2002 Tour de France Journal Day 1: If you don’t know who the dummy is...

[More from my 2002 TDF camp journal. I meant to post these over the past week, but I was in Chicago and forgot to bring the journal along. I'll use more of these to fill in here as I'm off to China tomorrow morning for a few weeks...]

First day of camp, I meet all the other campers. One of my chief worries the whole way over was how I’d compare with the other campers. I didn’t feel any better after meeting everyone. Most everyone was either tall and lanky, with endurance sport builds, or tall and lean and muscular.

I felt worse after our first ride, right after we arrived in Joucas. As soon as we arrived at the hotel, about 5pm in the afternoon, we’re told to change for an hour “flat” ride in the countryside around the hotel, to open up our legs. Since my luggage and bike haven’t arrived (at the airport, I waited along with two other campers for almost an hour until the baggage claim belt came to a halt; no bike case, no luggage), official camp den mother Aimee provides me with CTS bike shorts and a jersey. I’m jet lagged and exhausted, and if I lie down on my bed I’ll pass out, so after a quick change into the bike outfit I head straight out.

I meet most of the other campers and some of the staff outside. The camp has set up a mini bike garage outside, and the camp mechanic Robin has already assembled all the bikes. They loan me a bike and a helmet, and before I have time to catch my bearings we’re off.

About five minutes into our ride we hit our first climb and the pack drops me instantly. Eventually I lose contact altogether and am following a long station wagon around through the farm fields of Provence on narrow country roads. If this is the flat ride, I’m in trouble. In Seattle, we’d consider this hilly terrain.

They say in poker that if you don’t know who the sucker is, you’re the sucker. It’s not even that difficult to figure out who the slow guy is in a group of riders. He’s the one in the back at the finish line. That would be me.

Some people don’t mind bringing up the rear, but not me. Being the slow guy on the first day is demoralizing and unpleasant business, but there’s not much to be done about it now. The type of fitness I’d need to gain to catch some of my compatriots isn’t gained over one week or even one year. It takes years of riding and training, just as it takes pro cyclists, including Lance Armstrong, years of competition to reach the level necessary just to complete the Tour de France, let alone compete for a podium spot. I think this to myself and try to just enjoy the rolling golden countryside of southern France.

We finish up and reach the hotel just in time to watch the conclusion of stage 12. Once again, it’s Lance flanked by his teammate Robert Heras and his chief competitor Joseba Beloki all alone in the last stretch. Lance turns on the gas with about 5 or 6 km to go on the devilish Plateau de Beille, and Beloki can’t follow. Lance finishes with a 1 minute 3 second gain on Beloki.

Back in my room, I find a bag full of strange nutritional supplements in bottles and canisters. Red liquids, fluorescent packaging, eye droppers. It looks like Dr. Frankenstein’s childhood chemistry kit. For a second I think that it’s the camp goody bag and shudder at the thought of having to ingest this stuff each night (are there needles?) but then I remember I have a roommate who has probably arrived.

After dinner, a tasty French meal, I pass out, visions of Mont Ventoux in my head. Since I haven’t seen it before, except on TV many years ago, I picture Mordor, the flaming volcano from Lord of the Rings. Little do I know…