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Traffic chaos as thousands go down the Alpe d'Huez

Updated: July 23, 2011, 09:39

GRENOBLE, France (AP) The Alpe d'Huez is legendary in cycle racing, a classic and punishing climb that has often crowned the winner of the Tour de France. All the riders struggle to get up it. This year they also struggled to get down.

At midnight after Friday's stage it was taking vehicles more than three hours to complete the 9 miles to the bottom of the mountain, partly because of a Tour truck that had shed a wheel on the last bend before the bottom. Those on foot went down faster.

Luckily for the riders, they all spent the night in hotels at the top of the mountain. Or at least they thought they were lucky, until they tried to come down on Saturday morning and discovered the traffic chaos was continuing.

World time-trial champion Fabian Cancellara woke at 6 a.m. to travel to Grenoble in time to look at the course before he competed. But his car took 90 minutes to cover 30 miles, so he didn't have time and he had to ride blind.

"Traffic nightmare. What a mess,'' tweeted American George Hincapie, a veteran of 16 Tours.

British rider Geraint Thomas added: "Forget roller coasters ... Try getting from l'Alpe d'Huez to Grenoble in time for TT start. White knuckle ride!!''


TRIBUTE TO FIGNON: The Tour de France is missing a big character this year. Since the early 1980s, Laurent Fignon had been a Tour regular, first as a rider and two-time Tour winner, later as a commentator. Last year, despite being seriously ill with cancer, he was a commentator on the race for French television. He died a month later at age 50.

Sunday's final stage begins in the Paris suburb of Creteil, where Fignon had his racing license. Race organizers ASO and French sports newspaper L'Equipe will unveil a monument to Fignon, in the presence of his family and of five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault, the former teammate and rival of Fignon.

"He was a fighter and like me was always vying for victory. We always had fair battles,'' Hinault said at the time of Fignon's death.


FLYING HIGH: So you're riding the Tour de France and you have to be in Grenoble on Saturday and in Paris - 300 miles away - on Sunday. You're gonna need a plane.

Who can offer one of those for a one-hour flight between two cities in France? Maybe national carrier Air France, or one of the European low-cost airlines?

Step in the "official airline of the Tour de France'' - Qatar Airways.

The Middle East-based airline that usually flies in and out of the Qatari capital, Doha, is sending an Airbus A330 to Grenoble on Sunday morning to pick up the riders, team staff and some journalists to fly them to Paris.

The airline, which hosts the Tour of Qatar, says its involvement in the Tour de France is "an excellent way of reinforcing our passion for one of the world's most popular sports.''

The riders probably won't mind who's flying them provided it's comfortable and, most importantly, on time.

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