Tour links to Ojai
By Jesse Phelps
When Ojai's Wanda Cecchi made
plans to visit and cycle through France this summer, she knew
she was in for something special.
This year's centennial edition of the Tour de France featured
the closest race in years and a record-tying fifth straight victory
for American cyclist Lance Armstrong. Cecchi, who owns Mane Tangle
hair salon in downtown Ojai, and is an avid rider herself, went
for two weeks with her boyfriend and another couple from San
Francisco to witness history.
"It was the 100th anniversary this year, so we just wanted
to go for that reason," she said. "And also because
Lance was going to go again and we just wanted to support him."
The group arrived near the beginning of the race and witnessed
several stages, leaving just before it ended.
"Paris just had so many people there," she said.
Cecchi says the vacation wasn't all about relaxation. It encompassed
a rare opportunity to ride several stages of the tour, from both
this year's layout and past layouts.
Her toughest day, she said, was the most grueling, notorious
climb in the tour, up the legendary and infamous mountain leading
to the alpine ski resort called L'Alpe d'Huez.
"We went to the very top. It was very hot," she said.
The climb, which Armstrong routinely completes in around 45 minutes
(after riding miles and miles to get there), took the foursome
around two hours, according to Cecchi.
In all, Cecchi said, she and her three companions rode between
seven and10 different stages from tours past and present. "My
boyfriend and his friend, they did extra days," she said
with a chuckle. "Us girls took days off."
Armstrong took the lead this year, and the famous yellow jersey
of the leader, on his ascent up to L'Ape d'Huez.
By that time, Cecchi and her companions had lined up beside the
roadway, in the tradition of the fans of the tour, cheering the
mammoth effort put forth by the competitors.
Watching Armstrong was a particular thrill. "I could see
his face," she said. "And all the sweat dripping off
of him. It was amazing."
In one scary moment of this year's race, Armstrong took a tumble
when one fan caught a handbag on his handlebars. Cecchi said
it wasn't her. "I didn't want to get in anybody's way and
trip and fall," she said with a laugh.
Cecchi said it was intense to see the concentration and effort
expended by all the riders, not just Armstrong. She remembers
particularly watching 1997 champion Jan Ullrich, a Dutch cyclist
who wound up losing by about one minute, the nearest margin of
defeat in 14 years.
"He was (not happy)," she said. "I mean, he was
really upset because he was behind. His face was amazing."
This was Cecchi's first trip to France and, thus, her first opportunity
to witness the tour in person, though she said she's a long-time
fan. She was impressed by the dedication exhibited not only by
the cyclists but by some of the fans as well. One picture she
took features a compatriot in red, white and blue full-body paint
and an American flag cape.
Enmity between France and America during the past months didn't
put a damper on the trip, said Cecchi. In fact, she met great
people; a real international community of cycle fans arose around
Cecchi said that after riding up the mountain and finding a place
to watch the L'Alpe d'Huez stage, the four sweaty Americans were
given an umbrella and welcomed by a group of Dutch fans.
The group stayed in several "rustic" bed and breakfasts,
said Cecchi, beginning in Allemont, near the Alps. For the second
half of the trip, they went to the Pyrenees. "We stayed
in a little town called Seix (pronounced "say"), which
we called "sex" because we couldn't figure out how
you say it," she said, laughing. "That was really remote
town, there was nobody there. We had a river behind our place,
so that was cool."
Cecchi is one of about 10 women who ride in the Ojai Bicycle
Club, a group of 50 or so local riders. "We ride a lot.
It's something that we like to do," she said. Another club
went at the same time, people her boyfriend knows from San Francisco.
"We would run into them on different rides," she said.
"Their itinerary was really tight. We didn't want to do
that. We'd rather enjoy it and get to see it. It was incredible."
The Ojai Valley News
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|Wanda Cecchi paces
Lance Armstrong, far left, as he takes the lead on the climb
toward the Alpine ski resort, L'Alpe d'Huez.