We specifically chose Pau at the end of July to be in the area where Le Tour de France would be. Being avid cycling fans it was a dream of ours to see the Tour live so on July 24 we arrived in Pau, along the way passing the start town of Carcassone seeing the Cite adorned with yellow in honor of the Tour. July 25 we made the 90 minute drive to the small town of Espiaube and the nearby Col du Portet which was the final mountain climb of the day’s stage. The Col du Portet is an HC, outside category, climb and the most difficult of climbs.
We left Pau at 10:30am and by 12:30pm had found ourselves a spot on the side of the mountain at the early stage of the climb. The race was scheduled to arrive at 5:15pm yet there were thousands of folks by the roadside already since any place on a mountain stage is a popular place to be. Sitting in the hot sun on the side of a mountain for 5 hours awaiting the arrival of the bike race is not all that much fun however there is a constant stream of fans walking higher up the mountain, cyclists riding the stage route before the race, VIP cars, security, police, you name it. Around 3pm the “caravan” arrives which is a long train of vehicles throwing promotional swag at the crowds, t-shirts, junk food, caps, key chains etc. It helps break up the monotony of waiting for the racers and Blair managed to score a king of the mountains polka dot hat, plus a couple of key chains and some junk food 🙂 Once the riders arrive the long hours of waiting are quickly forgotten in the excitement of seeing the racers up close and in person. It is hard to describe the rush of having them fly past you, on an uphill slope!!
The next day the Tour came to us 🙂 Our apartment in Pau was located a 20 min walk from the finish line, a stroke of luck on that booking. It saved us from making a long journey and we were able to walk into town around 3pm to search for a spot along the race route. We made our way to the finish line, where the crowds were already 3 and 4 deep then walked back along the race route until we found an open space along the railings, we ended up just beyond the 200 meters from the finish line marker.
Today we had just under a 3 hour wait for the riders to arrive but being so close to the finish line there was a lot of entertainment going on and loads of sponsors throwing items into the crowds. We caught a tote bag, a couple of sun hats, candy and key chains, most of which we gave to the kids standing around us. Once again, the long wait is soon forgotten once the riders arrive. Today’s stage was over very quickly as the riders were sprinting hard and fast for the finish line and passed by in a huge blur. Although the excitement level is substantially higher at the finish line we had a much longer opportunity to see the riders go by at a slower pace on the mountain stages.
Day 3 of our Tour plans took us South into the Pyrenees, this time to the Col du Soulor, about an hour away from Pau. We took a minor road towards the tour route to avoid road closures and were rewarded with exceptional Pyrenees scenery and charming villages. Even so, we had to park the car just under 4km from the Col du Soulor and hike the rest of the way, with not a flat section in sight 🙁
Once reaching the col there were many thousands of fans there already but we found a spot on a grassy hillside above the road, another perspective from which to view the race 🙂 The long wait for the riders was rewarded with the excitement of the arrival of the lead group of 4 riders, followed quickly by the yellow jersey group and remainder of the riders in sporadic groups. We waited a long time for the arrival of Peter Sagan who was over 30 minutes behind the lead riders, struggling tremendously with injuries from his crash 2 days ago. The last rider to arrive was Taylor Phinney who had crashed on the previous descent and we later found out had a broken nose and cheekbone. These guys are so tough, and determined to finish this race, it is beyond impressive!!
After 3 hectic days of following Le Tour we spent a relaxing day at home working on travel plans, and the next day went on a self guided walking tour of historic Pau. We have been here 6 days and yet to really see Pau so it was an interesting look around the old city center. One thing we discovered was an open air museum dedicated to the Tour de France consisting of 104 bronze totems. Each year a new totem is added celebrating the winner of the Tour de France. On a personal note, we were happy to see that the totems for Lance Armstrong are still in place. Despite being officially stripped of his record breaking 7 wins, he still won the race so it is nice to see him recognized. The old race photographs from the early 1900’s are fascinating to see how this race has evolved over time.
We enjoyed our walk around Pau visiting the Place Royale, the Boulevard des Pyrenees, church of Saint-Martin, the Castle of Pau, Saint-Jacques church and the narrow streets surrounding this area. It was unfortunate today was cloudy so we did not get the views of the Pyrenees in the distance which is one of the highlights of Pau. All in all our impression of Pau was not that high, had it not been for the Tour de France there is not much reason to spend a lot of time here. I suppose our opinion is also slightly clouded by the fact that the apartment we stayed in was the worst one so far 🙁 That being said, it was the least expensive one so far, so I think a lesson was learned!!
After the thrills and spills of Le Tour we are headed to Bordeaux in search of wonderful wine…..