Emmental as anything
Sweet dreams are made of cheese - who am I to dis-a-’brie’…?
If you have looked across my Tour de Suisse landing page, you will see, amongst Tour de Suisse trivia and other journalistic bric-a-brac of varying degrees of usefulness, an introductory paragraph full of Swiss cultural (mis)appropriations and puns. I had intended to thread these masterfully through the stages as a reward for regular readers, and as an earnest tribute to this beautifully unique (and occasionally odd) country.
I got off to a good start too, with a cringe-worthy knock-knock joke heralding the opening of the stage 1 team time trial - the future yode(l) well. Then the reality of covering a multi-stage race on my lonesome interceded, meaning I haven’t been able to bring you the lighter (and oft wonderful) sides to Switzerland in the way I would have hoped.
Enter stage 7, and, with only 2 more stages after this, I am solemnly recommitting to Swiss cultural anthropology. Starting with cheese.
Sure, the French will claim that cheese is their ‘thing’. The US might argue it is now theirs - producing over a quarter of the world’s supply. TItalians might point to the fact that it was popularised by the Roman Empire, while Germans consume an average of over 25kg per person, per annum. With no definitive archaeological records to pinpoint exactly where or when cheese was first produced, or who the clever devils were (a region of modern-day Poland currently has the strongest claim) - there are no shortage of ‘holes’ in the backstory.
Still, for today - and stage 7 - at least, it is all about Swiss cheese (despite the term being a North American appropriation for a variety from Emmental, Switzerland). It started with an impromptu tasting of local produce at Goldberg BnB... for breakfast! My host, Meinrad, brought out an impressive selection for me to sample - all of which looked much more upmarket than the selection at the Volg grocery store that I had been frequenting for dashboard delicacies. I cut a generous slice from each of them, before going back for seconds. Noticing my interest in the wares, Meinrad disappeared back to the kitchen and returned with an even larger selection.
This was followed by a lesson in local cheese appreciation, which I followed along as best I could. Still, at one moment Meinrad seemed to be talking about the cheese having an aroma of flowers, when all I could smell were feet (or socks).
This cultural consternation came at a price - I was running very late (which was not very ‘Gouda’ - a Dutch variety). Still, I was glad to see I wasn’t the only one - I was narrowly beaten to the village by the Trek Segafredo bus. Birds of a ‘cheddar’, so to speak.
After the obligatory sign-on photos, I was heading back to the car when I spotted Nairo Quintana riding past with a big, cheesy grin on his face. He even held out his hand with a 'thumbs up' for the gathered press. I guess he was feeling ‘grate’ today - a sign of what was to come?
Take it cheesy
My first spot was a switchback on one of today's smaller climbs. I wasn't far ahead of the riders but I still managed to make a cheese sandwich (following Meinrad’s selection advice), eat it gleefully, and then arrange my slightly-damp washing on the parcel shelf of the Skoda. Ah, the glamorous life of Beardy’s Caravan.
The second location was sight-unseen, but, with mountains in every direction, it didn’t take long to find a nice spot; albeit lying in the ditch by the side of road. As I waited for the riders, I passed the time posting to Instagram. A cyclist pulled up on his bike, gave me a strange look and said ‘Hey, I think I follow you on Instagram?’. I replied that, yeah, that was likely me - and that I had just posted some new images. I wish I’d had a sticker to give him to say thanks.
After the riders flashed by, I said auf wiedersehen to my new friend and headed off for the main event - the climb to Arosa. I had checked up on this location and was hoping that there might be some spectators to add a bit of life to the shots. The climb was long (almost 30 kms), yet by the time I had almost reached the top, the riders weren’t far behind. They must have been drilling it!
The climb wasn’t as spectacular as I had hoped, and the lack of crowd atmosphere meant I only had one choice; find the steepest section and shoot tight. Each of the riders contorted their faces, seemingly correlating their expression to the gradient of the climb. That was, except for Quintana who looked as cool (and comfortable) as a cucumber and Richie Porte, who gave me a big smile.