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Mauro Mondonico's 2002 Tour de France

Mauro Mondonico joined the tifosi near the summit at La Plagne in the 2002 Tour de France. I asked him to tell me about it. I think you'll really enjoy his story.
—Chairman Bill

I don't know exactly how you want the story, but this is what happened on Wednesday 25th.

During the first week of the 2002 Tour with all that flat stages, I was thinking about seeing a stage in the Alps. After talking with a couple of friends (Gino and Federico) we choose the stage with the finish in La Plagne. This was surely one of the hardest stages of this year's Tour.

We arrived at the place around 10.00 am. We had no problems driving up the climb. We decide to stop at about 2.5kms from the finish. While we were driving up the climb we were very surprised by the huge number of people that were already were on both sides of the road waiting for the race. The weather was absolutely beautiful and it was quite hot. The Tour is very famous for hot weather. We parked the car and walked up to the finish line. On the top of the climb at La Plagne there are huge parking areas where all the trucks of the organization of the Tour were parked.

The road was already full of all the names of the riders and some of the last tifosi were trying to find an empty space on the road to paint words and mottos to encourage their favorite riders.

The entire day there were cars of journalists, sponsors, team managers and other people driving up to reach the finish. I noticed that the top of La Plagne has very big areas for parking, but the quantity of vehicles passing was really incredible. Then again, all the trucks of the teams, their buses kept coming by as well?.

Around 4pm it started. One and a half hours before the arrival of the riders, the big caravan of the Tour arrived. Big trucks with people playing, singing and many other very funny cars shaped according to their sponsor. I think the best was a very big yellow lion of the Credit Lyonnais. The people of the caravan were always launching gadgets. People were just jumping in the middle of the road. They didn?t care that in a few moments, there were other cars coming. To get a caravan souvenir can be dangerous.

After the caravan you can sense a strange feeling all around. The people are finally aware that the riders will soon be here. They start to talk about the situation of the stage, which men are in the lead, who re the teams that are working in the peloton etc.. It is all focused on the riders that are coming. There is no more interest in the bars that sell ice cream or big baguettes (French bread), no one cares about the Tour boutiques that sell the 4 jerseys of the Tour: the yellow, the green, the polka dot and the white. 69 ? each. People just want to see their cycling heroes.

From all the fans that were there I think the Dutch men were the craziest hearing Boogerd who was leading with more than 2 minutes at 3kms to go. Anyway, when Boogerd arrived where we were at 2.5kms to go, all the fans were screaming, jumping, someone running between the riders and the moto TV that follows the rider.... I think it is a special sensation that a cycling fan has to be there to understand. It is so loud with TV and sponsor?s helicopters, cars with loud and strange klaxon, people screaming crazy things... Then, Armstrong came and when the people see the yellow jersey it's always a big casino!!! He was climbing alone but he has few meters behind Sastre of CSC Tiscali.

I noticed his perfect concentration on the man that he was trying to catch and with eyes fixed on the road that goes up in front of him. I noticed the same watching TV but if you are there is completely different.

Then the other guys like Beloki, Azevedo, Heras, Leipheimer and few others came with a gap of about 40 seconds but there was no way for them to catch the yellow jersey. I noticed that the French tifosi are really generous with all the riders of the peloton. When the group of the sprinters came at about 25-30 minutes, the French tifosi were still screaming incitement to all the riders even if there was a large time gap. All crazy for cycling... I also noticed that there were few Italian and German fans compared to the past years I visited a Tour stage. The reason? Where are Pantani and Ullrich? On the other side, you can see lots of American flags and cycling amateurs with US Postal jerseys on... Then, we waited for the "voiture bailai" that closed the race. After this vehicle it was possible to drive down but it takes 2hours to arrive on the ground of the climb. 18kms in 2 hours!!!

Since at La Plagne there are no other roads descending on the other side of the mountain, all the vehicles were forced to descent on the same road. That's why it took us so long... Anyway, it really worth even if you have to wake up at 5.30am, drive for 3 1/2 hours, staying all the day at the sun waiting for riders... There are few seconds when the riders passing but are moments of incredible sensations. For Gino and Federico it was the first time that they were at the Tour and they were very impressed. We were back home at midnight, of course tired, but really satisfied!! I think next year we will do it again.