an article written for the bicycle moaning collective newsletter
The Bicycle Moaning Collective Chasing the Tour 2016 (Edition 4)
Stage 17 | Wednesday July 20 | 17km | Berne to Finhaut Emosson / the BMC: Chamonix
The hotel looked nice enough, attractive décor, pleasant staff, pool, sauna, Jacuzzi, spa – the usual. None of that mattered as we hurriedly pushed through the Skoda girls mobbing reception to get to our bikes. We had a Tour de France to catch and like a very fast train it was heading our way. With only the relatively small, cute even, Col des Montets and the Swiss border between us it was very catchable.
Cut a long, hot story short – we missed it (again) but the Bicycle Moaning Collective were back, #Chasing the Tour, #Hunting down Cols – that rag bag bunch of cycling desperadoes (some who looked like they hadn’t seen their bike since the last time they were in the Alps). We had the old and the new, it’s always good to welcome newcomers (even if she was faster than most of us!)
Back over Col des Montets Tour catch or not Tour catch (as was the case) spirits were high after the first taste of an alpine descent followed by a quick beer detour into Chamonix before returning to relax around the pool with the Skoda girls and take in the magnificent views of Mont Blanc and its ailing glaciers. Any disappointment of missing Froome & Co race up to the stage finish at Emosson was long forgotten as we tried to concentrate on plans for the next day’s riding.
Stage 18 | Thursday July 21 | 17km | ITT Sallanches to Megeve / the BMC: lunch in Verbier 99 / 2424m ascent
Whilst The Tour riders had the uphill Individual Time Trial to worry about – and being only 17Km long it was a stage that we could realistically complete in full – the BMC headed in the opposite direction to Switzerland (in our vans) passing smoothly through the border (no passports required). Our heads were buzzing with Skoda girls (still) and the logistical conundrum of getting 14 riders, 1 minibus, a van and a car up, down and back up the Col de la Forclaz from Martigny, the apricot growing capital of Switzerland (and maybe of the EFTA).
Finally, it was agreed that everyone but Stevo would descend to Martigny on their bikes and he would drive the van down leaving the minibus and 1 car at the top and then on the way back…that’s as far as we got. In true BMC style we’d sort the getting back bit later. After a nervous straight out of the van 1st proper warp-speed alpine descent and with the van parked (the 1 now the bottom of Forclaz if you’ve lost track) we started out for Verbier. This being the Chasing the Tour tour and not a traditional BMC tour the peloton soon splintered – with a high tempo pace set at the front, no doubt to soften up any potential Verbier climb contenders. A truce of sorts was called and we regrouped at the bottom of the climb, then promptly splintered again on the climb as Strava times were selfishly chased.
It’s not every day you can go to Verbier for lunch. We earned that lunch. Scorching hot? Yes. Brutally steep? Yes. A baptism of fire for some, a nasty reminder for others but apparently easy for Mrs KHC. Luckily Verbier was the end of the road, with only a gravel road over the top (that only Kiero eyed wistfully), it was back the way we had come. That brutally steep climb was now a devilish descent, awakening our senses – sharpening the eyes, gripping the brakes, tasting flies, smelling Hansford’s brakes and hearing his screams as he hurtled too close to the precipice.
Back on the road to Martigny we concocted an unofficial race, with riders attacking (foolishly) off the front at 60kmph only to be pulled back in by the collective will of the game peloton or more likely stopped in their over eager tracks by the damning headwind of truth and fading, retreating back to the shelter of the smirking peloton; until they were ready to go for the breakaway again. Being an unofficial BMC race – there were no official winner.
The reward for being first was to try again to solve our earlier conundrum of getting 14 riders and their bikes into a van with only 3 seats back to the top of Forclaz, eventually solved by a handful of the overly-keen tackling the penultimate climb of yesterday’s stage (and one of the worst climbs known to the Tour due to its dreary, unrelenting drags with few hairpins until near the summit, to add character or a much needed centrifugal kick). It was a hot, muggy, devoid of visual stimulus kind of climb.
The only interest in the dreary rain was watching the Tour debris clean up-parties removing the evidence that the immortals had climbed the same way the day before, promotional cr#p thrown by the caravan. Whether it was the thunder and lightning that cracked first or the rear half of the peloton but Mrs KHC soon burned the bunch off her back wheel, disappearing fast in the drizzle and low cloud with Stevo (that’s how rumours start…) – chased relentlessly by the Doog.
The sarcastically cheering welcome party at the top didn’t provide much comfort either. The other half of the equation had been solved by Hansford’s ingenuity. Having foreseen a circumstance where he could avoid a 13km climb he’d ardently volunteered to be insured on the van. Selflessly he drove the mechanical cheats to the top, blind and shaken around the hairpins in the back of a hot van – just punishment for their cheating.
