Rest-day racing at the Tour

Nice peak…RCUK’s correspondent warms up

Getting the bikes ready for action

No rest day for the mechanics

The beautiful lake below Tignes

Tour de France fans want to get close to their heroes. We ride the Etape to follow in their wheel tracks, or wait by the roadside for hours to watch the peloton flash past in a blur of colour. But racing on the Tour route with the pros riding alongside you – now that really would be something.

It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. All you need is a few mates to race against, and a hotel room near the location of one of the Tour’s rest days.

This year, the race took its first day off at Tignes on Monday 16th. A group of journalists following the Tour with Skoda, the supplier of all the official cars, were at a bit of a loose end with no racing to watch. So we rolled down to the bottom of the mountain for a race back up the first-category climb.

Racing with the pros

It might be a bit of fun to pass the time, but with the added needle of a mixed group of Brits and Germans, the pace soon quickens. Within a couple of kilometres two of us are alone in front.

Well, not quite alone. After nine days of racing, you might expect Tour riders to swap Lycra for a pair of Speedos and chill out by the pool. But rather than let their legs go stiff from 24 hour’s inactivity, the pros hit the road and spin the pedals for a few miles. So we soon have professionals for company.

A pair of Rabobank riders breeze past us as if nipping out to the shops to buy some milk, and while we’re still trying to identify them (Rasmussen and Flecha, maybe?), they soon have a gap of a couple of hundred metres.

Just as the road begins to steepen my ego gets the better of me and I sprint off in pursuit. Unaware that they were now being chased down by an overweight and undertrained hack, the Rabobank duo continue to chat with one another and enjoy the scenery. This hopeless pursuit continues for five or six minutes, with not the slightest impression made. At least I’ve dropped my German breakaway companion.

The road flattens as we pass a lake two thirds of the way to the summit, created when a dam was built back in 1952. It’s a brief but welcome respite before the road kicks up again, this time much steeper than before.

I’m distracted from my aching legs and burning lungs by a stream of Tour riders coming down the mountain. There’s half a dozen teammates from T-Mobile, then a string of CSC riders followed by half of Caisse d’Epargne descending at speed. After around 40 minutes of riding I see at least 50 Tour riders.

Germany 1, England 0

Perhaps I should concentrate harder on my cycling rather than the string of pros coming the other way, as my German colleague is suddenly on my shoulder. He smiles, says something triumphant in his native tongue and promptly rides me off his wheel.

As we reach the outskirts of Tignes another group of pros overtakes me. I recognise George Hincapie and just have enough breath to shout ‘Hey, George!’ as he goes by. He’s much too cool to say hello, but I’m pretty sure he nods in my direction.

The road really kicks for the last few hundred metres before the 2068-metre summit, then flattens out for the run-in to the finish of the previous day’s stage. I time trial through the town in the hopes of catching my German friend but he’s long gone. Still, second isn’t too bad. And I don’t remember bumping into Big George last time I raced a local ‘10’…

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