Sunday, July 17, 2016

Stage 15 Bourg-en-Bresse / Culoz - Colombian Conquers Colombier in Culoz

Stage 15 and its back in the mountains as the Tour heads toward Switzerland on a 159 km route from Bourg-en-Bresse to Culoz.

After the dip and crackers debacle, Gabs made it up to the peloton with the family favourite grandmother’s chicken. The butter makes a welcome return since we last saw it in stage 10. The two tablespoons take the buerremetric counter to 730 g.

Early on in the race a sizable breakaway made its escape which included a handful of French riders including Julian Alaphilippe, Alexis Vuillermoz, Roman Sicard and of course Thomas Voeckler. 

Time is running out for a French victory at this year’s Tour. Bryan Coquard came so close in stage 4 to Marcel Kittel but today might be the day. However, the determination of Poland’s Rafal Majka to grab the polka dot jersey looked to spoil their chances.

Robbie and Mattie were calling the race from the drop of the flag. The topic of conversation was Mark Cavendish’s 30 Tour stage victories, just four short of Eddy Merckx. Cav would prefer not to be compared to the legendary Eddy Merckx because he’s Eddy Merckx. And just how good was Eddy Merckx? According to Robbie he was so good he won races he wasn’t even in.

At the 52 km mark the riders took on the category 2 ‘Col de Pea Soup’. Believe me, Robbie is getting better with his French. He can also say wazoo, which is French for bird.

The peloton made its way through countryside that takes pride in its cheese. This was celebrated in the field art work titled by Robbie, ‘Milking the cow, making the cheese’.

Phil and Paul did a Chris Froome and threw out the rule book to launch a surprise attack to catch Robbie and Mattie at 69 km to go in time for the big climb on the hors categorie Grand Colombier.

With a big contingent of Colombian riders at this Tour they shouldn’t have any trouble on the Grand Colombier, which is merely the size of foothill in their home country.

The riders started the climb of the Grand Colombier in earnest to the tune of cow bells from spectators at the side of the road, which makes up part of the soundtrack to the Tour in these mountainous regions.

The Lacets du Grand Colombier

The 13 km climb soon took its toll as one by one the sprinters were spat out the back. Every now and then Europe’s highest peak of the snow capped Mont Blanc came into view. Good thing there’s no road up there, the sprinters would just toss their bike to the side of the road and go home.

Still Mont Blanc provided a majestic backdrop to majestic vaches in one of the helicopter shots and I could almost cry.

Maps of the ‘hexagon of France’ featured heavily in field art. I wonder Paul just how many hectometres are there in the hexagon of France? There are just not enough fingers and toes to count.

Rounding the corner into the final week of the Tour we got our first ‘heads of state’ couch peloton drinking game mention from Paul. Time to raid the top shelf. Expect to hear more of heads of state in the coming days as podium in Paris takes shape.

Majka was first over the top of Grand Colombier and went on the descent with Alaphilippe and Colombian rider Jarlinson Pantano toward the finish line at Culoz. At first it was reported Julian Alaphilippe had crashed but it turned out to just be a mechanical.

Majka and Pantano crossed the line but the race wasn’t over yet with a lap of Grand Colombier but this time from a different approach via the spectacular Lacets du Grand Colombier.

The Lacets du Grand Colombier is an amazing piece of road that twists and turns up the mountain. Phil said it resembled a tape worm. I think it looked more like intestines, or was it a series of S-bends?

Questionable fan behaviour was on display as smoke from a lit flare reduced visibility on the climb to zero. My lesson is hey kids, don’t set fire to your flares, wear them like a boss.

France’s last hope for the stage Romain Bardet rolled the dice on the Lacets but by that stage Majka and Pantano where making their charge down the hella cray but hella fun descent to Culoz.

Pantano was too good for Majka in the sprint to the line making it his first Tour victory, and a victory for Colombia on the Grand Colombier.

Rafal Majka has won stages in all the Tours he’s participated in (okay, this is only his third). Better luck next time, you’ll still win a stage – it’s in the contract.

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