Gelma & Louise… a Hansen family production

This is a flashback from RIDE #42, released after the Tour de France of 2008. That was the year in which Adam Hansen made his debut in the race… and his mother and sister made the journey to see him compete. The team lists for the 2012 Tour are starting to be announced and Adam will be back in the race again this year – so the question is: will Gelma and Louise also return to France this July?

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This is the story of Gelma and Louise…

The mother and sister of Tour de France rookie Adam Hansen had no idea what to expect when they embarked on an expedition to follow the race for the first time… but it won’t be their last.

“Louise & I are hoping he will ride the Tour de France forever and ever because we will be there each time,” said Gelma Meoli, the mother of Columbia rider Adam Hansen upon her return to Australia after traipsing around after a bike race in Europe for three weeks. Her enthusiasm is contagious but she is quick to point out that it’s not idle time. “It was the best holiday we have ever had… but you need lots of energy to be able to keep going with very little sleep.

“It is like a three-week non-stop party. I’ve never felt so happy or so proud to be a mother.”

There are many things to consider when planning to follow the world’s biggest annual sporting event. Like any trip in the modern world, there’s the need to carry an extra suitcase for all the sundry items involved in travel. The electronics alone these days account for half your weight limit on the flight: chargers for your phone, iPod, digital camera, laptop, GPS and more. There’s plenty to forget when you haven’t got much time to pack and it’s almost inevitable that you’ll leave something behind.

In the instance of Gelma and Louise, their rushed preparation meant that they departed Cairns in far north Queensland sans some of the essential items carried by experienced followers of the Tour. The camper vans you see lining the course aren’t just there by chance. The scenery is beautiful but the reason the temporary homesteads flock to the mountains is to see the race. And when they come, they consider everything.

Of course they have a kitchen sink, what savvy spectator would leave that behind? But what about the satellite dish to capture the action for the flat screen television so you know exactly what’s happening before the peloton speeds by?

We didn’t know Adam was in the Tour until about 10 days before it started,” explained Gelma. “We had no idea what we were going to do or how we were going to do it.

“Booking the flight over was the easiest part. Fortunately, we had Adam’s itinerary and my travel agent is a good friend so we spent five hours trying to get accommodation as close to where he was staying as possible. That was so difficult!”

Finding a place to stay in France during the holiday season is a challenge at the best of times. First rule: book early. Second rule: if you failed on step one, be prepared to compromise. Third rule: if your trip involves the Tour, don’t expect to reach your destination on time every day… in all honesty, if you make it at all you should be happy about a job well done.

Here’s an explanation of the Gelma and Louise example. “On the third last day we spent a lot of time with Adam after the stage. In theory, we were staying an hour away from his hotel. For some reason I thought I should phone and explain to the concierge of our hotel that we were going to be late. Good thing I did. Apparently we had no booking. Well, we did but as we were a little late our room had gone to someone else.”

Ah, a mix-up. It happens. Got another example, Gelma?

“Well, yes. Funny you should ask. The very next day was the final time trial so we drove to the start and got the best car park in town. We had a tent so we were going to be fine.” Right? “No. Wrong! Yes, we had a tent but no sleeping bags, pillows, blankets. Nothing.” Clever. “By the time we had committed to putting up the tent, it was one in the morning. It was cold. Then it started to rain…” Etc.


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Travel stories from anywhere can read like this. But if you believe a trip to the Tour is like any other holiday, think again. Consider a typical day in the life of Gelma and Louis on Tour: “Up around 8.00am. Sometimes we went to the start where, because we were family, we could have an amazing breakfast with the riders. We got to see Adam and his team-mates for about an hour but a couple of times we got stuck with the road closures and couldn’t get to the finish… and this was our favourite place to be. So most days we’d just start by aiming directly at the site of the stage finish.

“The atmosphere is amazing. Everyone is so excited and happy. Being at the finish we got to see Adam after the peloton arrived and we would talk to him about his race. Then he would be rushed away on the team bus while we had to sit in traffic trying to get to the next destination. We’d get dinner in transit and then try to go to where Adam was staying.

“We would hang out with Adam until 11.00pm then go to where we were staying which sometimes was an hour away.  We usually got to bed around 2.00am.”

Families & friends often visit the riders during the Tour but few commit to following the entire race. Thor Hushovd’s parents used to attend and even cook him meals on the odd occasion they were able to deliver it to his hotel while still warm enough to eat. Cadel Evans’ mum was going to resist the temptation to attend a year after her son finished second. “He gets anxious about little things and I don’t want him to have to think about me being there as well,” said Helen Cocks after her son took the yellow jersey in stage 10.

On the final Wednesday, when Cadel finished the crucial stage to L’Alpe d’Huez in seventh and was still ranked fourth, just one minute 34 seconds behind the race leader, Cocks was still adamant she would watch on television.

