keep things coordinated on the fly. It was only by sheer luck that several people weren’t left out in the cold not knowing what to do.

Needless to say, we were all pretty cheesed off at this point. In spite of being the first to arrive, we’d be the last to actually leave the airport. Airports suck in general, but let me go ahead and say that CDG sucks more than most. So, we just buckled down and played the waiting game.

Then, Providence intervened.

Literally out of the clear blue sky, I looked up and saw somebody I hadn’t seen in 6 years. Tamer Shafik, a close friend form Egypt who went to grad school with us, was sitting there with his wife and three kids. We haven’t seen the guy since we graduated, so, when I yelled his name, he just kind of stared through me, not know who this yahoo yelling at him was. Anyway, after convincing him that I wasn’t a lunatic trying to rob him, he realized who I was, and there was much smiling and hugging to go around. We got to meet his wife and kids, whom we had only heard about before, snapped a pic and traded info and wished each other good travels.

That made the fiasco all worth it…

The bus finally showed up, and, six hours after arriving in CDG, we were release from the spaghetti prison and made our way to the hotel. Upon arrival, we built our bikes up., NASCAR style, tossed them back in the trailer and headed out.

By the way, still no shower. Somebody was starting to get a little funky, and his name was Bo.

Anyway, we had a couple of hours to ride down to Chateroux, where we were bunking for the night at a Best Western, which, oddly enough, was REALLY nice. Mr. Funky (me) took a LOOOOONG hot shower, and all was right again in the world. We had a nice dinner and some wine to ease the pain of the journey, and crashed nice and hard.

We’re now rolling down the road to Toulouse, as stated above. The Jeff Buckley album is done and I’ve moved on to Leonard Cohen. Hopefully we’ll be able to get this uploaded once we get to our next stop. We’re looking forward to a little spin on the bikes this afternoon and some local NOMs tonight. Everybody’s doing well, and hopefully the logistical problems are mostly behind us (knock on wood).

(segue into later today)

The drive today was filled with panoramic views of the rolling hills leading to the Pyrenees... your stereotypical fields of sunflowers, old villages, churches, farms... and we enjoyed it... the first couple of hours.  And eventually we (Nikki narrating now) made it to Toulouse... after having some mechanical troubles... let's just say, nothing like getting woken on by a stopped bus to find that you're not taking your "driver must take a 15-45 min break every few hours" stop at a Service Station, but because the bus is refusing to cooperate and we're stuck in the middle of an interstate.  That would be because the gear box overheated.  So... here we are... on our way to our destination where we're promised a nice ride in the countryside... only to move one 1/2 kilometer at a time before the bus shuts down again.  Thankfully we krept our way to a service station where the other bus was already having their aforementioned driver break/lunch where the driver and tour director proceeded to chat with the owner of the tour company about how in the world to make it to Toulouse today.  Luckily we were only 180 kilometers away.  Eventually 1 1/2 hours after arriving on the station, we continued on for another 1 1/2 hours before it overheated again.  Then... we took another break at a rest area... 15 minutes later we were on the road again... to stop 1 last time not even 1 kilometer from the hotel.  This time we soldiered on... some of us volunteered to push the bus... Patrick was going to help it along like he does often times for Lisa and I up the mountains back home... but it begrudgingly made it the last few meters to the Novotel.

Toulouse is the Capital of the Midi-Pyrenees Region... a rather large city, and very pretty.  Much of the city has canals through it lined with beautiful trees... many Places (think Piazzas/Plazas) and filled with people riding bikes.  They have bike rental stations throughout the town and you see people everywhere riding bikes.  They are similar to the hourly rental cars you can grab around cities like DC.   

Once again our hotel tonight is great! Very modern, internet, nice bathrooms, nice rooms, you name it, it's got it.  And surprisingly enough the rooms are SPACIOUS!  Well, for European standards that is... I'm completely impressed.

Everyone was dying to get a ride in today so we all got our bikes ready, kitted up and headed out around 5 in the afternoon with 40+ American riders.  Let's just say, just because we're in France, doesn't mean Americans are going to stay in the ubiquitous bike lanes.  After blocking cars, taking a few wrong turns, and one group even caused a fender bender in a roundabout, the Greenville Crew, aka The Cool Kids (Patrick, Lisa, Courtney, John, Bo, Philip - Court's kick butt French Canadian buddy from Atlanta, Mark - adopted Cool Kid from Laguna Beach, & I) headed back to the Hotel to get away from the craziness!  And it was great.  We found the hotel with no issues... and Bo and I decided we'd had enough logistical issues for a lifetime much less the past 48 hours and headed to dinner.  The rest of the Cool Kids kept going.

one of our many wrong turns earlier took us by the main Place du Capitole - Capital Building.  It was a beautiful plaza with lots of cafes and people strolling about so that's where we headed.  We found a nice cafe that specialized in Seafood... so of course we had Beef tartar with fries and a salad, along with a heineken, a local red wine, dessert, and espressos.  It was wonderful!  Our waiter was super nice... no uppity French attitudes... and finally, some relaxation.  For the first time we felt like we were in Europe!

So... from about 6:30 - 9... we sat, drank, ate, and enjoyed the people watching.  We were surrounded by locals, people following the tour, and other tourists to the region.  Oh to have this everyday would be wonderful!  As we made our way back to the hotel we found others from our group just heading out to dinner, we gave them our recommendations and carried on back to the hotel... and he were are... bags packed, kits ready for tomorrow... and ready to hit the hay for an early morning and metric century tomorrow along the tour route where we'll climb 3 cols... the last of which is 20 km (12.4 miles)! :-)

Finally some relaxation!
Yummy Noms!
Dessert - Strawberry Crepe & Dark Mint Chocolate Ice Cream
View of the Capital Building from our dinner table

Until then... Bon Soir a tutti (whatever phrases I can't complete in French... I tend to finish in Italian! :-) At least we're starting to say Oui instead of Si... a hard habit to break!!!)

- Bo & Nikki

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Je suis Americain et je ne parle pas francais!

That's me practicing my French... b/c tomorrow we're headed to Le Tour de France!!  It's been rather dramatic thus far and I'm just hoping there are some riders left racing by the time we get there.  Stay tuned b/c both Bo and I will be posting from this blog... until then... au revoir!