Stage 19 | Friday July 22 | 146km | Albertville to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc / the BMC: various 102km / 2053m ascent
Sensing that Tour was reaching its climax the Skoda girls in the hotel made their move, offering the more easily led members of the BMC, finish line hospitality passes for the day’s stage. There was a steely determination at breakfast that this was the day when we were all definitely catching the Tour, whether it be sipping champagne in hospitality, standing on the side of a wet mountain wearing a plastic bag or at the foot of the day’s final climb (when you’ve underestimated how long it takes to complete 2053m over 3 monster climbs and 100km).
The day’s best laid plans lasted all of 2 minutes when the keys to the unlocked minibus disappeared up the mountain (all be it slowly) in Big Carl’s jersey pockets and had to be retrieved. By the time the minibus was secured the BMC were spread out on various roads leading up to maybe Megève, or was it Saint Gervais or quite possibly neither? Maybe the presence of CheeseMap on the mountain had something to do with the directional dispersion. Of course it would all work out in the end – whatever happened we’d all meet in a bar in Saint-Gervais Les Bains, that didn’t even need to be planned for.
Whether it was planned or not, 3 of the BMC set off on a 3 Col super ride: up to Megève, over Col des Aravis – complete with chalets, cows with cow bells in alpine meadows, through half-recognised ski resorts – ticking all the boxes without shredding the legs, onwards and upwards over Col de la Colombière, the day’s biggie. Whilst the pace on the road was good for the moving average, the time taken to drink coffee, chew on baguettes and gorge on tarts in the col-top cafes was hurting the overall average. As the storm clouds re-gathered and the Tour moved relentlessly towards St Gervais, from the summit top of Colombière the 3 had to lift their game, Miss Daisy Jones had to descend like stone not a feather. The race was on.
The solution was obvious. The Doog was put to work on the front, his panting ignored as he dragged the chase group back to St Gervais. Despite some shameless shirking (from this author) they made it to see a Romain Bardet and domestique race pass en-route to deliver a rare French stage victory, followed by battered, bruised and bloodied Chris Froome, jersey ripped but holding on to his third Tour win. That wasn’t the highlight of the day though. That belonged to the Quintana as he got to descend with the BMC back down the mountain to the tour buses (his was the one with the on-board shower but no stop for beers before the hotel).
Stage 20 | Saturday July 23 | 146km | Megeve to Morzine / the BMC: Taninges to Les Gets 78km / 2361m ascent
Last day of the Tour proper and last day of Chasing the Tour. The split in the group was well established by now. Roughly along the lines of those who wanted to enjoy themselves and those that wanted to enjoy themselves by hurting themselves a little bit more. There’s more people into this than you might think and the selection evened up into a 60:40 split.
For Team Leisurely Ride there was just the small matter of the notorious Col du Joux Plan before finding a bar to watch the final mountain showdown of the 2016 Tour. As it was the 2 groups had very similar days with the exception that Team Max Mosley had to haul itself up Col de la Ramaz, a nasty climb, steep and spiteful especially through the dark tunnel section but with a quite magnificent open bowl before the true summit providing a 2-mile-wide amphitheatre to watch the tour play out (if you were stopping to watch the Tour that is). Instead the BMC raced down off Col du Ramaz, a messy thin ribbon of tarmac, rutted, scarred with untidy bitumen repairs mixed in with gravel, greasy white lines and rollercoaster hairpins – steep and banked like a natural velodrome. The race wasn’t a fair one, DrewVo had split, proving once and for all Dad’s descend slower.
Whereas Team Leisure got to have a jolly old time in a bar in Les Gets, Team Max rode back from Morzine in the rain (there’s a moral in there somewhere…I’m just not sure what it is). Both teams got to descend into Taninges, pace-line like hell to Samoen then crucify themselves painfully on CdJP. Except Stevo who found some new skinny French bike friends to climb with. CdJP is tough, even tougher when the grim faced gendarmes make you cyclo-cross across a muddy ravine in cleats across the summit (wrecking Strava times in the process…the stewards inquiry rumbles on for this one).
With the 2016 Tour’s final climb bested there was still it’s final descent to look forward to…except if you were Team Max who were forced to descend in a sadistic thunderstorm at a pace so sensibly slow as to defy gravity, so slow that to date only Descending Miss Daisy Jones had been able to achieve on a consistent basis (whatever the weather). The road down becomes a river; we tip toed around the hairpins until we entered the barriers that marked the last 3km to the finish line. We almost certainly shouldn’t have been. You’re not allowed to drive your car around an F1 circuit before the race starts. Under the gaze of the massed Tour spectators as the Tour closed up its mountain shop for the year, so did we.
Crossing the same finish line, roared home by the same crowd (in our dreams). As Froome’s Team Sky steam rolled the opposition into the melting tarmac with a pre-ordained inevitability the BMC showed its always best to get out on your bikes and make your own fun.