I felt underprepared as I headed back to Gansingen for the start of stage 4. It was a classic transfer stage - 189 km in almost a completely straight line. One of those stages when everyone tunes out just a little - the riders, the teams, the fans. Everyone, that is, except the media.
Journalists have to work that little bit harder to pull a story out of what amounts to a glorified convoy, and photographers have to work harder still to try and stay ahead of a rampaging peloton. There is no faster way from point A to B than a straight line, meaning there were no short-cuts today, with the riders holding the advantage. Plus, with the riders sitting on speeds not that much slower than many of the diversion road speed limits the Skoda and I were trying to adhere to - there was absolutely no room for error.
So why did I feel underprepared? Because, on a day that required Swiss-watch-like precision planning, I had no real plan. I tried to do my normal digital reconnoiter, however, after about 30 km of clicking along the route on Google Maps, I gave up. I figured instead that I would just drive until Zeihen and stop somewhere. Then I could take a 50km diversion and hopefully get ahead of the riders on the race route and find a second spot. Hopefully. This could all go spectacularly wrong.
Clouds loomed somewhat forebodingly on the horizon as the riders signed on - it was looking like another wet day. In brighter news, it seemed Sagan and Sonny had patched things up after yesterday's Liverpool kiss. I guess a little rough-housing in the sprint is nothing new.
The Bözen sentinel
Leaving early to find my first location I made one quick stop to refill the glove box with more treats. On today’s menu I decided that I’d swap to cream cheese with some locally produced Bünder Rohschinken, on a couple of crispy rolls. On top of that I purchased half a kilo of scroggin (or trail mix, in more sophisticated cultures) which I cut 50/50 with salted peanuts.
Munching away on handfuls of scroggin, I scanned the landscape for locations. I didn’t turn up much so, just before I was due to hit the diversion, I pulled into the town of Bözen. There was a church on the hill in the distance - and I could just see people peering out over the edge. I suspected this augured well for a good overhead shot of the riders, so I committed.
Halfway there the rain hit - and hit hard. I sought refuge by huddling against the wall of the church, my t-shirt and shoes already soaked through. By the time I had made it to the look-out, there was only one person left watching; an elderly lady who, by all indications, had weathered plenty more storms than me. As I took shelter, she kept watch. When the riders came into view she signalled for me to step up and get the shot. From my huddled position, I marvelled at her dedication - and couldn’t help wondering if she was any good at driving...
After the last of the riders had passed, I waved goodbye to the kind woman and legged it back down the hill and to the shelter of the Skoda’s heated seats and steering wheel. These were options that had seemed a little over-the-top at the dealership (when referenced to Australian conditions), but which now seemed completely practical, if not essential in central Switzerland. Besides, I was already thinking about the idea of a bucket seat fondue.
The Peloton Piper
I made the diversion with time to spare, despite the rain becoming so heavy at times that the traffic on the highway dropped from 120 to well under 80 km. They are a calm and sensible bunch, the Swiss, no crazy speeding or tailgating here; which made for a refreshing change. Unlike some of their more hot-blooded neighbours, whom I suspect would have ploughed into the storm at full gas, rolling the white-knuckled dice.
Once I returned to the race route I resumed scanning for locations. It took another 30 km before I found the medium-sized town of Zofingen with a rather twisty main street. The shot itself was underwhelming, so I set about trying to make the most of it by finding another angle. It was then that I noticed a set of stairs leading up into a traditional Swiss wooden building. I asked the closest person whether I could get up there. They just nodded, so I climbed up to an internal balcony level. We were back in business!
It turned out to be a preschool and I was soon joined at the window by a throng of kids, eager to watch the riders zoom past. I felt like the pied piper, inspiring the next generation of cycling fans with my natural enthusiasm for the sport. That natural enthusiasm, however, soon got the better of me - the shot looked so good I stupidly showed the carer/teacher the images on the back of the camera. She proceeded to fret about complications rising from having the children featured in the photos. Spell broken, they were made the go back inside - meaning they missed the peloton.
The traffic chaos resulting from the main street being blocked for the race was spilling over into the side streets, filling them with cars. I was more than a little concerned when one of the intersections ahead of me was completely gridlocked. With two wheels on the curb I managed to skirt around the worst of it, making it back to the A road. The Stuntman would have been proud!
There was little chance of squeezing in a 3rd spot now, so I drove all the way to the finish, in the mountain town of Gstaad. The finish line was on a runway, surrounded by mountain peaks. The riders would complete a loop using both runways, which meant an additional shot. I was happy to see the race wasn’t all back together, with Chris Juul Jensen holding a small gap with 3km to go. Still, the peloton was bearing down fast and so was the rain - meaning this would go right down to the wire. Chis managed to fend off the charging bunch, completing one of the most amazing celebrations with the riders sprinting behind him.
I had positioned myself for a fast getaway and got to Chris before the rest of the media scrum. If you watched the TV coverage you might have even seen me in the background, as my phone started to light up with messages of Beardy sightings.