Cobblestones, Cols and Cowbells - Page 7
VACATION IS A THREE-LETTER WORD
The last time that I DNFed a race, in 1999, I awoke severely depressed the next morning. The morning after dropping from the Tor, church bells count to eight o’clock, almost in celebration. As the echo of bells fades, I hear an announcer’s voice through my room’s open window. Across an alleyway, in another piazza, the finish line is being set up and the audio system is being tested. I close my eyes again and try to imagine where the race’s front runners are—and how exhausted they must be.
2010 Tor finisher Angela Pierotti describes the course as follows, “The first half is incredible, and the second half only gets better.” That section—which is where many runners are at this point—charts a westerly course that parallels Italy’s border with Switzerland, all the way back to Mont Blanc and Courmayeur. Along the way, runners continue the arduous cycle of climbing cols and descending into towns. This boggles my mind: I was spent, and the finish line would have been at least three days away, if I had run a good pace.
Somewhere out there on the course’s second half, front runner and eventual second-place finisher, Frenchman Christophe Le Saux, was running within 10 minutes of the lead through mile 150. Volunteers at the next aid station where he was due grew concerned when he did not arrive. They hiked down the trail and found him asleep. After being shaken, he awoke refreshed and stormed on.
Still fighting the DNF blues, I decide to hike the race’s final 20-mile stretch to make peace with this beastly course, and perhaps witness firsthand the potential carnage I expect. Like glancing at a car accident, I am morbidly curious to see what a course like this can do to a body.
The Tor’s last major section begins in the small town of Saint Rhemey. A cobbled street narrows and winds up out of the valley, passing by windowed shrines to the Virgin Mary and farmers tending to slopeside fields. Sheltered public fountains provide a pleasant pause for runners. One runner sits, washing his socks, as I walk past.