It was Thursday July 18 and it was Stage 17 of the Tour de France. Atop the Col de Colombiere, we saw Lance.
We had our earliest start since arriving in Switzerland leaving Biel soon after 8am for the 2 hour drive to the Swiss-French border just south of Geneva. The border crossing was a non event - we were highly disappointed not to have collected a stamp in the passport, but even more surprised not having to pull out our passport. Navigation wasn’t a problem as the highways were well signposted. However, we were stung 4 times (twice each way) for driving on the French highways totaling over 10 Swiss Francs (or NZD$15).
We found the finish line near Cluses and continued driving along the course 4km from the finish part way up the final descent. We had a few problems communicating with the locals to ask permission to park our vehicle in their drive way, but once successful and kitted with our back packs filled with food, warm clothing, and shoes, we started the climb up the Col de Colombiere. The climb for us (via the northern side of the col) was just over 6% (1,098m over 18km). Already at 11am spectators were heading up the Mountain to reserve a possie - many were cycling - and those that were already established with their table and chairs, wine, cheese, baguettes and soup, cheered us along as we rode up the col. One can only imagine what it would be like to be competing in such an event.
The top was just amazing – a sea of cycling fans and the Massif des Aravis. It was a bit cooler when we got to the top. We found a piece of roadside about 600m from the top and made ourselves at home along with the thousands of others, now just waiting, waiting, waiting. We killed some time eating and soaking up the rays as the sun had now appeared from the clouds.
At about 2pm the convoy began with a parade of sponsor’s giving away freebies. It was each person for themselves sticking a hand out and leaping for give aways thrown through the air. We scored a Credit Lyonnais fabric sack, a Mickey Mouse 2002 Tour de France comic, a piece of Coeur de Lion Camembert and a keyring, a Cofidis keyring, a bottle of Aquarel water, a sachet of Grand Mere coffee, and a big green PMU hand.
It wasn’t long after the excitement of the convoy settled down that the police and team support vehicles filed passed. Then the helicopters whirled overhead and the lead riders were in sight down in the valley. Since there were two other Cat 1 climbs and one Cat 2 climb prior to this Col starting at 110km, the race had split up and breaks had been made. The first 3 to pass by me were led by Giuseppe Guerini of Team Telekom. Then the yellow jersey was in sight. Unfortunately on the approach Lance was hidden in the bunch so I couldn’t get a pic, but as he passed by I’m sure he winked at me.
With so many spectators wanting to be so close to the riders, to cheer them on and take photos, it was difficult to get a clear view for the perfect pic. I got a few goodies (see my gallery page). But it will be the amazing atmosphere that I will remember for years to come – the helicopters, the noise of the crowds, the winding roads lined with masses of fans, the spectacular mountain scenery, the “allez allez”, the focus on the rider’s faces, the commotion of motorbikes and their horns, the precariously perched cameramen following closely, the brightly coloured signs of support for the local hero’s, a roof top painted for Jalabert, and the list goes on.
Getting off the col was a bit of a mission. The sheer number of walkers and cyclists were going to make for a long descent. The first few kilometers were the worst – I thought I’d need a new set of brake pads. Once we passed the slower riders it was a great descent – windy, narrow and pretty tight, so it would’ve been awesome to see the pros race it. Once back at the van, then the mission began – the traffic was shocking. We stopped for a couple of French supermarkets where food was unbelievably cheap compared to Switzerland (though comparable to NZ). Stocked up on Baguettes, Camembert, (cheap) Red Wine and other necessities. Then we had the long wait in traffic on the highway leaving France – luckily we had food though.
Arrived back at the flat about 11pm, pretty shattered. Awesome, awesome day.
We’ve been in Biel for just on 2 weeks now. Here’s a little about Swiss Living…
Biel-Bienne Biel is also known as Bienne in French. Biel was founded around 1220 then in 1789 it was taken as part of Napolean’s French Empire. After the Convention of Vienna in 1815, the city was incorporated with the Canton of Berne and became definitively Swiss. The population is near 60,000 with two thirds of the permanent residents speaking German and one third French. It is the only city in Switzerland that has 2 official languages.
Accomodation We've got a 2 bedroom flat in Biel. Christian and I have a room and Tim Vincent is sharing with Nick Hotchin. The flat was unfurnished but Tim had some bare essentials from last year - he has grown fond of the place and has returned every summer for the past few years. So we have mattresses on the floor and limited linen and kitchen stuff but with a TV, couch, table and chair - it's enough to get by on. The flat costs NZ$65 per week, which is pretty reasonable and includes electricity (had to provide our own lights of course - luckily Christian is pretty handy on the electricity front). The flat also has laundry facilities (which magically turned some whites to grey!) But the most unique thing about the flat is that we're above a horse riding school so we awake every morning to the sound of horse hooves and the smell of …..mmmmmmn.
