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My First Tour de France - Vitor Manduchi

Last Sunday I stepped out the motorhome I had rented with some friends on the highest point of this year’s Tour de France, the Port d’Envalira – and I felt far from home. I was born and raised in Brasil and if I had respected all stereotypes, I should’ve been stepping in a stadium to watch the final of Copa América this weekend, not a cycling race in the middle of a mountain pass in Andorra. But there I was, 9000 kilometres from the place I was born, eating, drinking and shouting words of encouragement to support my favourite riders (and those whose names I didn’t know. The peloton is a big place).

If it wasn’t clear already, I love cycling.

This realisation has been a journey of a couple of years, but what happened on this trip was what we call in Brasil ‘the last drop’, because I had never experienced cycling like the way I did this weekend. It started Friday night, we left Girona at 1am, arriving at our first stop – Bagnères-de-Bigorre – around 6am. Our plan was a ride that would take us through the Col de Tourmalet and then up and down Luz Ardiden, simulating Stage 18 of this year’s Tour. And since we didn’t really want to go up any of these Hors Categorie mountains again, we decided to loop through the valley on a long and fast slightly downhill section, to be received by one last climb, just 20 kilometres away from our starting point/destination.

"I had never experienced cycling like the way I did this weekend."

Plan A was to start riding at 6am, but we all knew that the lack of sleep would bite us later, so we slept and instead of an early morning ride, we had an early afternoon one. The day was grey, cloudy and foggy. The whole way up the Tourmalet we couldn’t see anything further 10 meters away, but all the struggle was rewarded by the goosebumps I got when riding the last kilometres with all the messages painted on the ground and later by the wind on the top, that cleared the sky to reveal a gorgeous valley (bordering obscene) that was hidden from us the whole way up. The descent was fast and fun, a contrast to what it would be climbing Luz Ardiden. Here the sky was even foggier, switchbacks to be seen only when you were already on then (on the way up and down), and a shorter but harder climb. When on the top, came the first realisation of the weekend – I respect professional cyclists with all my heart, being a cycling fan is also being empathetic to these guys, you know how much you struggle to do half of what they do. On the way down, spirits were not very high, and I know that all of us thought about maybe getting a train back, but nothing like a fast and long slightly downhill to lift it all up and thank God we didn’t give up. After 100km and two HC in our legs, we were met by one of the most beautiful climbs I’ve done in my life, country roads, amazing sunset and the feeling of mission accomplished.

We weren’t finished yet, on Sunday we drove from Bagnères to Andorra and because we were always behind on sleep, we arrived too late and the road to go up with the car was already closed. But nothing like some, as we say in Brasil, wood face and a yellow-tour-like lanyard to open some doors for us (I won’t share more than this). Up there we just relaxed and enjoyed the party that is the Tour de France, a great mix of (well behaved) drunk young guys (not us) with families with elderly couples and in this case, some random Brazilian dudes (now us).

I can say without a doubt, it was a life-changing experience. It made me love the sport that I already thought I loved, even more. Thanks Tour de France, thanks cycling and thanks to my friends for being there while I came to this realisation. It makes me suffer and it brings me so much joy at the same time, and that’s why we are so drawn to it.

Because it has a beautiful balance to it.

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