Europe 2004- TdF

On July 14, 2004, I flew on  Sea-Tac via JFK to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, where I arrived early in the morning on July 15.  I took the RER into central Paris and the metro to Gare Montparnasse.  From there, I grabbed a late morning train to Bordeau and on to Tarbes.  It was about 11 pm and I was pretty tired after being awake (aside from a nap on the train that was interrupted by a good Samaritan that directed me to the correct connection in Bordeaux) for over 24 hours.  I decided to grab a taxi to Bagnares de Bigorre, where the driver assured there was a campground just a few kilometers south of town.  Indeed he found a great little campground called Camping L’arriou.  I set up my mini-tent and slept hard.

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The next morning I got up and paid my camping fee at the self-pay booth.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

There’s my tent out there.  BTW, many European campgrounds are awesome.  This one had great free, clean showers and bathrooms, was super cheap and very nice and quiet.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

I started walking in the direction of La Mongie and within literally 100 meters, I came across a group of people similar in age to me that were walking the same 20 km to watch the 12th stage of the 2004 Tour de France.  They seemed like a really nice group of people from the US, Australia, the UK, Zimbabwe, etc.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

We walked 7 km to the famous town of Sainte-Marie de Campan, where we took a hard right and headed toward La Mongie and the Tourmalet.  Stopping at a store, we bought baguettes, wine, cheese, chocolates and other assorted food items to get us through the 40 km we would end up walking that day.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

As we were walking, we saw many, many cyclists passing us on their way up the famous route.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

The Tour de France is a huge deal worldwide, and even then the locals had questions about Lance Armstrong’s legitimacy.  This is a pretty cute way to portray that, though.  Look at the road and the guard rail.  The infrastructure is amazing in Europe.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

This is a view from about 4 km to the finish, looking back towards Sainte-Marie de Campan.  We decided to watch the riders pass at this spot to avoid the massive crowd at La Mongie.  We had a nice place to rest by the road and excellent views.  Sitting here, talking with people from all over the world and experiencing the tastes, smells and sounds of France is something I’ll never forget.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

I decided to walk up to the finish line and took this photo 7 minutes after the previoius one.  It proves what they say about mountain weather- it can change in minutes.  This deluge hit the riders and us with torrential rainfall for about 30 minutes.  MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA


I ran to the finish to check it out before the rain started, but was caught on my way back down to my new found friends.  This snow slide shelter kept a lot of us dry.  The guys selling TdF umbrellas and ponchos made a killing!MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

An hour and a half later, the sun came out, the helicopters began hovering above the riders coming up the valley and the first group came tearing up the road.  Super exciting!MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Acevado pulling Armstrong, Basso and Klöden.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA



Tyler Hamilton was struggling as a team leader.  This photo is awesome.  Digital cameras in 2004…MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

George and Floyd were done working for the day.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

That evening we walked back to Sainte-Marie de Campan and hitch hiked back to our camp ground.  Our group had pizza, drank beer and enjoyed getting to know each other.  The next morning we jumped a train that eventually took us to Les Cabannes.  This was the start of the climb to Plateau de Beille.

At the bottom of the climb we got a chance to meet the TdF devil, German Didi Senft.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

We only walked about 5 km up the climb, which was exceptionally steep in this section.  I couldn’t believe how steep it was, actually.  Again, Armstrong and Basso were leading the pack.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Klöden wasn’t far behind.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Ullrich was again struggling.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA



Richard Virenque, one of the first and only French dopers of this era, won the climbing jersey that year.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA George and Floyd, again taking it easy after working all day.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA Roberto Haras- eventual winner of the Vuelta (and convicted doper).MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

The real hero of the 2004 Tour de France, Thomas Voeckler.  On stage 5, his breakaway group finished over 12 minutes ahead of the peloton.  This gave him a 9 minute lead on the yellow jersey contenders.  He held the jersey for 9 more stages before have it taken away on stage 15, 4 days after this photo.  It was an heroic effort considering he is not a grand tour contender.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

