Last night I received the message that I’d be on a motorbike again today and, after my last experience, I was excited to give it another whirl. Speedy was happy too as he could drive to the Stage 17 finish without any stress and suss out a spot on the epic climb.
It was clear immediately that the second rest day has done us a lot of good. We had done sweet, sweet nothing but nap, reply to emails, watch movies, nap some more, and do some much-needed washing. I had reached the point of having to turn my undies inside-out and back-to-front to get by. This morning my clothes were fresh and so were we. There wasn’t even a panic when the cleaners knocked - since we were, refreshingly, ready to go a half-hour early.
Stage 17 was my first experience on a moto for a mountain stage. I can definitely say that descending on a motorbike with riders just metres in front of you is not for the faint-hearted. At one point I heard tyres squealing and I kissed my butt goodbye. I quickly realised that the noise was coming from an official’s Skoda just centimetres from our moto’s rear wheel. We were so close to the riders and vehicles I felt packed-in like a can of sardines - one that was hurtling through the air at break-neck speed.
At one point my driver gave me a much-needed bottle of water as the temperature soared into the 30s - half of which went down my front as the visor was still down. Photo-moto rookie error #2 (this first was wearing skinny jeans) - make sure your visor is up before trying to take a sip. There were definitely some amused spectators on the side of the road - thankfully I don't think any of the riders or officials saw my faux pas.
I was worried about the final climb, Google streetview hadn’t covered it for some reason - so I was flying blind. From the satellite images I could tell that there were some decent switchbacks to catch the riders on - but not much else. I got off the motorbike at the 2km-to-go marker (as the barricades started just after this point), and discovered one of the few parts of the climb that wasn’t treed-in.
I heard a voice from the ledge above me. At first I thought it was dehydration talking, but then I saw that it was Speedy with a prime spot. After the break away and yellow jersey bunch rolled past, I continued walking up the climb, snapping the passing riders.
The summit was chaos as riders came through in dribs and drabs. In fact, the presentations were well and truly over, and pack-down in full swing, by the time the last rider arrived.
We had to catch a shuttle bus back to the press parking area as there was very limited space at the summit. The only problem was that the usual lack of organisation meant that everything had gone to hell. People were everywhere, not knowing where to stand, or which bus to catch. I took a chance and jumped on one, hoping Speedy would do likewise...
Once inside the bus, things didn’t get much better. We just sat there, waiting for whatever it was that was preventing us from moving. Finally, after what seemed like forever, we started moving - and then promptly stopped again. The next 3 hours consisted of the same thing, start the bus, move 100m, then stop again.
Amongst the frustration, one man was determined to turn his lemons into lemonade - and got some tunes going. A girl then started dancing - people clapped along to the beat as she tried to coax others to join in the fun.
It turns out that we had to go through a service tunnel and only one bus was allowed in there at a time (for safety reasons). This meant that each team and the convoy had to be clear of the 9km tunnel before the next one could go down. Add to that the rest of the technical and press vehicles and you’ve got a proper mess.
After I got off the bus from hell, I had no idea where Speedy had parked the car, since most of the signs had already been removed. I searched up and down the main road, crossed the border from Switzerland to France (and back) and I may have echoed a couple of profanities through the valley. I finally found it, then Speedy appeared with a similar look of anger and frustration. We needed beers ASAP!
At the end of the day, everything worked out well and we are writing this from a cozy Canadian bar in Chamonix with a jug of beer, giant burgers and, most importantly, free and fast wifi.