Never underestimate the influence of good food on a hungry photographer and his sidekick. At the end of Stage 11 we arrived at Hotel Genepy hungry enough to eat a Armorican cow. The friendly Dutch owners served us up heaped platefuls of hot, golden Frits with proper Dutch mayonnaise. By the time we had finished a large glass of Witbier each, we felt the Dutchies were very fine people indeed.
After polishing off a few rounds of toast with De Ruijter sprinkles for breakfast – Heel Goed! - we were ready to don lederhosen and call ourselves honourary Dutchmen. In the spirit of our newly claimed culture, we decided our plan for today’s Stage 12 of the Tour de France would include a pilgrimage to the famous ‘Dutch Corner’ on Alpe d’Huez – it was even marked on Google maps.
There was only one problem: we needed orange clothing to show our newfound cultural allegiance. In search of ‘oranje’, I found myself in Bourg-Saint-Maurice Les Arcs’ Technique Extreme outdoor store. With a range straight from the early nineties, they had every possible colour of polar fleece and zip off pants. But sadly nothing suitable for wearing in the blazing sun, so I had to settle for orange socks (it’s the thought that counts).
A narrow escape
After wasting most of our time at the start in outdoor stores, we had to shake a leg to get to our first photo location, the Col de Madeleine. Álvaro swung the ŠKODA into the first available park, and I sweated out the Witbier pedaling my Giant TCR to the top. There were no cars allowed within 1km of the summit, which gave a great clear shot compared to the campervan-fest further down.
I got a shot of the riders approaching, then sprinted over the summit as quickly as I could to catch the tail end of them on the descent, then back to the car again as rapidly as possible. However, despite all my lung-blowing haste, there was no broom wagon in sight, meaning there must be riders still coming. We craned our necks looking down the climb, but couldn’t even see anyone in the distance. It looked like we were going to have to risk it again, driving in the race and hoping that the riders didn’t catch us on the descent.
Suddenly a Gendarme appeared in our rear vision mirror. I shrank down in my seat, waiting for his lights to start flashing to pull us over. But he just sat behind us and sped past when he had the opportunity. Phew! If he’d made us wait for the lanterne rouge, we would never have been able to get up Alpe d’Huez before the roads closed.
We took a sneaky diversion over the Col du Glandon, but came to a standstill at the bottom in Allemont. Unfortunately the publicity caravan was just up ahead of us, and there was no way we could pass it completely before reaching Alpe D’huez. That didn’t mean Álvaro wouldn’t give it his best shot though...
We wove in between chicken and real estate floats, and by the time we reached the climb we were sitting behind San Michel’s Madeleines. They must pump the essence of freshly-baked Madeleines out the exhaust, because the spectators were in some kind of sugar induced frenzy, stumbling around grabbing as many as they could carry. I switched the ŠKODA air conditioning to recycle mode to protect us, thinking loyally of stroopwafels instead.
The iconic 21 corners of Alpe d’Huez unfolded in front of us, lined with a noisy, heaving sea of people, some of whom had been set up here for weeks. In past years police have had to break up full-blown riots, and once the post-race cleanup crew found a dead body down a nearby ravine - he’d fallen off the mountain in the madness and no one had noticed.