Food (& Wine) We still manage to eat pretty well (and bulk, just for Christian) despite the cost of food. It's a matter of shopping for bargains and half price food. Meat is mega expensive. NZ beef is about NZ$67 per kilo. The cheapest cheese we've found is NZ$17 per kilo. But from week to week there are bargains on bulk cans like tomato's - 6 cans for NZ$4 and 6 cans of corn for NZ$5 so we've stocked up on those, tuna, rice and pasta.
As for wine, we've had a 1999 French red for NZ$4.65 - which surprisingly wasn't bad. We thought we'd wait to try the 1 litre tetra pak for NZ$2.50.
And we've found the best-priced cookies...at the Kambly Swiss cookie factory. Frequent visits for the free samples of every biscuit is a must, and fortunately there is a 30 minute bike ride home to make one feel better.
Riding The riding is awesome with smooth fast roads, many cycle ways, and considerate drivers. Since arriving I've spent all my time training on the road with Christian and competed in one Swiss Cup Mountain bike race.
We rode over our first col - col de pierre pertuis at only 823m. A very pleasant climb. Of course I kicked Christian's butt! And we rode to the highest point in the region “Le Chasseral” at 1607m. It was a 9km climb ascending about 720m (8%). Being at the base of the Jura Mountains, Biel is surrounded by heaps of hills - we will tackle them all soon.
Weather We've had a variety of weather. It’s common to experience thunderstorms and heavy rain during the night and overcast days. The rain is very unlike Wellington - it comes straight down. At the moment though, it’s hot at over 30 degrees. Aaaaah.
Other Sport Fly swatting is a favourite pastime or should I say a necessity (which may have something to do with the horses!) Another favourite is watching the Tour de France live - in fuzzy black and white and German, or fuzzy colour and French. Mmmmmn, spoilt for choice!
Events coming up... Tune in again for updates on our visit to the Tour de France and the Swiss Expo
Swiss Cup # Perrefitte, Sunday July 14 After a month of hard racing including the HP tour and 2 World Cups I think mentally I was not so prepared for my first Swiss Cup 5 days after I arrived in Switzerland. It’s only one of two races where I didn’t pre-ride the course (the other was the Oceania Champs in Noumea, New Caledonia earlier this year). Though I had heard that the course was not particularly technical and the only challenging sections were due to the mud and thunderstorms we’d had the night before.
The morning started with a train ride at 8:30am from Biel to Moutier, then it was a 10-minute ride to the course in Perrefitte. I had ample time to sort out registering and do a quick exploration of the course. Another category was racing at the time so I had to stay clear of the so-called “technical” section. From what I could see the course was open and hilly so I was fairly relaxed. Christian and Nick rode the 40km to the race to feed and support me, arriving about 11am.
Since I registered on the day I was at the back of the start grid. Staging was just like a World cup except those that entered on the day were all called up in bulk. The race started at 11:30am along a sealed road, with Caroline Alexander immediately attacking. She gained a huge lead within the first 10 minutes. The race took awhile to settle down with everyone jostling for a line and a wheel and on the gravel ascent. I passed Anna Bayliss on the climb and though back in the field, I remained positive about riding consistently over the 4 laps. Unfortunately my lack of practice on the course showed as on the first lap over the singletrack section I took a few bad lines and lost 3 places, being passed by Anna and Tarja Owens. The course was very muddy with some off camber corners, where one foot out and sliding was the only way to go. It was 100% rideable.
The results are below. I finished 15th out of a pretty classy field of 28. I was pretty disappointed, especially after my ride at the World Cup the week before, though it was all good training and an experience to ride a Swiss Cup.
1 Alexander Caroline 1:26.28
2 Henzi Petra 1:30.36
3 Leumann Katrin 1:30.59
4 Thevenet Marion 1:31.14
5 Gentieu Sabine 1:31.16
6 Steiner Anita 1:31.24
7 Clolus Sonia 1:33.00
8 Walker Nadia 1:33.20
9 Franke Dellys 1:33.53
10 Fahrni Joelle 1:34.14
11 Röthlin Franziska 1:35.25
12 Baylis Anna 1:36.41
13 Steiner Sara 1:37.11
14 Meier Maaris 1:38.27
15 Wong Robyn 1:39.27 16 Owens Tarja 1:40.14
17 Laeser Melanie 1:40.37
18 Berger Verena 1:42.26
19 Kraft Ivonne 1:42.41
20 Pesenti Julie 1:43.26
21 Heimberg Kathrin 1:44.57
22 Lefevre Lucie 1:45.24
23 Sun Min 1:46.00
24 Merkofer Barbara 1:46.54
25 Trachsel Simone 1:49.50
26 Hofs Petra 1:59.51
27 Rusca Maroussia DNF 46.11
28 Raviola Nicoletta DNF 57.34
Sorry for the lack of updates but it’s taken some time to get an internet connection sussed. We’re now online in our 2 room flat in Biel, Switzerland. There’s Tim Vincent, Nick Hotchin, Christian and I. We’ve been here a week and have been learning the ropes in searching for ‘not so outrageously expensive’ food. Finding anything about road racing has had it’s challenges though everything related to Mountain Bike racing is readily available. We’ve got lost a few times but it’s all part of becoming intimate with the area. The scenery is really beautiful with the Jura Mountains and the Lakes and the roads are smooth and fast to train on. One seriously major downfall is our inability to speak both German and French.
