As the Tour de France progressed into its third and final week, Buzz travelled to Valmeinier from where we watched an epic stage 17 of this year’s Tour. As per usual it wouldn’t be a Buzz trip without some spectacular Col climbing, and in the three day trip the guests conquered the Col de la Colombière, Col des Aravis, Lacets du mont Vernier, Col du Télégraphe, Col du Galibier and Col du Madelaine. Which to clarify is quite a lot of Col-ing.
We began Tuesday 18th July from Cluses, at the foot of the Col du Colombier. The 18km ascent was hot, particularly in the last 8km stretch after Le Reposoir, only growing hotter as the gradient crept up to 9, 10 and 11% for the last 3km respectively. None of the five guests with us had ridden it before and all of them paced themselves well and reached the top in good time. The descent to Le Grand-Bornand was nearly as short-lived as the baguettes and pastry we had for lunch there. Refuelled and regrouped we passed through La Clusaz and up the Col des Aravis – a gentler climb than the first, at a merciful 10km in length. A technical and winding top section made for a great descent into the pretty village of Flumet. Hopping back in our trusty support van – crewed by Joe and chief morale officer Liz – we followed a diversion through the largest valley on Earth before stopping at the bottom of Lacets du mont Vernier for a crack at the iconic 3km road, with its 18 switch-backs. The boys with their ego couldn’t help but have a go; sadly, and perhaps not surprisingly, no one managed to beat Romain Bardet’s time of 10 minutes. Things might have been different if he too had already ridden 28km worth of Col – but we will need to let him have this one for now. Arriving in Valmeinier on Tuesday evening we were greeted by Dennis, the multitalented owner of Chalet le 1000 Thabor. The recently built chalet was like something straight out of an architecture magazine and sported jaw dropping views over the valley below and the Col du Télégraphe. Jo – of Chez Toi – had our dinner ready and waiting for us and, as always, the food was ace. The day couldn’t have ended any better.
On Wednesday (Tour day) the keenest beans left the chalet at 9.15am and made our way back down the Télégraphe against the flow of bikes, cars, vans and walkers. The climb was already lined with hundreds of people who had grabbed the early bird viewpoints. With 10km in our legs we rolled down to Valloire, which was a hive of activity. Galibier lay ahead of us; another monster 18km up hill, even tougher than the Colombier. There were thousands of spectators all the way up the Col, many of whom had likely been waiting for days in their tents and caravans. Colourful flags and banners abound, getting to ride up the climb before they closed the road gave an insight into what it must feel like to speed past the roaring crowd as part of the Tour peloton. Joe found us a great spot at the (old) 6km marker, overlooking the first section of switch backs. Our vantage point meant we could see the riders from about 3km away, and got to watch them climb for about 5 minutes – which is a very long time. Some of us held the fort while the rest pushed on to the top. The last 1.5km of the climb was carnage; the road narrowed and the number of spectators grew.
The Tour’s colourful characters (often via body paint) were out in droves, many of them still painting themselves and their messages on the road only a few hours before the Caravan was scheduled to pass. The rain arrived as we reached the top, which gave even more incentive to get back to our spot. After a few pointless dismounts on the way down, compliments of local police, we regrouped at our spot and huddled under a couple of free parasols. Fortunately, the rain didn’t last long – which was good as we were shortly down to one parasol. One of them we had borrowed from a man in a yellow jacket, who took it back as soon as the rain stopped. He hadn’t been using the umbrella but we (Colette) had to beg him to use it, despite us only moving a few feet away with it. Apparently, it was to be a gift for his mother – we hope she enjoyed her gift and thanks for letting us borrow it!
The Caravan came and went with a haul of 20 Madeleines achieved by the group; all the training was clearly working. The first riders came into few about an hour later. Bardet and the other GC contenders lagged five or six break away riders by a few minutes when they passed us, but were considerably far ahead of the peloton. Once the main group eventually appeared, the “broom waggon” was right behind them, which signalled time for us to get ready to speed down the Col to beat the rush. We made it back to the chalet in one piece and with an hour or so to spare before dinner. A knackering day, but a great one. The atmosphere at the Tour is excellent, and one we would recommend everyone should experience. It’s a true sporting and human spectacle.
On Thursday we headed back to Morzine via the Col du Madelaine; 20km up hill; tough but beautiful. The road summit at 2000m offers a 360 degree view of the amazingly picturesque landscape. A 26km descent to just outside of Albertville makes for half an hour of rush and thrill – as well as a slightly stiff neck! A superb end to a superb few days away. Laughs all round, impressive cycling feats (the Tour riders did well too!) and a great stay in Chalet le 1000 Thabor! A big thanks to all the support from Liz and Joe in the van, the delights of Jo’s cooking and the company of some great people. Roll on the second half of the season!