Stage 16 and the riders set off on a stunningly beautiful day as the Tour headed on the 209 km route from Moirans-en-Montagne in France to Berne, Switzerland.
Since Gabs was now in Switzerland he prepared the Swiss classic veal with mushroom sauce and Rosti. There was joy in the peloton when the riders discovered there was 60 g of butter in the recipe. This brings the buerremetric counter to 790 g.
Early on in the race Tony Martin (the cyclist, not the comedian) and Julian Alaphilippe from Etixx-QuickStep broke away and despite the efforts of a few chasers could not be reeled back to the peloton. Robbie puzzled about their tactics. Oh, to be a fly on the windscreen of the Etixx-QuickStep team car. Well, not if you hit it at 100km/h.
Out on the road organ music seemed to appear from nowhere. It had the couch peloton wondering if that was that our Troll DJ or its French TV cousin practising on the Hammond.
The Etixx breakies were the first to say hello to Switzerland as they crossed the border. Martin was in Panzerwagen time trial beast mode but it wasn’t all one way. Martin agreed to time trial on the flat, Alaphilippe towing duties on the hills. Deal.
We got the real deal from Troll DJ playing a majestic tune for the majestic vaches montage from this year’s tour. Not long over the border and Switzerland turned out to be a vaches fest. Hmm, maybe the Swiss could lend a few to the Italians for the Giro in May.
Out on the road the thermometer was rising into the low 30s and the domestiques were busy with bidon collection duties. IAM Cycling must have been particularly thirsty - Stef Clement’s jersey looked like a condom stuffed full of water bottles.
Meanwhile Tony Martin continued to power on, treating this stage as if it were a 209 km time trial.
Tony Martin taking it in his stride
The Ps caught up to the caravan of commentary at about 55 km to go. All eyes were on Fabian Cancellara (or Spartacus as he’s affectionately known) who was heading to his home town in his final Tour de France. Could he win today? Phil and Paul thought he could noting he’d won in Berne before, in the final stage of the Tour de Suisse back in 2007. They then reminded us – repeatedly. That number of the day? 2007.
The breakies reached the intermediate sprint on their own and since he’d done most of the work Martin and Alaphilippe agreed to split the prize money 60/40. Martin made it look easy dragging Alaphilippe along but that wasn’t enough for the Panzerwagen who even started to do the pace making for a train at one stage.
Switzerland has a reputation for producing fine goods when it comes to cheese, multi-tooled pocket knives and of course watches and clocks. Phil and Paul were particularly enamoured of the Swiss built machines of BMC claiming they are the ‘Swiss watch of bicycles’. Well, if BMC is the Swiss watch of bicycles then those neutral service spares are the two-bob watches.
Martin and Alaphilippe looked like they might have had a chance to make it all the way to Berne but eventually succumbed to the peloton. Alaphillipe was the first to sit up, caught at 25 km to go. Martin kept on going until, in the words of Paul, “boom, boom, out go the lights”, caught at 22 km to go.
Phil and Paul noted it was Mandela Day in South Africa and recalled that Steve Cummings riding for the then South African MTN Qhubeka team won the stage at last year’s Tour on that day. Surprising then it took that long for the two to twig at 12 km to go there was a South African in the race in the form of Daryl Impey. All of a sudden Spartacus was forgotten.
As the kilometres counted down Rui Costa got himself out in the front of the peloton who had him in their sights. Brave but he didn’t stand a chance and was gone at 4 km to go.
The final 600 metres to the line is a cobbled incline reminiscent of a one-day classics style finish. Classics specialist Spartacus was well positioned but didn’t quite have the fire power as ‘Penis Sagan’ (yes, Phil did say that) pipped Alexander Kristoff with a thrust to the line for his third stage win at this Tour.
Celebration from the Spartacus fans wasn’t to be but he still managed a top ten finish not to be sneezed at for such a long day in the saddle. But the party was about to start for the large contingent of Peter Sagan fans who arrived from Slovakia on the bus known as the Sagz Wagon.
Oh yeah, and Chris Froome hung on to yellow with a handy 01’ 47” lead over Bauke Mollema.