You could conceivably divide Tour de France fans into two distinct camps: the Pyrenees and the Alps. Me, I’m a Pyrenees kinda guy.
Give me those rough and tumble cols just across the border from Spain and pack them with berserk Basque fans. Now we have ourselves a monumental bike race and an awesome party. The Alps are not without their merits but by comparison, they leave me cold — too antiseptic, too quiet, too devoid of orange.
Way up on our list of Tour excitements is watching Euskatel Euskadi, the Men of Orange, attack the climbs and mad gradients of the Pyrenees with their usual gusto. Useless and dangerous bike handlers on the flat stages, they come alive when there’s a mountain to be summited.
This year we can expect even more bravado because Euskatel is hurting for wins, low on sponsorship dollars and just plain desperate to make an impression. They barely have a handful of UCI points to rub together.
You can add Samuel Sanchez’s flame-out in the recent Giro d’Italia to the volatile mix. Talk was that his return to the Italian grand tour after several years absence was going to bring some wattage-pumping thrills to the proceedings but he finished down on GC.
Now he heads to Corsica and the 100th birthday Tour bash with a extra motivation: save the season for the Basque nation. It won’t be easy but who’s to say Sammy won’t make his mark on a stage or two?
In purely poetic terms, we’re also a fan of the man with the most beautiful name in pro cycling: DS Igor Gonzales de Galdeano.. That’s music and tapas and sangria rolled up in one name tag. Now Igor may or may not have been a bad boy during his days at ONCE and later with Liberty Seguros but there’s no arguing with his lyrical and badass name.
The photo above was from July 14th, the first day in the Pyrenees, in the 2011 Tour de France on the final climb of the day, Luz Ardiden. The winner was none other than Orange number one, Samuel Sanchez.
I spend the day drinking a Basque concoction of Coke and cheap red wine with a gaggle of boisterous Basques and I still have a smile on my face.
The 2013 race route puts the Alps in the role of deciding the race winner but our thrills will most likely happen in the Pyrenees. And make no mistake, Euskatel-Euskadi will be going full gas and the fans will be hors crazy. As the rappers all say, Hells Yeah.