Our recap of getting up close and personal at the Tour de France as we paid a visit to Stage 8 and Stage 9 of the three-week Grand Tour. Here goes;
On Saturday 8th July, the Tour riders cycled from Dole to Station des Rousses in the Jura Mountain range, the first stage of the year with a significant amount of climbing. Buzz guests and few Morzine locals witnessed the spectacle on the final ascent of the day, the Montée de la Combe de Laisia les Molunes, at about 2km from the top of the category 1 climb.
Like the Tour riders, the Buzz crew did a bit of climbing to reach our viewing point. The day began from Gex where we ascended Col de la Faucille; a steady, fairly painless 12km climb with an average gradient of 6%. Ice creams at the top, a descent to the town of Mijoux and another 6km climb up to Lajoux had us right into the Juras. The landscape was far more open and rolling than the Alps, with large stone farmhouses dotted along the winding country roads. As we rolled onto the Tour road, we caught a glimpse of St Claude far below – an indication of the scale of the final climb the riders would undertake that day. We set up shop a few hundred metres from the second to last switch-back of the climb, hoping that the gradient would reduce the riders to a speed where they weren’t just a blur of passing colour. Despite storms being predicted, it stayed dry and warm the entire day. The spectacle that is the Tour de France Caravan passed within half an hour of our arrival, with everyone getting more than enough Tour Souvenirs thrown at them from the enthusiastic caravan crews. The competition for the Madeleines and Haribo packs was fierce. Following the final float in the caravan, a steady stream of official vehicles charged up the hill, with anticipation building for the riders coming through. Before long the noise of the helicopters overhead signalled the first riders were fast approaching. Calmejane lead the race and passed us with roars from the crowd. Shortly after chased Gesnik and a small pack of other riders. Next to pass were a larger group which include the likes of Richie Porte, Chris Froome, Contador, Bardet and Aru. But unlike most stages the main peloton didn’t pass us; instead around 6 or 7 groups of 15 or so riders passed, each a few minutes apart. This made for a great atmosphere and spread out the excitement over a thirty-minute period. Joe and Peter (a couple a’ good Aussie blokes) got a few nods (and funny looks) from the Australian riders thanks to their funky head gear and Australian flags. Too easy. Once the “broom wagon” passed, we ascended the last 2km of the climb and made our way back to Mijoux where the van was waiting, but not before navigating some very busy roads and descending into Mijoux with a few people who had clearly been inspired by the days racing.
On Sunday 9th July for Stage 9: le Tour made its way from Natua to Chambery over three HC climbs making it arguably one of the toughest stages of the Tour this year. Pre-Tour watching, we got a bit of climbing in courtesy of the Col de l’Epine from Novalaise, before riding to Mont du Chat via Verthemex. The ride to Mont du Chat took us over some excruciatingly steep hills, yet barely giving us a taste of what the Tour riders would be going through that day. This stage was much busier than the previous day, with thousands of people lining the road as it snaked up the mountain with a gradient averaging a hideous 10.3%. The massive crowds meant less massive bags of Caravan souvenirs to carry home, but sadly fewer Madeleines made it into the hands of the Buzz crew. The wait in the stuffy heat lasted for 20 to 30 minutes after the Caravan past until 4 helicopters roared overhead, meaning the riders were corners away. Bakelants and Gallopin passed first, three or so minutes ahead of a chase group made up of the Tour’s big names. The chase group came past before long, including Porte, Quintana, Aru and Froome. If you have seen the highlights or were watching on the day, you’ll have seen Froome run into mechanical problems early in the climb. Froome raised his hand and turned his head to catch the attention of the Team Sky support car, and subsequently drifted to the left of the road. One of the guests, Gordon, had, moments before, decided to take a selfie with the riders approaching him from down the hill. Unfortunately neither Gordon nor Mr. Froome noticed they were on a collision course for each other, and Gordon had to be pulled out the way at the last moment before he made the highlights for the wrong reasons! Much to the amusement of his wife and everyone else in the group, I might add! The riders were clearing suffering far more than the previous day (understandably) and the peloton was far less split up. Before long the final riders passed and we made our way down to the bottom of climb to head home, not before running into the Tour’s Red Devil for a selfie, the third-year Buzz has bumped into him at a Tour stage. We really should stop talking about him. We were saddened to learn of the crashes that took place that day, particularly the nasty fall for Porte and Martin. We wish Richie a speedy recovery and hope to catch him in action again next year. A fantastic weekend was had by everyone. The atmosphere was electric and we put some good miles into the legs ourselves. We’re all very excited about travelling to the Tour again next week – which of course we’ll tell everyone all about.