A return to form
You: “Knock knock”
Me: “Who’s there?”
You: “Little old lady”
Me: “Little old lady who?”
You: “Beardy, we didn’t know you could yodel?!…”
Well now, here we go again. Following a long line of luminaries including Randy Quaid (Independence Day), Paul Newman (The Color of Money), Kyle’s cousin Kyle (South Park), and, in a slightly obscure nod to the promotional materials for Poltergeist 2, fellow Caravaners... I’m baaaaaaaack!
I know you’ve missed me. I’ve missed you too. I want to start by sending a sincere thank you out to everyone who has sent a Facebook message, email, text, smoke signal or carrier pigeon during my international hiatus. I’ve felt the love - and received the message. The lack of Beardy’s Caravan at the Giro left a gaping hole in our collective cycling lives. Sure, some worthy competition has sprung up in the space - but it just hasn’t been the same. It seems that now, more than ever, cycling needs a bearded voice in the wilderness. So I’ve come out of semi-Tasmanian retirement to bring you the biggest year of Caravaning yet (more to announce on that soon).
Still, I was a little out of shape. There isn’t, for example. a whole lot of grissini just lying around in Tassie. So, before tackling the Tour de France (yes, I will be there for each and every stage this year) - I headed to Scotland for a bikepacking adventure with some of my Over Yonder hombres. You know, a leisurely spin over some of the harshest terrain Europe has to offer (story coming soon to Beardy’s Caravan).
The next stop on my voyage en france was a maiden journey to the Tour de Suisse. Like the riders testing their legs on this shorter nine stage race, I would be testing my trigger finger to see if I still had ‘it’.
To add to the degree of difficulty - this would be the first time I had attempted to cover a multi-stage race solo. No Mrs McBeard, no Stuntman, no Lieutenant Dan, no Don Álvaro. Even for a shorter nine stage race, this was no small undertaking. Therefore, after adding to my passport bingo card with a Scottish and Swiss stamp, it was time to shake off the cobwebs and get down to business.
Skoda Switzerland had generously agreed to provide the horsepower in the form of what has become Beardy’s vehicle of choice - the Skoda Octavia. After picking it up from the Zurich dealer, I set course to Frauenfeld; the start town for the next 3 stages.
Bibs and bobs
The Tour de Suisse utilises a similar model to the Tour Down Under (although, to be fair, having commenced in 1933 the Swiss may have latched onto this concept a little before Adelaide). That is, building a central village atmosphere with stages bunched together, or at least within close proximity to said village. The aim, clearly, is to maximise spectator bang for buck, as well as minimise the distance the race director has to travel for his evening fondue.
The trick worked a charm, with armies of spectators out in force for the team time trial around Frauenfeld. In a pleasant turn of events, it was the Stefan Küng (a Swiss local) fans outnumbering the predictable Peter Sagan hysteria. Still, what they lacked in numbers, these Sagan devotees more than made up for in lunacy - with a smattering of ‘PS’-tattooed arms visible at the start.
There was, however, still one box I needed to tick before I got into the thick of it, and that was finding the press centre. This proved to be more difficult than I had hoped and, after walking aimlessly around for an hour in the now-very-hot summer sun, discovered it was in a totally different area. Some things never change.
Still, it wasn't all bad. The area had a nicely stocked cafeteria, which was a good way to wriggle out of spending some hard-earned Swiss francs on a coffee and sandwich. However, what I saved on lunch I quickly lost again on the deposit for my finish line bib. A whopping 50 CHF later and I’m worried about my budget. Still, I guess it means I will be sure to return it at the end (if some trophy hunter doesn’t mug me for it beforehand and claim the prize)!
Carefully bibbed-up (double-knotted) and ready to go, I headed off in search of the riders. The idea that they would be ‘warming up’ struck me as more than a little amusing in this blistering Swiss heat. Sure enough, there they were in ice vests and/or in front of pedestal fans that were turning considerably faster than their legs. Even so, it barely put a dent in the sweat droplets that were not so much rolling as cascading off perplexed brows.
I was able to move around the teams easily, which made for a refreshing change from the larger races, where the media scrum is kept at arm's length. For this stage I planned to capture a mixture of close rider shots, as well as on-course and finish line images - all of which could easily be achieved on foot. This seemed a shame, as the air-conditioned Skoda was raring to go, and it felt far too warm to play the packhorse. Still, I packed up as many lenes as I could carry (6 in total, sacrificing my water bottle for the Olympus 300mm F4 which I knew would be handy on the finish line) and set off towards my first spot.
Almost instantaneously this turned out to be a foolish mistake. As I stopped to partake in a pizza with two fellow photographers, the mix of midday sun and salty pepperoni left my mouth drier than, well, Aussie readers will know the rest. Crude vernacular it may be, however there is really no other way to convey just how unpleasant the next period was - and how much I missed that water bottle.
Richie Porte and the Swiss-backed BMC team looked to be in good form, confirmed when they won the stage by a convincing 20 second margin over Team Sunweb. It was certainly one for the hometown team who roared as Stefan Küng pulled on the Yellow Santini leader’s jersey. I drank the town’s aquifer dry and then retired back to my hotel room to back it up with a brew, confident I had taken a small but significant step towards regaining match fitness.