The Alpe d’Huez hangover
A long and exciting day on Alpe d’Huez and an early checkout at Château le Shite had me feeling pretty dusty when I woke up for Stage 13. The beers at Dutch Corner may have had an impact, too...
Things had gone downhill rather rapidly from the very moment we checked in at the accommodation the previous evening. The hotel had accidentally allocated us a double room, not a twin, and while Álvaro and I have become pretty good buddies, we weren’t too keen on the prospect of snuggling up in a double bed. This happens pretty regularly in Europe, but usually the double is just two singles pushed together. Not this time, though; this time it was the real deal.
I asked the guy manning the bar downstairs if we could use the fold-out bed that was in the hallway. He agreed and went off to find some sheets, only to return and tell us that the owner of the Château had told him we couldn’t use it. We took it anyway.
After a less than perfect night’s sleep on the fold-out, the sign on the wall telling me not to manger in the chambres was all the encouragement I needed. I took great pleasure in eating my breakfast out of a plastic container and leaving the remnants of my muesli in the sink – that way the stingy owners would know that there was no way we were forking out 20 euro for their overpriced breakfast. Revenge never tasted so sweet.
The road to the stage 13 start in Le Bourg-d’Oisans was a one-way-in-one-way-out kind of deal, which meant we had to be there by 11am – two-and-a-half hours before the race started. Lucky for me, the village is conveniently located at the foot of Alpe d’Huez, so I took the opportunity to go for a pedal. I was expecting the roadside to be looking a little worse for wear after the mayhem of yesterday, but it was a pleasant surprise to see that the cleanup had been pretty effective – even Dutch Corner looked spick and span, and quite different without a soul in sight.
The teams had all stayed at the top of the mountain, so as I huffed and puffed my way up the famous 21 switchbacks, the team buses filled with weary riders all came down the opposite way. I gave them all a lesson in graceful, pure climber technique – Brailsford, do you need another mountain goat on the Team Sky roster?
Black Hawk Down
By the time I got back to the ŠKODA it was time to go, so I quickly got changed (without a shower, sorry Álvaro) and we raced off to our first spot. The mountains surrounding Grenoble are really impressive, so I sat myself down in a field and had a moment to take it all in before the riders came along.
Before they did, the guest helicopters carrying VIPs started circling above. They must’ve also liked the look of the field because all of a sudden, all five of them came into land, sending grass and dirt flying. I think there’s still some in my beard.
The next spot for the day was Pont-en-Royans, one of the first towns in France to get electricity and a hub of the resistance in World War II. On a previous adventure, I’d noticed a cool little swimming hole below the bridge. This time, stinky and grubby from my brief stint as an extra in Black Hawk Down, the water looked even more inviting.
Back into the fray
Even though we’d only made two stops for the day it was still a rush to the finish. Luckily a number of other cars had stopped at Pont-en-Royans too, so we had a good-sized convoy to blast through the roadblocks and carve up the highway all the way there.
Pulling up in Valence the horn sounded signalling that the riders were just 10km away, so I had to leg it to make it to the finish and managed to squeeze my way into the scrum of photographers to catch the sprint.
It was a pretty close finish, with Sagan simply outclassing Démare and Kristoff, who both looked a bit defeated. With most of the other top sprinters going home after yesterday’s mountain stage, it was the ideal opportunity for them to score a victory. But it wasn’t to be – the stellar Slovak is/was just too good.