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June 27, 2017
The Recce - De-brief
In photography terms, the Alps is the place to be for the 2017 Tour de France. The Pyrenees are beautiful, as is the Dordogne valley, but the Alps have the kind of grandeur that as a photographer I am looking for to start the Great Cycling Climbs collection.
5000km in 9 12-18 hour days, with one rest day and one overnight drive.
8 stages covered. A couple of million hairpin bends.
More than 35 Cols ascended or descended.
2 mountain thunderstorms. Temperatures up to 36+ degrees in June.
A drive up Mount Ventoux to fulfil a lifetime ambition and pay my respects at Tom Simpson's memorial. A very emotional experience, what a truly beautiful place.
I hadn't realised just how close to the top of the climb Tom Simpson was when he died. His memorial stands on the final bend, within touching distance of the top. Did he have any idea he was so close?
This year is the 50th anniversary of the death of Tom Simpson. The Tour de France passes close to the east but is staying away. Much as been said and written about Tom Simpson and drugs, but little is ever said about the fact he died of dehydration. Even less about the restrictions riders faced at the time of only being allowed a total of four water bottles per stage. Something that was widely criticised, not least by many of the riders, and something that was quietly and finally, dropped after Tom's death. As usual, it took someone to die before the Tour organisers got their collective heads out of their arses and changed the rules in favour of the welfare of the riders.
Given the average stage race rider, today consumes around 12 litres of fluid per stage, and the temperature on The Ventoux in July can touch 40 degrees. It wasn't drugs that killed Tom Simpson.
The Tour is an institution with huge influence, money and power. However, the true power of the Tour lays not with the organisers, but with the riders and fans. They are the ones who breathe life into an otherwise cynical money-making machine. Without them, the Tour de France is nothing more than lines drawn on a map. The constant daily trickle of fans fifty years after Tom Simpson died is a testament to how much it matters.
This year's Tour doesn't do the Ventoux or the Tourmalet, instead, it does do the Col d' Izoard. If the Ventoux is beautiful and the Tourmalet grim, the Col d'Izoard is just plain scary.
This is a prehistoric landscape, one that has been slowly crumbling for the past few million years. This is dinosaur country. By the time the Tour de France L'Etape participants reach this point I expect them to feel about the same age and right at home.
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