14 July 2011
Climbing On Bastille Day
This photo comes from Cycling Art Blog, which I discovered when looking for news about the Tour de France.
As far as most French fans are concerned, the next-best thing to a Frenchman winning the Tour (which hasn't happened since Bernard Hinault took his fifth and final Tour victory in 1985) is a French rider winning on Bastille Day.
That didn't happen today. Samuel Sanchez of Spain won this day's stage, which included a steep climb to the Luz-Ardiden ski station in the Pyrenees. However, a French cyclist, Thomas Voeckler, kept the yellow jersey, which is worn by the race leader. As he's not known as a climber, almost nobody expected him to do that. Even he didn't even expect to finish the day in first place overall.
I didn't ride up Luz-Ardiden. However, I did ride up Tourmalet and Aubisque, both of which have been part of the Tour's legend. Having done those, among other Pyreneean climbs, as well as a number of Alpine climbs in France, Switzerland and Italy, I think each mountain range is difficult in its own way.
The Alps are higher; I pedalled up several mountains that were over 2000 meters high. The sheer lack of oxygen at the highest levels makes those climbs difficult even for well-conditioned cyclists; dehydration is also a hazard.
One can encounter those same conditions in the Pyrenees. However, even though they aren't as high as the Alps, some of the climbs are every bit as challenging because, I think, they're even steeper than some of the Alpine climbs. One reason for that is that the roads in the Alps are more modern: Because the Alps are smack in the middle of Europe, they are more heavily traveled than the Pyrenees. That is probably the reason why there, one finds more modern roads, which tend to have climbs that are more gradual and evenly graded, even if they longer, than the older roads of the Pyrenees.
Some Tour riders concur with my observations. See that: The great minds think alike! ;-) And we all love the grand tradition of a ride on Bastille Day.