The pace of this adventure is unrelenting. I'm sitting here on a terrace overlooking the main street in Morzine with Tim, Simon and Michiel desperately trying to catch up with our story before the race arrives today at 3:30 pm. What is supposed to be a rest day is terribly overbooked. Between late finishes, long transfers, and the lack of a reliable internet connection we're all behind. Then there's laundry to do and a World Cup Final to watch tonight. And did I mention I'll photograph the race, probably on the steep pitch a few metres from the chalet where we are staying.
Yesterday I barely made it through the chaos of the finish preparations at Les Rousses. The depart for Stage 8 overlapping the route of Stage 7. After speaking with three friendly Gendarmes it seemed I had no choice but to take a very circuitous detour... but after a few minutes to consider how much time I'd lose I spun around, turned on my flashers and drove onto the course. With a team car behind me I just honked my horn at anything and anyone in my way, including the Gendarmes. Five hundred metres of this bluff (the red mercedes has an official yellow banner on the top of the windshield) saw me through the blockage and free to make the turn to Lajoux that had me on course for Stage 8 to Morzine-Avoriaz.
Morale in the group is great. Food is good and not surprisingly, plentiful. Each day we stop for a full lunch at a restaurant that Wilfred arranges on the day. Typically this is a meal of pasta, salad and bread. The stop is long enough that the riders often change out of riding gear to let bibs dry in the sun. I'm not sure I could stop this long and restart my engine but the boys seem to manage it after a ten minute power nap. Wilfred thinks they need to fuel up in this way and won't be able to take in enough calories on the bike without the serious meal. It seems to be working.
The one low point was the "prison" hotel we stayed in after Stage 7. Forty kilometres downhill from Station des Rousses we stayed at a strange hotel "automatique" that seemed to universally baffle and annoy us. From the side-by-side vending machines in the lobby that gave no indication they were connected, to the strange bathroom pods in each room which felt like something from George Lucas's sci-fi THX 1138, we were in alien territory. That evening I heard several exasperated people struggling at the front gate to book a room through the ATM-like kiosk at the gate.
This was a far cry from the idyllic accommodations the night before. Paul and Joos, parents of team member Lucas, hosted us for the evening at their hill top chateau in Bourgogne. We ate outside... a few metres from rows of grape vines and I slept a few doors away at a conv erted nunnery owned by a local vitner.
Back to the road. A few girlfriends and friends appeared en route yesterday, waving Dutch flags and orange pom poms at the side of the road. It gave the boys a morale boost before lunch and the big climbs towards the end of the stage. All seemed to agree that the penultimate ascent of the Col del la Ramaz was tougher. From the first sharp foothills the avalanche tunnels high on the cliff face above are a daunting target. Above them a high alpine plain opens up which the road skirts and climbs before dropping a little to Morzine.
From there it punches up to Avoriaz, steeply at first before flattening some in the last five kilometres. My guess is that if a selection arrives in the town there will be fireworks on those early pitches.