After the blazing horns and blaring music from the caravan dissipated through the Pine trees, up the canyon walls and down the river the canyon took on an erie silence. There was a scattering of fans who made the trek to this remote part of the Guil valley between the Col Agnel and the famed Col d’Izoard. Just inside the start of the feedzone, Ashley and I hoped to get a good view of Tour riders as they passed.
The silence left by the caravan stretched on for what seemed like ages, broken occasionally by an official vehicle or Gendarme motorcycle speeding down the narrow mountain road. When the sun peaked through the partly cloudy skies it brought with it heat to the point of discomfort. However, when it went away and the wind blew we shivered from the cold.
Just as the anticipation mounted to a breaking point, a pack of blue Gendarme motorcycles burst around the corner and with lights flashing they flew past. Next in the carefully orchestrated procession, a red official Skoda car blew by, followed quickly by a French television camera moto carrying a daredevil driver and fearless cameraman. Microseconds behind them four men raced on bicycles. In the brief instant that we shared in time and space with these athletes, the lead rider turned his head backwards in a plea to his breakaway companions to help pull through the newly encountered headwind. Having just completed the harrowing descent off the 2,700 meter (9,000 foot) Col Agnel, through ancient villages with streets no wider than a horse drawn plow, they were now faced with a stiff headwind and a short prelude before the massive 15 kilometer climb up the southern approach to the Col d’Izoard.
Although the four breakaway companions belonged to four competing teams, they worked together to conserve their collective strength in a futile attempt to stay ahead of larger masses of energy behind them. The four leaders were soon followed by several chase groups each of about a dozen riders. The first chase group swept by with Levi Leipheimer attached in last position. He swept past with a copy of L’Équipe between his teeth. He must have just pulled it from his jersey where it had been stuffed in an attempt to keep his chest warm on the fast descent. Having served it’s purpose, it was tossed aside and scattered into the wind.
More chasers and then the full peloton followed at a blistering pace. Small gaps that had opened up in the peloton on the descent now needed to be closed and the teams of the favorites were highly motivated to close them down and bring everyone together before the start of the Col d’Izoard. The headwind didn’t make this an easy task and the faces on the chasers told the story.
Closely behind the peloton followed a small army of official motorcycles and team cars. Then they were gone and silence returned to the valley of the Guil.