The stage and jersey wearers get an advantage at the end of mountain stages that don’t have room for their team buses at the finish- instead of riding down, they get to fly down in a helicopter.  We were able to intercept these guys when they landed at Les Cabannes.  They were all super cool and I got the opportunity to get a photo with my hero, Australian Robbie McEwen.  He won two stages that tour and the green jersey.  Awesome!MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

That night we camped near Les Cabannes, took a train the next day to Grenoble where three of us guys rented a hotel room.  The next day we took a bus up to Bourg d’Oisans- the bottom of Alpe d’ Huez.  We found it impossible to get a room or a proper camping ground, but a farmer just south of town was renting spots in his field.  No restrooms or showers, but it was beautiful and only a kilometer or so back into Bourg d’Oisans.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

My tent is the little one.  Note the crazy rock formations in the mountains behind.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

This is the view looking north from the camping field- Alpe d’Huez is right before the cliffs on the middle/right side of the photo- up the “valley” going to the right.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

This is the view looking south from our camping field-just a little ways out there is where we found a creek to bathe in after we got back from spending the night on the mountain.  The summer air was warm at 10 pm, but the mountain water in the river was frigid!MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Here’s a photo of the town of Bourg d’Oisans.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m writing this 9 years after the fact and I can’t remember the names of the people I was with.  This was the token couple we were with- he was Auzzie and she was from  Zimbabwe.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Enjoying a beer the day before the famous time trial up Alpe d’Huez.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

We walked from our camping spot and saw a ton of people challenging the monster of Alpe d’Huez.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

We caught a bus up to the top of the mountain, but traffic was so slow we ended up getting out and walking.  We ended up stopping just below corner #13.  We found a semi-flat place to put our tents on the top of a wall.

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This was our view- looking down at Bourg d’Oisans.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA The weather was hot and beautiful.  I used my umbrella I had purchased in the downpour at La Mongie to shade me.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA


Dusk.  This was about the time we were figuring out that sleeping on the side of this road on a rock wall was not the best idea in the world.  Semi trucks were driving up the road literally all night long.  It was rough.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Early the next morning I took a walk to the top of Alpe d’Huez.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Land of the rich and famous.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

That’s the ski area above the town.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

The podium- this is inflatable and is taken to the end of each stage.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

We found Didi again.  He had obviously changed his clothing- for the first time ever.  This guy did not smell very good.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Beautiful Alpe d’Huez with the Alps in the background.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Back down at our camping site, the caravan was on it’s way!MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Since this was a time trail, the slowest riders started first.  Robbie McEwen!MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA





Michael (loser) RasmussenMINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Gilbert Simoni- former winner of the Giro d’ItaliaMINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Levi Leipheimer- BTW, I had met his relatives on the train to Tarbes.  Pretty cool.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA


That evening we walked down the mountain and back to our campground.  We ate some dinner, took a 5 second bath in the river, as mentioned before, and slept much better than we did on the side of the road on Alpe d’Huez.

Here’s Armstrong signing autographs prior to stage 17.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Floyd looks happy, although this would be the last year he rode for Armstrong and two years before he won the tour and was busted for doping.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Armstrong’s climbing machine.  Notice no front brake shift lever.  Only a brake.  Teh shifter is on the frame- old school style.  Weird.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

That night we went back to Grenoble and spend the night in the seedy hotel again.  The next day we took a train to Paris where the group split up.  Half went to a campground on the north end of town- the three boys got a hostel near the Gare du Nord.  We took a subway up to Montmartre and checked out the Sacre Coeur.

Here’s another photo of the Sacre Coeur in 2010 from a different angle.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

View of Paris from Sacre Coeur.  MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Tour boys walking around Paris.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Right around dusk we walked to the Arc de Triomphe and went to the top.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA


The next day I got up and was pretty exhausted.  I was tired of the city crowds and didn’t really feel like watching the last stage in Paris.  It may have been a mistake, but I had a few rides left on my Eurail pass, so I headed to Germany.  Here’s a map of the the town of Oos.  I thought that was a funny name.  It’s the train station at Baden Baden.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

The small town of Baden Baden was a perfect place me for to chill out for a couple of days and relax.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Then it was back to Paris to fly home.  Definitely a great experience.

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