The next day, she wavered. A friend of Cadel’s called and insisted that she accompany him to France at the last minute. On the proviso that no one tell her son, she agreed. Arriving at Saint-Amand-Montrond two hours before he started the time trial, there was time to soak up the atmosphere. It wasn’t to be the celebration she’d dreamed of but it was good to be there nonetheless. Next year, we can only assume, there will be many others following the lead of Gelma, Louise and Helen.

Over the past decade the number of Australians turning up to watch the Tour has multiplied at an exponential rate.

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What’s the best way to see the Tour? There are so many variations to what is a simple theme but, in this case, we’re considering the journey of Gelma and Louise and their hastily planned adventure. “We booked a little car and Adam had a GPS for us to use,” Gelma explained. It seems sufficient. Have wheels, will travel. Have satellite navigation, will find your destination. Right? Well, most of the time.

These two visited my ‘office’ located in the zone technique at the finish several times during their travels. They had the advantage of having some inside information supplied by Adam’s team but when I handed them a copy of the Tour’s official road book, they reacted like it was the Holy Grail. They hadn’t been buying the local papers as they traversed France from Brittany, through the Massif Central and down to the Pyrenees because they didn’t speak any French. Gelma insists that will change. “As soon as I got home, I bought a phrase book and started learning,” she wrote in an SMS.

Each day L’Equipe and newspapers from the region that the Tour is passing through publish precise information on road closures and the exact itinerary. Even if you have zero French in your vocab, you’ll be able to understand the route descriptions and will at least have locations to punch into a GPS. (Route details can also be found on-line.)

Until they received a copy of the road book, Adam’s entourage had essentially been guessing the course. From our meeting in Foix onward they had the added assistance of knowing each road the peloton would use. The route weaves its way around France rarely taking in highways, as byways and the route nationale are easier to manage for road closures.

This is something that renders the advice of even the most sophisticated GPS systems void and should be considered for fans considering taking the trip next year.

“Adam’s team thought Louise & I were absolutely crazy.  They couldn’t believe we were there for the entire Tour and that they would see us at every stage,” said Meoli. “The other riders had family there for a day or two but not Adam… we were there for the whole 21 days. They found that bizarre. I guess they haven’t had much to do with Australian families.

“Of course we would be there for the whole race. We had  travelled so far and wanted the full experience.

“The riders and staff at Columbia were so friendly to us and made us feel very welcome. They said how happy they were to meet Adam’s family because he just keeps going and going. They thought he was bionic. His nickname is Robocop. When they met us they said to Adam, ‘So you are human.’

“Even though the team made us welcome they were doing a job so Louise and I made sure we were very independent.”

This explains a story I relayed on LeTour.fr during stage three. “This is [Adam’s] first Tour but he’s no stranger to long rides,” read the news flash on the official site. “When he was 17, he and a friend decided to see some of the world on their bikes. ‘We decided to pack lightly so we didn’t bother even taking a back pack. Instead we cut a bidon in half, shoved in a pair of board shorts and a bank card and set off on our adventure. We slept on the side of the road and rode as far as we could each day. We kept going until we got to Brisbane…’

“Once they got to the state capital, they turned around and rode home. How far? ‘Oh, it was about 2,100km each way.’”

Such a story explains the whole bionic man theory. There would be other tales relayed through Gelma via the official website and one, in particular, has been the subject of several forums. It relates to arguably the toughest stage this year.

His mother takes up the story… “On the Alpe d’Huez stage we were invited to a barbeque for the sponsors of Team Columbia which was held three kilometres from the finish.

“We were driven up the mountain in a team car during the publicity caravan parade, driving past thousands of people. When the riders arrived they were working hard to make it up the steep road. Not Adam. He stopped to say hello.

“He asked me for his video camera so he could record the last few kilometres,” explained Gelma. “To stop and break his momentum and then have to start again was very impressive, I must say, although I am very biased.”

Judging by the reaction of those discussing the story online, it’s fair to say that Gelma and Louise are not the only two Adam Hansen fans in the world. More biased perhaps, but he has a legion of followers who will now know who to look out for if they make the journey to Monaco for the grand départ. But the Alpe d’Huez story isn’t over yet… “Well the barbeque was over, and Louise and I realised we had to get back down the mountain. We tried hitching a ride but the cars were all full. Off we went, walking and walking and walking… I thought I was going to die. We finally got to the bottom. In fact, we got there before many of the cars.

By Rob Arnold

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RIDE Media publishes both the Official Tour de France Guide (Australian Edition) as well as RIDE Cycling Review, a quarterly magazine all about cycling.
RIDE Cycling Review is now available in a digital format via Zinio.

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Author: rob@ride

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