Here’s a bit of a report from the last World Cup in Vancouver.
Grouse Mountain, Saturday July 6, 2002 Enjoying my 2nd glass of wine since leaving NZ I reminisce and write to you aboard my Luthansa flight from Vancouver to Zurich (via Frankfurt). So, where do I start?
It was weird reverting back to a 2pm kick off and a very leisurely start to race day. Almost too leisurely. Sadie and I didn’t want to get to the course earlier than necessary so we planned to leave the motel at 12:30 to begin the 25 minute spin up to the skyline gondola. We departed a little late at 12:40 but we weren’t too stressed and we had a great warmup, arriving at the base of the Grouse mountain gondola dripping in sweat to be asked by a casual Leslie Tomlinson “why are you so late?” What a psych out! That was enough to make me nervous! Leslie wasn’t racing due to an illness but being a local from BC, she was commentating our race alongside the well known Peter Grays. So the 6 minute ride gave me the jitters and with the breeze through the windows, I cooled down pretty rapidly. At the top we had to navigate our way through the crowds to the bike marking. The officials were walking toward us, pointing in the direction of the bike marking tent. Oops. We must’ve been the last to get our transponders and frames and wheels marked. Good start, eh. Next we had to check on Nick to confirm that he’d managed to get a feed zone pass. We didn’t attend the Managers meeting to collect a pass since it was at atop the mountain the evening before. We found Nick but he hadn’t managed to find a pass. We ditched the extra gear we’d hauled up with us and jumped onto the course for our warm-up. It was 1:30pm. Staging would begin at 1:45pm. What was Leslie talking about? We had plenty of time…….NOT. I managed to ride the start lap a few times and do the first part of the lap known as “the sanctuary” and got in a few sprints. Staging It was good to see that Sadie and I had moved up the ranks to plates 57 and 58 after last weeks finish at Mont St Anne, though we were still in the second box! Mary Grigson hung out with us for a bit and had a chat. She was very relaxed and hoping she’d have a good head for today’s race. The Start One word sums up the start loop and that is “carnage.” Being such a short course, every girl knew they needed an aggressive start. It was a mess. 1m from the start line and the girl ahead of me goes down. Nowhere to go, I went over her bike. Within the next 50m before the first corner, someone else went down. The 3rd victim of the start loop carnage was Swiss Champion and Specialised rider Barbara Blatter. Yet again, the pace slowed as riders snaked around the crash. Into the slight incline I saw Sadie ahead who took an outside line and made her way up through the field. I followed until it bottlenecked around a narrow rocky traverse which then turned into a descent. Sadie dismounted and skirted around the lower side. Yet again I attempted to follow but was unsuccessful, held up by girls trying to ride and moving very slowly. From there on in the bottlenecks were nowhere as bad – a few crashes in the technical tree rooted single track which forced me off my bike, but running may have not have been much slower anyway. Out of the single track I stepped it up a bit to power along the short 4WD sections to maintain my position. Then on the steep climb I plucked off a few girls each time around. It was a climb that took its toll and got more difficult as one got more fatigued. On the 2nd lap I was sitting about 23rd but by lap 3 I had moved up to 19th. I had a personal unstated goal to finish in the top 20 so I was running on adrenalin when I knew I was 19th. The gaps had widened so I concentrated on maintaining on the technical and trying to gain on the climbs. The crowds were just phenomenal. I received so much support. It really made the race for me. The course was extremely cruel for punctures with the rocky descents. Then I saw Mary Grigson on the ground being tended to by medical assistance. And during my feed on lap 3 I heard a familiar voice cheering me on – it was Sadie. She had pulled out due to stomach cramps and dizziness. What a disappointment after such an awesome start. On lap 5 I had Nikola Starko on my tail which kept the pressure on me on the descents, but by the steep climb she was nowhere to be seen. Knowing this was such a short course I was determined not to be lapped out so I was living for the start of lap 6 without hearing the sound of the lead moto. At the start of lap 6 I passed through the start finish line to a huge cheer and banging from the crowds as by now the leaders weren’t far from finishing. At this point I was extremely happy that I would finish the race. After the Peak I looked behind with no sign of any other competitors. Admittedly I eased back somewhat after that to avoid any possibility of crashing and puncturing.
