Gert-Jan Theunisse – 1994 Tour de France – Hautacam

I took the photo above of one of my all time heroes, Gert-Jan Theunisse leading the Green Jersey worn and eventually won by Djamolidine Abdoujaparov on stage 11 of the 1994 Tour de France. The stage started in Cahors and finished in the ski resort of Hautacam, not far from Lourdes and was won by one of my favourite French climbers, Luc Leblanc.

From the town of Lourdes, a hors category climb, it is massive: 17.3km long with a total of 1,170 meters of climbing at an average gradient of 6.8%. The flattest parts are at the bottom, with a section near the middle that has a 10% gradient, then from there to the top it sits at about 8% or more!

I arrived in Lourdes by train late the evening before and ended up sleeping in a church/monastery as firstly I did not have much money and secondly, everywhere was full! Anyway I seem to remember being looked after well and early next morning, I caught a bus to the bottom of the climb up to Hautacam and then walked the rest of the way up. I don’t recall exactly how far I walked,but think it was over 10km to the climb. However it was a great experience as all the time the crowds were growing and I did get to the top and with thousands of others waited for the Tour to arrive.

The excitement and the atmosphere grew all day long and long before the riders came, you could hear the helicopters way down below in the valleys, getting closer and closer.

I have a number of other photos that I took at the same point as this which was probably about 1km from the summit, but this is my favourite. Now riding for TVM, Gert-Jan Theunisse was past his best by 1994 and that is why we can see him in this photo with Abdoujaparov. But in his day was one of the best climbers in the world, remember he had won the King of the Mountains jersey and come 4th overall in the 1989 Tour de France when he rode for PDM.

The first riders to pass me were Marco Pantani, Luc Leblanc, Miguel Indurain and then Richard Virenque. Leblanc eventually out sprinted Indurain for the stage win, with Pantani finishing 3rd, 18 seconds back.

Indurain’s main threat, Tony Rominger finished well back at 2:21 and was now almost 5 minutes behind the yellow jersey overall.

At the finish, I watched the podium presentations where I also got to see my hero Stephen Roche who was working for the media as well as the great Aussie Phil Anderson riding for Motorola.

No team buses were permitted at the top and so many of the riders joined the crowds and rode down again in to Lourdes.

Great memories…