It is all over and I have to say I am a little sad at having to say goodbye to the crazy world of the Haute route cycle ride. Day 7 – the final day was completely different to the day before. The cyclists were full of chat at breakfast and they appeared spritely as they saddled their bicycles and glided smoothly down the hill to the start line. Our car left the sleepy village of Auron behind to follow the road to Nice. It seemed to bend and twist more than ever. Each corner appeared dangerous with only small concrete walls stopping us from flying off the road and ending up in the depths of a gorge.
The cyclists had one big mountain climb and it was a race to the top. They finally had the wind behind them and the challenge was on! Every individual was pushing their bodies to the limit as they overtook each other and pushed for a prime position. While we waited at the top the rising sunshine lit up the valley below. We watched the refreshment stop being prepared while a handful of galloping horses appeared from the trees heading towards a small stables perched on the corner of the road.
The cyclists were in a racing frenzy and there was no time to meander about at the top – the down hill descent was going to be an opportunity to pass others and to hopefully catch up on any lost time from previous days. I don’t know if they were expecting the road to twist and turn as much as it did? There was a need of complete concentration for this swerving monster of a road – even in a car it was frightening whizzing around its snake-like bends!
Heading onwards we were surrounded by immense rock faces climbing up to the blue skies above. These rocks over shadowed the greenery of the gorges below making it cool and dark. The cyclists were wrapped up in the beauty of it all like small colorful dots weaving with the flow of the river through the valley occasionally being hidden by the tunnels.
We didn’t see them again until the bustling town of Venne. The official end of the ride for the cyclists. They had completed the timed stage 14km before in Carros and I heard stories of last-minute sprinting. Competition was rife and it had become a fight for the finish!
The blazing hot square in Venne was where the cyclists cruised under the height of inflatable finish line and were rewarded with a huge shiny medal around their neck and customary kisses on both cheeks. The smiles and hugs were everywhere and these cyclists were glowing with pride and satisfaction at their achievement. It was fun to see a couple of small children racing about in the dusty square on their colourful bikes imitating the arrival of the first cyclists.
The cyclists were given a couple of hours to rest before re-grouping to convoy as a group all the way to Nice. The squares local restaurants were quickly filled as cyclists relaxed under the shade and mingled with cool drinks or a hearty lunch of delicious french cuisine. The locals looked on with curiosity at this collection of cyclists in all their lycra strutting their stuff.
Time passed quickly and as they began to organise their departure we quickly headed off to Nice to its lengthy promenade to watch them come in. As we drove along the promenade the ocean gleamed stunning shades of blue looking very inviting. Bronzed locals were happily baking on the sands or bobbing about in the water unaware of the drama about to happen above them.
Near the far end of the promenade the barriers had been placed. We found the organisers there waiting, eagerly telling the public what the disruption was all about. Lots of curious people began to join us in the waiting game and crowds soon formed along the barrier. Finally we were all rewarded for our patience with the sight of the cyclists cruising up the barriers carrying with them big smiles and hearty waves as everyone cheered and clapped them to the end.
After all the excitement of the week and saying fond farewell to new friends I watched as cyclists gathered their bags, bikes and bike boxes frantically packing a week of hard work away in the hot sun. The boyfriend was happy with his result – 52nd overall and the first New Zealander to finish. I am sure he enjoyed the chance to have a sleep in this morning!
Vive La Haute Route!