I crossed the finish line to huge cheers and the cameras still rolling. 17th place. 2 hours 16 minutes. 32 km. I was absolutely stoked. Smile from ear to ear. I must make a special mention and thank my coach Andy Reid who earlier in the week said that I was going to have a blinder!
Lap times Lap 1: 19:18 - lap 1 included the start lap but excluded “the sanctuary” and “the peak” Lap 2: 23:31 Lap 3: 22:44 Lap 4: 23:08 Lap 5: 23:40 Lap 6: 24:17
Saturday July 6, 2002,Grouse Mountain I got my best World Cup result today - 17th place. Wahoo. I'm stoked. The course just rocked. It was two and a quarter hours of full on concentration and focus. And a lot warmer than the last few days - bloody hot in fact. The course dried heaps and was totally rideable though a couple of sections beneath the trees were muddy and slippery. The course took a few victims with crashes and heaps of punctures. I was the last to make it through onto the final lap - all others were pulled since the leaders were pulling out 19 minute laps! Will write more later.
Thursday July 4, 2002 North Vancouver, British Columbia After a full day of traveling on Monday we made it to Vancouver and sorted some accommodation for the 3 of us (Sadie, Nick and I) as Cabin and Hilton had a friend to bunk down with. At the base of Capilano road, it’s a 20-minute uphill climb to the Grouse Mountain Gondola, then a 10-minute scenic trip to the start of the course.
The weather over West is vastly different to what we experienced in the East. Temperatures are in the teens, and there’s still snow on Grouse Mountain. It’s very fresh. The course wasn’t completely marked for riding on Tuesday so we took an easy spin on the roads of North Van.
On Wednesday we got to pre ride the course. Yet again, it’s a fully technical course 400m longer than last year at 5km with only one new technical section of boarded ramps and rocky descents. It’s a really tight course that doubles back on itself so again, good for spectating. The climbs (near the end of the lap) are pretty steep and loose so there aren’t many opportunities to rest. The course starts just under 1100m, climbs to a maximum altitude of 1120m and descends to 1000m. It’s going to one another race where the start is critical to avoid bottlenecks then it’s going to be go hard as possible to finish the race without being lapped out. Last year the women raced 7 laps averaging under 18 minutes per lap. 16 riders were lapped out.
Last night it rained. It’s eased off now and apparently it’s going to clear for the weekend. I don’t think last night’s rain can effect the course too much as it was already very wet and boggy in places and where it’s dry it will remain dry as it’s rocky terrain.
We might head into town for a little touristy look around this arvo…and find a decent coffee.
Sunday June 30, 2002 Mont St Anne World Cup Sadie had a stormer in the Women`s race finishing in 20th place. I finished in 29th place and was happy not to be lapped out. The course took it`s toll on many riders with 9 DNF`s including Caroline Alexander, Chrissy Redden and Lesley Tomlinson, and 10 riders got lapped out. It was very very humid though we were lucky that there was some cloud cover and the heat not so intense as the last few days. There were 51 on the starting line and the race was won in a time of 2:01 by Annabella Stropparo of Italy and the Be One team. Total distance was one start lap and 5 laps totalling 29.7km - showing the the course was very technical and slow in places.
I was 32nd on the start grid and Sadie 28th (my points from the Oceania Champs have not yet been registered with the UCI!) The start loop was amazing dusty and despite my endeavours to get a good start I still found myself near the back of the field. And though we had a good climb to spread out the riders, there was the usual bottleneck in the first technical singletrack. This meant waiting my turn before walking a section while the leaders opened up a gap. At the end of lap 1 I was 4 minutes down on the leader. I didn`t have a good day with the technical sections and was losing time each lap. A positive was that I was climbing well and feeling strong on the climbs and flats.
In the Men`s race, comprising 1 start loop and 6 laps, again there were huge gaps and many riders were lapped out. Filip Meirhaeghe from Belgium and team Specialised had a 2 minute lead on the final lap. It appeared that Roland had punctured. Kashi was looking great, I think finishing in 9th place. Unfortunately we didn`t have much other luck in the kiwi camp. Cabin was riding strong, but due to the fast times of the leaders, he and Hilton got lapped out. Nick had a pretty nasty encounter with a tree after avoiding a rider who was running a descent - he now has his arm in a sling, though we`re hoping it`s nothing serious.
That`s all for now. Hopefully a few vino`s tonight, then we head to Vancouver tomorrow morning. The schedule has been changed due to the cancellation of the downhill and the Women`s race will now be held on the Saturday - one less day to recover!